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Rwandan Genocide

Rwanda, a country located in the continent of Africa, was the epicentre of a massive genocide, in which more than 8 lakh people were killed in less than 100 days, mostly belonging to the Tutsi minority, who comprised of around 15% of Rwandan population.

Rwanda, has a majority population (of around 85%) belonging to the Hutu community. The Hutu community were traditionally agriculturists while the Tutsis had strong pastoralists tradition and hence gained social and economic dominance over the majority Hutus. The Hutu monarchy was established which was supported later, when Rwanda became a colony of the Germans and subsequently of Belgium. The Germans, who made Rwanda their colony in 1898, formulated policies in a manner which strengthened the hegemony of the Tutsi community over the country and its population. When the Germans exited the country in 1916 and Belgium was the new colonizer, this approach of the Germans continued. Soon after, Hutus started demanding equality and were supported by the Roman Catholic clergy and certain sections of the Belgian administration.

Credits: Sebastiao Salgado

The movement took a bloody turn after the rumours of the death of a Hutu leader by Tutsi led to formation of various Hutu groups which started killing people from the Tutsi community and culminated after two years, in 1961, with the formation of a government led by the Hutus. The transition between the two powers cost the lives of more than 20,000 Tutsis.

Peace didn’t follow even after the transition of power, with acts of killings taking place periodically. In 1991, Tutsi led FPR (Front Patriotique Rwandais) invaded Rwanda and subsequently indulged in talks with the government to arrive at an agreement that the new government would include members from the FPR as well, which was unacceptable to the Hutu extremists.

On the evening of April 6, 1994, the plane carrying President Habyarimana and his counterpart President Ntaryamira was shot down and the crash resulted in killings of all on board. The Hutu extremists blamed the FPR for the attack while the FPR claimed Hutu extremists were behind the attacks. Rwanda Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana was also assassinated the subsequent day, creating a political vacuum which was filled by the formation of an interim government “assembled” by Col. Theoneste Bagosora, a Hutu extremist. Theodore Sindikubwabo was made Rwanda’s interim President on April 8.

The interim government had its youth wing known as Interahamwe which meant “those who attack together”, which was a militia formed for slaughtering Tutsis. The infamous Rwanda radio RLTM along with several other newspapers were also set up by the Hutu extremists, which propagated hate, asking people to kill the Tutsis by using the phrases like “weed out the cockroaches”. In a short span of around 100 days, more than 8 lakh Tutsis were killed by the hands of the militia and in other riots. Countless number of women and female children were raped by the hands of Hutus (people and militia), many of them deliberately using persons with HIV for the crime so as to intentionally infect the women with HIV and AIDS.

Credits: Jon Warren

The genocide culminated only after the FPR took over the entire country, including Kigali on July 4 which resulted in Hutu leaders fleeing the country. A transitional government was formed on July 19 with Pasteur Bizimungu, a Hutu, as president and FPR leader Paul Kagame, a Tutsi, as vice president. The FPR is also blamed for retaliatory killings of the Hutus after they established the government, leading to people fleeing to the country of Congo (erstwhile Zaire).

The Rwandan genocide raised some serious questions on the role of the UN along with world superpowers including the US and the France. The US had already lost a large number of its troops in the neighbouring country of Somalia and were reluctant to send their troops to Rwanda. The UN, in the midst of the crisis, on April 8 decided to reduce the presence of their troops to a mere 10%. This decision was reversed only on May 17, when it decided to deploy 5,500 troops who, however, couldn’t be immediately deployed. France enjoyed good relations with the Juvenal Habyarimana (Hutu) led government. In a committee report in 2019, it was stated that France did “nothing to stop” the genocide between the months of April and July in 1994.


Aditya Jha is a student pursuing Psychology from Jamia Millia Islamia.

Edited by: Varda Ahmad

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Written by Aditya Jha

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