Kwibuka: Remembering the 1994 Rwandan Genocide

Sign Outside of Nyamata Memorial Church | Courtesy of Hyypolite For Peace Foundation
Sign Outside of Nyamata Memorial Church | Courtesy of Hyypolite For Peace Foundation

The Rwandan Genocide in 1994 unleashed 100 days of absolute terror. Between April 6th and mid July 1994, it is estimated that close to a million people, men, women, and children, were slaughtered, in their homes, on the streets, in churches, often by people they knew. Despite these massive human rights violations, international intervention was seriously inadequate. Though the United Nations had peacekeeping troops in Rwanda since October 1993, they were withdrawn after the start of the genocide rather than reinforced, enabling the extermination of a majority of the Tutsi population. Many factors played into this inadequate response, including a heavy reliance on the Arusha Accords to provide peace. However, without proper support, this promise of peace and transition to democracy, instead provided for the mobilization of extremists in the government to plan the genocide. First, internationally there was only a superficial understanding of the complex history of Rwanda and of the recent three year civil war. Few realized the complexity of Hutu and Tutsi relations that had been transformed first by German colonizers and then by the Belgians. Next, many Hutu who supported the Arusha Accords were killed or were targeted, this included the genocide’s first victim: the Prime Minister, who was Hutu, creating some serious confusion about the events on the ground in the first few days. Third, the masterminds of the genocide, the Rwandan Government with the Rwandan Army, had a seat on the United Nations Security Council and were able to construct a narrative in which they defined themselves as the ones under attack. Finally, one of the hardest issues to overcome was the combination of all of these into a perfect storm, especially when the United Nations and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, DPKO, sat on, and ignored, information they had received months earlier of the impending massacres.

The rift between Hutu and Tutsi was not always as defined. It had began more as a label of class and occupation rather than of distinctively separate ethnicity, with Hutu meaning farmers and Tutsi meaning shepherds or herders. In his book Re-Imagining Rwanda, Johan Pottier, a professor of social anthropology in London, states that before 1860 the context in which Hutu, Tutsi, (and Twa, less than one percent of the population), were used is unclear.1 This idea makes the concept of being one or the other, in terms of ethnicity, a modern construct. After 1860, the labeling of the people became more used under the Tutsi King Rwabugiri, when he began to implement two institutions: one of cattle ownership, ubuhake, and one of labor, uburetwa. This made the line between Hutu and Tutsi become more distinct as uburetwa fell only to those who were Hutu, though some Hutu of higher economic status were permitted into ubuhake. Nevertheless, this system allowed for upward mobility through marriage or alliances, as it was still about wealth and not ethnicity. Furthermore, there was cooperation within the leadership of districts, as one Hutu, a land chief, and one Tutsi, a cattle chief, were appointed. With help from an army chief, the men ran their distinct parts independently of each other and even relied upon the other for insight when needed. Unfortunately, the Belgians eradicated the tripartite structure in 1926, wrongly believing that it would en mass help the Hutu population. With the census in 1930, the divide was consolidated and printed on the identification cards where Hutu and Tutsi were used as an ethnic markers. Instead of helping Hutu, it took away the their voice in government. With Belgium supporting the Tutsi rule until independence, resentment of the rule by the Tutsi minority grew among Hutu. It was not until international pressure during the Hutu uprising in the late 1950s that the Belgians changed sides, fostering massacres which in turn caused many Tutsi to flee to Uganda.2

By the late 1980s, exiled Rwandans represented almost 60,000 people living in surrounding countries. With the exception of Tanzania, every where else refugees became the target of hostility because the land and services they received as taken away from the countries in which they were. After attempts of the refugees to return home, the Rwandan government claimed to be over populated and unable to take back the refugees in 1986, ultimately pushing them back into Uganda. In 1988, Washington D.C reaffirmed the refugees’ right to return home and negotiations began.3 Unfortunately, it was taking much longer than those in limbo wanted and they began their campaign to return home on their terms. With military experience from fighting within the Ugandan National Resistance Army, Tutsi, as well as some Hutu that had been exiled or fled, created the Rwandan Patriotic Front, RPF, and entered Rwanda in October of 1990, with the goals of “promotion of national unity and reconciliation, the installation of a genuine democracy, the establishment of an integrated and self-sufficient economy, the eradication of all forms of corruption and, quite significantly, relegating the question of repatriation of the refugees to sixth position.”4 The RPF was such a formidable foe, that the French, who helped educate, train, and in part fund the Rwandan Army, had staged interventions twice, once in October 1990 and again in February 1993, to push the RPF troops back. Ultimately, it was decided a diplomatic solution would avoid fighting against the RPF who had proven to be a force to be reckoned with.5 Eventually, this lead to the negotiation of the Arusha Accords, which outlined what was supposed to be the country’s transition to democracy. To support the transition of the government, United Nation peacekeepers were sent under Chapter VI of the United Nations Charter to maintain peace within the country and ‘secure’ the transition.

