The Genocide against the Tutsi refers to the mass murder of up to one million people, primarily
, between 7 April 1994 and 15 July 1994. The genocide was carried out by extremist
army officers using military forces in Rwanda, with widespread
and assistance from civilians, the local police, and the institutions of government.
At the time of the genocide, there were three primary ethnic groups in Rwanda: the Tutsi (15%) and the Hutu (84%), the Twa (1%). Historically, the Tutsi formed the ruling class in Rwanda, with a Tutsi King ruling within a
In 1884 Rwanda and
became part of Germany’s colonial empire as a result of the
. In 1897, the German forces agreed an alliance with the Rwandan Tutsi King, and ruled the country through the Tutsi monarchy. Following the First World War, under a League of Nations mandate, Rwanda came under control of Belgium, who continued to support the monarchy and maintain Tutsi rule.
In the early 1930s, Belgium forces introduced compulsory identification cards, which further segregated the population according to three ethnicities: Tutsi, Hutu and Twa. Whereas previously the boundaries of these groups were
, the introduction of the identification cards with its required ethnic identification solidified the separate groups and promoted racial boundaries and ideas.
In 1959, the murder of a Hutu sub-chief, Dominique Mbonyumutwa, by an extremist pro-Tutsi party escalated these longstanding tensions and, along with encouragement from Belgian colonial officials, began what was called the “Hutu revolution”, in which Rwanda became an independent republic ruled by the Hutu majority. In 1973 the country faced further turmoil as the army’s head of staff Juvénal Habyarimana carried out a military coup, creating a one party (Hutu) state. A quota system restricted the presence of Tutsi in education and employment and this served to reinforce the racist ideology of three distinct groups. These events led to the murder of approximately 20,000 Tutsi, and many more fled to neighbouring countries to seek asylum.
In the late 1980s, some of the Tutsi refugees who had fled the country formed a new movement aiming to challenge President Juvénal Habyarimana, end rule by ethnicity with its compulsory identity cards and ensure a return home for the refugees who had fled the country in various anti-Tutsi programs. This political movement was named the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).
In October 1990, an armed wing, the newly created Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) launched an attack from their base in Uganda. A three-year civil war ensured. Inside Rwanda, all Tutsis and Hutu who had not pledged their support to the president and his party were labelled accomplices and traitors.
In 1993 in Arusha in Tanzania, the RPF and the Rwandan government held several months of internationally sponsored peace talks and eventually agreed a power-sharing settlement providing for elections and a co-coalition government with representatives from both sides, and a return home for refugees in neighbouring countries.
However, just eight months later, on 6 April 1994, a plane carrying President Habyarimana of Rwanda and President Ntaryamira of Burundi was shot down and crashed over Kigali airport, killing all those on board.
This event acted as a catalyst for the genocide against the Tutsi to begin. Over the airways of the hate radio station RTLM, the RPF and the Tutsi were blamed for the president’s murder, and the elite presidential guard, government soldiers, civilians, businessmen and local militias almost immediately began assassinating those they deemed responsible – and anyone who had in any way favoured the peace agreement. An army of unemployed youth, indoctrinated in a racist “Hutu Power” ideology and trained to kill at speed and using a system of prepared roadblocks, now proceeded to kill everyone with a Tutsi identity card. This militia, the
, was responsible for the speed and efficiency of the killing.
Over the following 100 days, up to one million people were murdered with machetes and rifles or killed when the churches in which they were seeking refuge were blown up. Between 250,000 and 500,000 Tutsi women were brutally raped and sexually violated.
In July 1994, the RPF captured Kigali and declared a ceasefire, bringing an end to the genocide. In response, over one million Hutu who had been involved in the genocide fled the country.
Some of the high-profile perpetrators of the genocide have since been prosecuted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), which was set up in November 1994 in Arusha, Tanzania. In total, approximately 75 prominent individuals were prosecuted by the ICTR.
The majority of the perpetrators were prosecuted through Rwandan domestic courts and community-based courts, in a process which began in December 1996. In total, approximately two million cases were processed by the community courts between 2005 and 2012. In addition to this, 22 people were executed in 1998 for the genocide, and 10,000 people were tried by the conventional domestic legal system.
To learn more about the genocide, visit the website of The Genocide Archive of Rwanda.