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The extermination of the Tutsis and moderate Hutu


From April 6 to July 16, 1994, Rwanda, a small Central African state in the Great Lakes region, was the scene of the genocide of the Tutsi and moderate Hutu peoples by the extremists Hutu Power and the members of Akazu. In 1924 the League of Nations passed a resolution granting Belgium the right to govern the Rwanda-Burundi region, which had previously been explored by the Germans until the end of the 1800s. Fortified by physiognomic theories of the 19th century, the Belgians supported and favored the Tutsi ethnic group, which had conquered the entire country in the 16th century, unifying the country and instituting a feudal monarchial regime, subjugating the Hutu and Twa people. In 1993 the Belgians added ethnic groups (Hutu or Tutsi) onto Rwandan ID cards. The Tutsi’s terminated their support of Belgium in 1950, following discontent provoked by colonial exploitation that led the Hutu to rebel against the Tutsi, and the Tutsi to constructing plans for independence from Belgium. The colonizers would choose to support the revolt of the Hutu. From a population of 7,300,000, of which 84% were Hutu, 15% Tutsi, and 1% Twa, the official mandate released by the Rwandan government said that 1,174,000 people were murdered in only 100 days (10,000 died a day, 400 every hour, 7 a minute). Other sources say that there is a total of 800,000 victims, among which nearly 20% were Hutu. Tutsi survivors of the genocide are estimated at 300,000. Thousands were made widows, many were raped and today are HIV-positive. 400,000 children remain orphans, 85,000 of which have become heads of their households. The authors of the Rwandan Genocide were the Akazu people, the small house or clan of president Habyarimana, who mobilized extremist Hutu in the north. They organized an army and coordinated groups of attack. The interahamwe, “those that work together”, was a force recruited from the civilian population whom they armed and incited to commit the genocide. All Hutus were called to the genocide, whoever did not participate in the “job” was considered an enemy, and so was eliminated. 


The distinct and particular features of the Rwandan Genocide are visible in facts and figures of the Genocide: nearly 20,000 Rwandans are considered to be the planners of the genocide (soldiers, priests, mayors, journalists, magistrates, etc,); 250,000 the executioners-the direct perpetrators of these crimes; 250,000 in all are implicated in participating in acts of genocide.


In November of 1994, the Security Council of the United Nations created the ICTR, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, located in Arusha, Tanzania. In ten years the ICTR only prosecuted and convicted about twenty people. In 2003, to revamp the work of the tribunal, the UN appointed Hassan Bubacar Jallow as head prosecutor, giving him jurisdiction exclusively in Rwanda. At that time there were around 90,000 prisoners detained in Rwandan jails. Faced with the impossibility to put every prisoner on trial, the local penal system established Gacaca in 2000. Gacaca was a people’s tribunal that invited the guilty/convicted to admit their responsibility for and role in the genocide in exchange for a significant reduction in their punishment. Even Catholic priests were among those interrogated. By 2011 the ICTR had tried and sentenced 70 people. 


The formulation of the genocide had already started in 1980, but has its roots in the formation of Parmehutu in 1957, the party for the advancement of the Hutu people that publicized the “Manifesto of Bahutu” in which they denounced the monopoly of power held by the Tutsi. In 1960 the assertion of Parmehutu led to the abolition of the monarchy and Gregoire Kayibanda became the leader of the republic. He established a racist regime against the Tutsi and started prosecuting them, forcing them to flee and find refuge in neighboring countries. This policy would continue during the regime of Juvénal Habyarimana, who came to power in 1973 in a coup d’état, promising progress and reconciliation. In 1987 the Tutsi diaspora gave life to the RPF, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, headed by Fred Rwigyema and Paul Kagame, whose objectives were to facilitate the return of refugees to their homeland, along with the military conquest of power. The end of the 1980s saw Rwanda in an economic crisis; to confront the increasing population, the agricultural resources of the country remained constant and united. Internal pressures, united by western calls for democratization, persuaded president Habyarimana to construct a new constitution in 1991 that promoted multi-party system. While the RPF continued fighting using guerilla warfare, with massacres on both sides, the president signed the Arusha Accords on Agust 4, 1993 that called for the reentry of all of Tutsi refugees and a substantial share of power with the RPF. In this moment, the true plans of the genocide started: Akazu, the group that held power shaped around to the president and his family clan, did not accept the limitations of power and started to organize: they created and armed the interhamwe, illegal Hutu militias; they purchased Machetes from China through a firm called Chillington in Kigali; they wrote lists of leading Tutsi figures to kill; they launched “Radio Machete,” the Free Radio Television of Thousand Hills, in order to coordinate and incite the Hutu to “complete the job” of exterminating the “cockroach Tutsi”. All of this was done with the financial and military support of France.  


The fundamental ideological motive of the Rwandan Genocide was racism that was initiated at the beginning of the 1900s by the Belgian colonizers. Prior to the colonizers, the three groups of the country, the Tutsi, Hutu, and Twa, lived together for more than five centuries and had the same language, religion, and culture. Due to their physical build, closer to the standard westerners, the Tutsi (tall, thin, and of light complexion) came to be considered as more intelligent and adept to hold power; while the Hutu (shorter and darker) came to be considered as more uncouth and adept for work in the fields; the Twa, pygmies, were seen as underdeveloped and more like monkeys than humans. In 1950 came the assertion of Parmehutu, a group of intellectual Hutus who denounced the racist domination of the Tutsi and proposed a social revolution based on the racial superiority of the Hutu. Also, of significance are economic motivations, exasperated by the demographic increase. 


On April 6 , 1994 the presidential airplane was shot down by a missile while landing in Kigali. Habyarimana was on his way back from Dar es Salaam where he had agreed on a new ministerial formation. This was the initiation of the genocide. The ministers of Hutu Power, with their leader colonel Théoneste Bagosora, head of the cabinet of the Ministry of Defense, started to spread a list of 1,500 people to be killed first. The interhamwe sprung into action, they established road blocks:  the checked the ethnic group listed on everyone’s ID card that passed and used machetes to massacre those whose cards showed they were Tutsi. The radio coordinated the operations, the news ordered increasingly brutal actions, and also invited the Tutsi to present themselves to the roadblocks to be killed. Many adults sacrificed themselves while trying to protect and save children. To erase the Tutsi of Rwanda the militant interhamwe killed with machetes, axes, spears, spiked clubs, and firearms. No safe place existed for the Tutsi: even churches were violated. On the hills of Bisesero tens of thousands of people organized a resistance. In April, Europeans were evacuated from Kigali and the UN decided to pull back their forces, while discussing if they should treat the situation in Rwanda as genocide. On June 22nd the French intervened with humanitarian military action, “Operation Turquoise”, later recognized the UN. However, this intervention of aid was utilized by the committers of the genocide to protect their flight from the country. On July 4th Paul Kagame, a commander of the RPF army entered Kigali, On July 16th 1994 the war officially came to an end. 

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