Roméo Dallaire’s Book in which he painstaking recounts his time in Rwanda | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

This mission, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR), was under the command of General Roméo Dallaire, a Canadian. A Chapter VI mandate allows for lightly armed, multinational, impartial peacekeepers with consent of the country whose sole goal was to observe the implementation of a successful transition to democracy.6 Unfortunately, with deadlines that came and went, discord among those in power in 1994, and inadequate support from the United Nations for UNAMIR, instead of fostering peace, the Arusha Accords allowed for time and preparation of the slaughter of Tutsi, as well as the moderate Hutu who supported power sharing.7

Building where ten Belgian UNAMIR Soldiers and Prime Minster Agathe were Massacred | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The situation devolved after President Habyarimana’s plane was shot down in the night of April 6th to the 7th, in 1994. This was the signal the Rwandan Army and the Interahamwe, paramilitary forces, had been waiting for to bring terror to Kigali, the capital city, in the name of punishing those ‘responsible.’ In his book Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, Roméo Dallaire, the Commander of UNAMIR, recounts the horrors of the first two days in the chapter “An Explosion at Kigali Airport” as calls poured into his command center begging for help. Government forces were going house to house slaughtering tens of thousands in the first few days. Because of roadblocks set up by those carrying out the slaughters, limited communication channels, and a lack of UNAMIR troops, reaching those in need of help was incredibly difficult and often impossible, especially following the killing of ten of the Belgian peacekeepers. A large proportion of the those killed in the first two days of the genocide were Hutu, including the Hutu Prime Minister Agathe Umilingiyimana, who was the legal successor to Habyarimana and an adamant supporter of the Accords. Dallaire believes that by the end of the second day, the majority of Hutu leaders that were in support of the Accords were dead, or for a few lucky ones, in hiding.8

One of the major obstacles in recognizing that this was in fact a genocide opposed to the continuation of the civil war, was Jean-Damascène Bizimana, the Rwandan Ambassador to the United Nations, who held one of the non permanent seats on the Security Council, as per the Arusha Accords. Not only did this allow him to construct an entirely different narrative of what was actually occurring on the ground, it allowed him to learn about the inner workings and intelligence of the Security Council’s plan for Rwanda to better execute the genocide. Furthermore, because Dallaire’s forces required approval for every mission, this allowed the génocidaires to always be one step ahead of UNAMIR.9

Girl walking through a Genocide Memorial outside of Kigali | Courtesy of NPR.org

Aside from the central role Bizimana was allowed to play on the UN Security Council as he framed the violence on the ground as the civil war, there were several other mistakes made by the United Nations in regards to Rwanda. Even before UNAMIR stepped foot on the ground, the UN attempted to keep the mission “small and inexpensive.” Before the start of the genocide, Dallaire went on a tactical mission for assessment of the situation on the ground, with the “ideal” recommendation for halting the violence and protect civilians being 5,500 people to cover the demilitarized zone, Kigali, to be observers, and full logistical support. Unfortunately, all that was able to be approved was 2,548 people, due to the lack of contribution of troops, with the United States, France and Russian “[insistent] that the mission would need a force of only five hundred to one thousand personnel.”10 As the genocide progressed, the numbers dwindled, as the Belgian force withdrew following shortly after the revelation of ten of their peacekeeper’s murders. With the Belgian withdrawal, the UN Security Council decided the best course of action was to remove the remainder of troops. General Dallaire fought to keep his contingent, but only 270 troops were ultimately left with him.11 Once on the ground, lack of supplies became yet another issue that General Dallaire and his team had to contend with. Not only was access to items such as ammunition, cars, and office supplies limited, but food and water became an issue soon as well, with the official funding of the UNAMIR budget not being approved until April 4, 1994, two days before the genocide and after almost five months on the ground.12 Furthermore, in Eyewitness to Genocide, Michael Barnett details the failure of Kofi Annan, Director of DPKO at the time, to share the warnings and reports of the events that General Dallaire had witnessed and informed him of.13 Annan continued to insist that the peacekeeping force remain impartial as required by a Chapter VI mandate in the UN Charter, even as more information of massacres poured in. This instance further demonstrates the negligence and failure of his office as the most important piece of evidence he failed to disclose to the UN Security Council was what is referred to as the Genocide Cable, which arrived at his office three months before the genocide began.14 In it, General Dallaire, using information from an officer within the Presidential Guard, outlined the training that had been spearheading behind the scenes. Jean-Pierre, the informant’s code name, had told them that he, as well as all of the men he trained, were instructed to use the lists of Tutsi they received so that when the time came, they could be “exterminated.” Furthermore, the forty groups of men were scattered within Kigali and could kill up to 1000 Tutsi in twenty minutes, using guns and other weapons, such as machetes.15 Instead of allowing General Dallaire to seize these weapons from their caches (or hiding places), as he requested, he was not only chastised for considering the seizure of weapons, Dallaire was also ordered to relay this information to President Habyarimana, whose closest advisors were part of the extremist faction planning the genocide, de facto signing the death sentence for many involved.16

