The Rwanda Genocide
of Tutsis and moderate Hutus
In 100 days between 6 April and 16 July 1994, in Rwanda, a small central African state in the Great Lakes region, genocide was committed against Tutsis and moderate Hutus by Hutu Power extremists and Akazu clan members.
The Rwanda-Urundi region, explored by the Germans at the end of the 19th century, had been entrusted to Belgium with a UN mandate in 1924. The Belgians relied on the Tutsis to support their colonial exploitation of the country and in 1933 required Rwandans to carry identity cards specifying their ethnic (Hutu and Tutsi) group. By the 1950s there was widespread discontent with the colonial presence and the Belgians switched their allegiance from the Tutsi minority, deciding to back the Hutu rebellion.
Plans for a genocide were already underway in the 1980s, but the roots of the project go back to 1957. This was when the Hutu Emancipation Movement, known as Parmehutu, published the “Bahutu Manifesto”, denouncing the racist monopoly of power by the Tutsi minority. In the 1960s, Parmehutu’s denunciations led to the overthrow of the monarchy and the proclamation of a republic, headed by Gregoire Kayibanda. This was, in fact, a racist regime and persecutions soon followed, forcing Tutsis to flee into neighbouring countries; persecution also continued under the regime of Juvénal Habyarimana, who swept to power with a military coup in 1973, promising progress and reconciliation. In 1987 the Tutsi diaspora gave rise to the RPF, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, headed by Fred Rwigyema and Paul Kagame, whose aim was to take power by force and coax the refugees back to Rwanda.
While the RPF continued its guerilla tactics, with massacres on both sides, on 4 August 1993, the president signed the Arusha Accords, which provided for the return of all Tutsi refugees as well as substantial power sharing with the RPF. However, the Akazu power group made up of the president and his family clan refused to agree to any limitations of power and formed the Hutu interahamwe militia bands; they bought machetes from China and drew up lists of the Tutsi leaders to be eliminated. All this with the financial and military support of France.
On 6 April 1994, the presidential airplane was shot down while attempting to land at Kigali airport. Habyarimana was returning from Dar es Salaam, where he had agreed on a new cabinet. This incident triggered the first mass killings. The Hutu Power extremists, led by colonel Théoneste Bagosora, director of cabinet in the Ministry of Defence, started by distributing a list of the first 1,500 people to be eliminated. The interahamwe then began setting up road blocks: Tutsis were singled out by the ethnicity specification on their ID cards and were hacked to death on the spot with machetes. To eradicate the Tutsis from Rwanda once and for all the interahamwe militia slaughtered them with machetes, axes, spears, spiked clubs and guns. For the Tutsis there were no safe havens: even churches were violated. Thousands of people organized resistance on the Bisesero hills. April saw the evacuation of the Europeans from Kigali and even the UN decided to withdraw its peace contingent, while debating whether they were actually witnessing a case of genocide or not. On 22 June the French army intervened with a humanitarian operation, known as “Operazione Turquoise”, subsequently recognized by the United Nations: but their intervention was in fact used by the “génocidaires” to cloak their escape from the country. On 4 July Paul Kagame, at the head of the RPF army, entered Kigali. On 16 July 1994 the war was officially declared to be over.
Out of a population of 7.3 million people 84% of whom Hutu, 15% Tutsi and 1% Twa the official figures released by the Rwandan government put the number of victims of the genocide at 1,174,000 in just 100 days (10,000 massacred every day, 400 every hour, 7 every minute). Other sources talk of 800,000 victims. They include approximately 20% Hutus. It is estimated that some 300,000 Tutsis survived the genocide. Thousands of widows, many of whom were raped, are now HIV positive. Some 400,000 children were orphaned and 85,000 of these have become heads of family.
In November 1994 the United Nationals Security Council created the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, based in Arusha, in Tanzania. In ten years the tribunal only succeeded in trying and sentencing about twenty people. In 2003, in an attempt to redress this mismanagement, the UN appointed Hassan Bubacar Jallow chief prosecutor with exclusive jurisdiction for Rwanda. There are currently almost 90,000 detainees awaiting trial in Rwandan jails. Faced with the local penal system’s inability to cope with such huge numbers, in the year 2000 a series of popular tribunals, known as gacaca, was set up. The accused are encouraged to admit their guilt in exchange for considerable reductions in their sentences. Catholic priests are also among the accused.