Rwandan Genocide- how it all happened

BY Anansh, 07 May, 2018

Global Jigyasa - Simply Put

The History of Rwanda and Communal Tensions

  • Rwanda has 3 major communities – the Hutus (85%), the Tutsis (14-15%) and the Twas (these are hunter gatherers and less than 2-3%).
  • The Tutsis and the Hutus weren’t separate communities initially. It was simply segregation on social status. So the Tutsis were those who owned cattle or the richer class while the Hutus were those who served them. The ruling classes were always the Tutsi kings and their clans who often mistreated Hutus.
  • Rwanda was first colonised by the Germans and then the Belgians. It was during the Belgian rule that the clear communal distinction between Hutus and Tutsis arose when in 1933, the Belgians forced all Rwandans to have an identification card which also stated which community they belonged to.
  • While the Tutsi kings continued to enjoy the confidence and support of the Belgians throughout the Belgian colonisation of Rwanda, they completely lost it towards the end of the Belgian rule in the 1950s when several Tutsi rulers began carrying out freedom movements against the Belgians. The Belgians totally reversed their policy and supported various Hutu groups against the Tutsis in a typical example of ‘Divide and Rule’.
  • When Rwanda finally received independence in 1962, the Belgians left power in the hands of the Hutus. Seething from years of being sidelined and atrocities committed against them by Tutsis, revenge was but naturally in their minds and several cases of violence and atrocities against Tutsis were reported including the Burundian civil war when over 25000 Tutsis were killed. Several Tutsis fled to neighbouring countries like Uganda and Burundi.
  • When an extremist Hutu led by Juvenal Habyarimana took over the government in 1972, he completely excluded Tutsis from all governance. This further bred communal hatred and violence.
  • A party called the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) was formed by Tutsi refugees in Uganda and other neighbouring nations to fight for their rights and end Habyarimana’s totalitarian regime.
A Rwandan woman collapses with her baby on her back on the road near Goma, Zaire, in 1994. Many Rwandans fled across the border into what was then Zaire, now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Build Up to the Genocide and the Final Spur

  • The genocide was not a spur of the moment case of uncontrolled violence. It was extremely well co-ordinated.
  • By 1990, the Hutus and Tutsis were already at loggerheads with the Hutus being those in power. The Arusha Accords were signed in 1993 which brought back Tutsis into the loop of governance. However, extremist Hutus did not like this at all.
  • A plan to exterminate Tutsis was being hatched by various extremist Hutu militias like the Interhamwe along with the support of various government elements from as early as 1991. In fact, it was later on found out that discussions of the genocide were openly conducted in cabinet meetings! The Army General Theoneste Bagosara was involved in them. In fact in 1993, over 550,000 machetes (cleaver like knives) were exported from China for this very purpose!
  • Local media also played a major role in breeding the seeds of division and resentment against the Tutsis. A radio channel called the RTLM openly discriminated against Tutsis calling them ‘cockroaches’ and preaching violence against them. Another journal call Kangura which was a Hutu journal came up with the ‘Ten Hutu Commandments’ which totally ostracised all Tutsis and asked Hutus to not indulge in business or marry Tutsis. It stated that all such Hutus would be considered as traitors. These and many more such actions by various extremist forces turned a major section of the Hutu population into absolute extremists who wanted nothing more than to eradicate Tutsis from the face of Rwanda.
  • Lieutenant General Mareo Dellaire and his UN Peacekeeping forces (2548 troops strong) had been deployed in Rwanda under the United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR) for the purpose of demilitarization and to implement the ceasefire regulations ensuring stability in the region while the Tutsis were brought back into the government fold.
  • On April 6th, 1994, around 8:30 pm President Habyarimana’s plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile at the airbase near Kigali which killed him and all others on board. Till date, it is not clear whether this attack was executed by Tutsi forces such as the RPF or Hutu extremists. There are a lot of reports which suggest that it had been carried out by Hutus but there is still no clear evidence. However, the Hutu extremists were the ones who benefited from this the most as they took control of the government and began their attacks against Tutsis across Rwanda. This missile attack was used as an excuse to eradicate Tutsis from the face of Rwanda.
  • Subsequent to this, Colonel Bagosara took control of Rwanda with Prime Minister Jean Kambanda from April 7th, 1994. After carrying out attacks on Belgian soldiers and killing 10 of them, Belgium decided to withdraw its troops and call back its citizens from Rwanda. Every other country followed suit. They basically fell into the trap of the extremist Hutu regime which wanted exactly this – leave Rwanda to only them so that they could carry out mass extermination of Tutsis. The UNAMIR was greatly weakened and had less than 500 soldiers who did not have the right to directly intervene in the situation. In a nutshell, they were rendered useless.


Photo’s from the Kigali Genocide Memorial Exhibition

 The Genocide and its end in July 1994

  • Let’s not get into the details of the genocide. It’s gory and unnecessary. To cut the violent, horrific story short, such violence has rarely been seen in the world. The Hutu militias killed all Tutsis and moderate Hutus (who refused to kill other Tutsis). Such was the thirst for blood that 7 people were killed every minute, 400 people every hour and 10000 people each day from April 7, 1994 to July 1994.
  • Majority of the killings were carried out with clubs and machetes. Men, women and children were bludgeoned to death, hacked to pieces and even burnt alive in hundreds and thousands. In many cases, the Hutu extremists did not even allow their bodies to be buried preferring to allow them to rot, eaten by rats and dogs. Such was the hatred towards them. Tutsi women were forced to indulge in sexual intercourse with infected men so as to transfer STDs like HIV-AIDS.
  • Apart from the safe havens set up by the United Nations forces in parts of different regions in Rwanda, there was absolutely no place to hide. Even churches, schools and hospitals were being attacked. As bullets were expensive, in most places killings were carried out using machetes and knives. Victims were often gruesomely tortured before being killed.
  • Planned massacres started off all over Rwanda. The mayor of Gisenyi was among the first officials to distribute arms among militia and encourage the mass killings of Tutsis. Gisenyi, a city in Rwanda was one of the centres of anti-Tutsi sentiment. The mayor set the example for officials all over the country to follow suit.
  • It was only in mid-July of 1994, after over 100 days of mass killings that the genocide finally came to an end. On July 5th, 1994, the French established a safe haven in the South Western region of Rwanda which destabilized extremist Hutus in the region. Additionally, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) which was the Tutsi force was finally able to assert its power and defeat Bagosora’s forces. The RPF then took over control of French territory in South Western Rwanda and established the new Rwandan government. Thousands of Hutus fled to neighbouring countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo among others.

The Aftermath

  • The Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) took over the government of Rwanda under Paul Kagame and has ruled since then. Paying emphasis on economic development, the regime has been able to douse communal hatred and has partially recovered from the aftermath of the genocide. The effects are still felt though.
  • The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) was set up in November 1994 under the mandate of Resolution 955 passed by the UN Security Council to try to sentence all those responsible for the Rwandan genocide under the contents of the Geneva Convention for crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes.
  • Several nations like the USA have expressed regret for not having taken more action to prevent the genocide. Aid has been provided to Rwanda by various countries to ensure development and recovery in the aftermath of the genocide.

Links for Detailed Research


Must Watch

Hotel Rwanda – Movie

It’s a movie about Paul Rusesabagina and his efforts in saving over a 1000 Rwandan Hutu moderates and Tutsis during the genocide period. Gives a lot of insight into the issues prevalent during the 1994 genocide.


Ghosts of Rwanda- Documentary

This is a comprehensive documentary that discusses all the different aspects during the 1994 genocide and gives detailed insights into it

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