The drastic reduction in force of UNAMIR proved deadly to those targeted by hate and rage. The genocidaires rampaged through the little country of Rwanda, killing on average 10,000 people per day for 100 days. Though they suffered great atrocities, Rwandans continues to heal and look towards the future, asking the world to take a stand against genocide in three ways: to remember, to unite and to renew. For the 24th Kwibuka, (photo below) or for remembrance, Rwandans work on forgiveness, but they refuse to forget, which is demonstrated in the video from Kwibuka 20. Instead, Rwandans unite among themselves and around the world with all people who were once targets of genocide.

After the worst brutality of which humankind is capable, Rwanda has been brought back to life by the strength, courage and hard work of its people.17

President Paul Kagame lighting The Flame of Hope at Kwibuka24 | Courtesy of KTPress.rw

 

  1. Johan Pottier, Re-imagining Rwanda: Conflict, Survival and Disinformation in the Late Twentieth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 2004, 12-13.
  2. Johan Pottier, Re-imagining Rwanda: Conflict, Survival and Disinformation in the Late Twentieth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 13-15.
  3. Alison Des Forges, Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwandan, Human Rights Watch, 1999, 118-119, 42.
  4. Jean-Paul Kimonyo, Rwandas Popular Genocide: A Perfect Storm. (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2016), http://www.newtimes.co.rw/section/read/192.
  5. Roméo Dallaire and Brent Beardsley, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, (New York: Carroll & Graf, 2005), 62.
  6. Roméo Dallaire and Brent Beardsley, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, (New York: Carroll & Graf, 2005), 40-41, 70. and “Chapter VI.” United Nations. Accessed April 07, 2018. http://www.un.org/en/sections/un-charter/chapter-vi/index.html.
  7. Celine Jacquemin, “Hegemony and Counter-Hegemony: Colonial and Post-Colonial Roots of the Rwandan Genocide” in The Roots of Ethnic Conflict in Africa: From Grievance to Violence edited by Wanjala S. Nasong’o, Palgrave Macmillan; Roméo Dallaire and Brent Beardsley, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, (New York: Carroll & Graf, 2005), 74, 80, 212-214.
  8. Roméo Dallaire and Brent Beardsley, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, (New York: Carroll & Graf, 2005), 221-262.
  9. Celine Jacquemin, “Hegemony and Counter-Hegemony: Colonial and Post-Colonial Roots of the Rwandan Genocide” in The Roots of Ethnic Conflict in Africa: From Grievance to Violence edited by Wanjala S. Nasong’o, Palgrave Macmillan; Roméo Dallaire and Brent Beardsley, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, (New York: Carroll & Graf, 2005), 195.
  10. Roméo Dallaire and Brent Beardsley, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, (New York: Carroll & Graf, 2005), 75-76.
  11. “UNAMIR.” United Nations. Accessed April 07, 2018. https://peacekeeping.un.org/mission/past/unamirS.htm.
  12.  Alison Des Forges, Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwandan, Human Rights Watch, 1999, 100; Roméo Dallaire and Brent Beardsley, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, (New York: Carroll & Graf, 2005), 99-100.
  13. Michael Barnett, Eyewitness to a Genocide: The United Nations and Rwanda, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002), 2.
  14.  Celine Jacquemin, “Hegemony and Counter-Hegemony: Colonial and Post-Colonial Roots of the Rwandan Genocide” in The Roots of Ethnic Conflict in Africa: From Grievance to Violence edited by Wanjala S. Nasong’o, (Palgrave Macmillan: 2015).
  15. Alison Des Forges, Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwandan, Human Rights Watch, 1999, 118-119, 142.
  16. Roméo Dallaire and Brent Beardsley, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, (New York: Carroll & Graf, 2005), 146, 148.
  17. “Kwibuka 24 Lv.” Kwibuka. Accessed April 07, 2018. http://kwibuka.rw/.

