Key events from the Rwandan genocide that shouldn’t be repeated
“Tutsi Genocide” redirects here. For the genocide against the Tutsi in Burundi, see Burundian genocides § 1972, and § 1990–94.
The Rwandan genocide, also known as the genocide against the Tutsi, was a genocidal mass slaughter of Tutsi in Rwanda by members of the Hutu majority government. An estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 Rwandans were killed during the 100-day period from 7 April to mid-July 1994, constituting as many as 70% of the Tutsi population. Additionally, 30% of the Pygmy Batwa were killed. The genocide and widespread slaughter of Rwandans ended when the Tutsi-backed and heavily armed Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) led by Paul Kagame took control of the country. An estimated 2,000,000 Rwandans, mostly Hutus, were displaced and became refugees.
Part of Rwandan Civil War
Human skulls at the Nyamata Genocide Memorial
7 April – 15 July 1994
Tutsi population, Twa, and moderate Hutus
Genocide, mass murder
Hutu-led government, Interahamwe and Impuzamugambi militias
The genocide was planned by members of the core political elite, many of whom occupied positions at top levels of the national government. Perpetrators came from the ranks of the Rwandan army, the Gendarmerie, government-backed militias including the Interahamwe and Impuzamugambi.
The genocide took place in the context of the Rwandan Civil War, a conflict beginning in 1990 between the Hutu-led government and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which largely consisted of Tutsi refugees whose families had fled to Uganda after the 1959 Hutu revolt against colonial rule. Waves of Hutu violence against the RPF and Tutsi followed Rwandan independence in 1962. International pressure on the Hutu government of Juvénal Habyarimana resulted in a ceasefire in 1993, with a road-map to implement the Arusha Accords, which would create a power-sharing government with the RPF. This agreement was not acceptable to a number of conservative Hutu, including members of the Akazu, who viewed it as conceding to enemy demands. The RPF military campaign intensified support for the so-called “Hutu Power” ideology, which portrayed the RPF as an alien force who were non-Christian, intent on reinstating the Tutsi monarchy and enslaving Hutus. Many Hutus reacted to this prospect with extreme opposition. In the lead-up to the genocide the number of machetes imported into Rwanda increased.
On 6 April 1994, an aeroplane carrying Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down on its descent into Kigali. At the time, the plane was in the airspace above Habyarimana’s house. One person survived but died soon after en route to the hospital. The assassination of Habyarimana ended the peace accords.
Genocidal killings began the following day. Soldiers, police, and militia quickly executed key Tutsi and moderate Hutu military and political leaders who could have assumed control in the ensuing power vacuum. Checkpoints and barricades were erected to screen all holders of the national ID card of Rwanda (which contained ethnic classification information introduced by the Belgian colonial government in 1933) in order to systematically identify and kill Tutsi. These forces recruited and pressured Hutu civilians to arm themselves with machetes, clubs, blunt objects, and other weapons to rape, maim, and kill their Tutsi neighbors and to destroy or steal their property. The breakdown of the peace accords led the RPF to restart its offensive and rapidly seize control of the northern part of the country before capturing Kigali in mid-July, bringing an end to the genocide. During these events and in the aftermath, the United Nations (UN) and countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, and Belgium were criticized for their inaction and failure to strengthen the force and mandate of the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) peacekeepers. Other observers criticized the government of France for alleged support of the Hutu government after the genocide had begun.
The genocide had a lasting and profound impact on Rwanda and its neighboring countries. The pervasive use of rape as a weapon of war caused a spike in HIV infection, including babies born of rape to newly infected mothers; many households were headed by orphaned children or widows. The destruction of infrastructure and the severe depopulation of the country crippled the economy, challenging the nascent government to achieve rapid economic growth and stabilization. The RPF military victory and installation of an RPF-dominated government prompted many Hutus to flee to neighboring countries, particularly in the eastern portion of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), where the Hutu genocidaires began to regroup in refugee camps along the border with Rwanda. Declaring a need to avert further genocide, the RPF-led government led military incursions into Zaire, including the First (1996–97) and Second (1998–2003) Congo Wars. Armed struggles between the Rwandan government and their opponents in DRC have continued to play out through proxy militias in the Goma region, including the M23 rebellion (2012–2013). Large Rwandan Hutu and Tutsi populations continue to live as refugees throughout the region.
Today, Rwanda has two public holidays mourning the genocide. The national mourning period begins with Kwibuka (Remembrance), the national commemoration, on 7 April and concludes with Liberation Day on 4 July. The week following 7 April is an official week of mourning, known as Icyunamo. The genocide served as an impetus for creating the International Criminal Court to eliminate the need for ad hoc tribunals to prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.