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This Post Has 68 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Julia Deais

    It is crazy what people will do out of hate and rage. It must take a lot of courage and faith to still look towards the future after millions of people have lost their lives due to their own differences. If people would stop thinking that they are above others, or that your own life is more valuable than someone else’s life, that genocide would’ve never happened.

  2. Avatar
    Lorenzo Rivera

    This article did a great job of describing the events that took place and the horrors that the people of Rwanda went through. The amount of people that lost their lives is an unimaginable figure. This is also extremely shocking to me due to the fact that this is the first that I am hearing of these events. Overall, this article was well written, and represents one of the sad truths that we as a society have to face.

  3. Avatar
    Daniel Linstead

    On average, 10,000 people per day were dying over 100 days. That is shocking to say the least. I find it so wrong that something as major as this where so many people died and not even hearing anything about this is just poor. It is also so sad to know that corruption occurs in our government, the government that we put our trust in and then they turn around and be corrupt and let something like this happen is just poor.

  4. Avatar
    Michael Hinojosa

    I remember reading about this event for one of my IGS article readings and I have to say I’m disappointed that the articles I read didn’t even scratch the surface of this genocide. I’m glad I found this article because this goes in depth of what truly happened during this horrific event in human history and just thinking about it frightens and sickens me to my core knowing this happened.

  5. Avatar
    Robert Freise

    The Rwanda Genocide was one of the worst Genocides in Human History. The unjust and terrible acts of the influence of the Belgians destroyed, killed and separated communities in Rwanda. It is very disgusting that it took so long for these genocide to stop and the amount of people killed each day is so devilish and an act of immoral and satanic idealism’s that the controlling groups of the genocide expressed. It is also unjust that the UN did not do anything for so long, and honestly if I was a part of the UN I would start a all out War against Belgium. I understand the repercussions of War, but just like WW2 with the Jewish Genocide, I feel that if 1,000,000 million people are killed against their will more countries should be involved with that issue in regards to stopping the genocide. Great article.

  6. Avatar
    Luke Lopez

    This was a very interesting article about the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. The Rwandan Genocide was a very tragic time in Rwanda’s history where one million people were murdered in 100 days. It is unimaginable that on average 10,000 people were murdered each day during the 100 day span. This genocide should have never happened, and Rwanda is still living with the effects of this genocide to this day.

  7. Christopher Hohman
    Christopher Hohman

    Nice article. I have heard of the Rawandian genocide before because I discussed it in one of my religion classes. It is beyond tragic. To think that the people of a nation could turn against each other like that is just mind blowing. I feel like the Belgian’s actions in Rwanda are just plain flat out terrible. To choose one group of people over another definitely exacerbated tensions that I am sure already existed. Then for the UN to fail to act is just terrible too. Clearly, more could have been done to stop this tragedy from happening

  8. Avatar
    Greyson Addicott

    I can’t imagine what the Rwandans could have done with modern equipment, including, by definition, anything other than rudimentary pieces of metal attached to plastic handles. The idea that one million people can die by machete in 100 days alone is very concerning. This is not the first time a genocide has been downplayed, however, as things like the Armenian and Bosnian genocides are all but ignored by the media today. There are no lack of systematic removal of people perpetrated by different ethnicities and cultures. Perhaps we hold something close to our nature that pushes us towards it. What a deep article!

  9. Avatar
    Alexandra Lopez

    Reading this article made my heart ache for an event that I was not aware that had happened. It upsets me that events such as this can go on and I can be at school for nineteen years and not have heard about it once. No one talks about the cruel acts that have been done overseas and less what has been done in our own country’s past. The author created a connection and sympathy for me towards these people and I am glad they have seen hope and courage for their people.

  10. Avatar
    Roman Olivera

    The Genocide of the people of Rwanda is such a sad part of history. Crimes against humanity is an
    understatement. The killing of an average of 10,000 people per day for 100 days is an unimaginable figure. The corruption within the government is one of the most amazing things to me. Though corruption in governments is not unheard of, this corruption reached all the way to the UN and was able to keep the groups terrorizing the people one step ahead of the military allies of the country. Having someone masking what was actually going on in the country was a masterful deception and led to even more ravaging consequences for the people affected. Its sad to see when Belgium set up the social status of each of the groups, that the had no idea what the outcome would be as far the separation in the people of the country. As a child I remember hearing about the Rwandan Genocide, but it wasn’t until I became an adult did I learn of the true horrors of what happened in Rwanda. Great informative article on a topic that most people would not want to know the truths about or as some people would do, act like it never happened.

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