History of the Genocide in Rwanda

As the smallest country in Africa with the largest population, 7 million, Rwanda has had to overcome famine, overpopulation, and, most recently, a massive genocide which reduced their population by a huge amount. The country of Rwanda has had an interesting history due to their two supposed ethnic groups, the Hutus, the majority, and the Tutsis, who consist of about 15-18% of the population. The Tutsis were more prominent in the royalty and hierarchy of the country but most of them were still peasants. The Hutus were the farmers and the Tutsis ran the cattle. During the time of European Colonization, the Belgians came to Rwanda and decided to further the gap between the peaceful Hutus and Tutsis. The Belgians saw the Tutsis as more like themselves; therefore, they took them under their wing and educated them and brought them up to be the upper echelon of society. The Europeans created tribal cards to differentiate between the two groups. Believing that they were just furthering what the Tutsis had created, the Belgians created a class system. Due to their presence, the Belgians made the discrimination between the two groups greater and yet the Hutus and Tutsis were still living together peacefully. The Hutus, having no power, accepted the role of the oppressed.

            In 1962, Rwanda gained their independence from Belgium. The Europeans, however, left the country in a state of discord due to the majority of Hutus who were able to gain back their power from the Tutsis, who were viewed as feudal overlords. Soon the Party of the Hutu Emancipation Movement (PARMEHUTU) came into power. The once oppressed Hutus decided to take revenge and many Tutsis were killed. 200,000 Tutsi refugees fled to neighboring country to escape the violence that was taking place in their country. In 1973, Juvenal Habyarimana came into power through a military coup and undermined the PARMEHUTU; however, the new President still relied on Hutu Nationalism. The Rwandan refugees who had fled during the violence before Habyarimana took power tried coming back into the country. They were soon turned away and were told due to overpopulation they could not return to their homes. The refugees soon formed a rebel army mainly in Uganda called the Rwandese Patriotic Front, the RPF. After many years of being exiled from their country and viewing the rise of Hutu extremists, in 1990 the RPF invaded Rwanda and forced President Habyarimana to sign an accord stating that the Hutus and Tutsis would share power in Rwanda. Soon after the attack, the Rwandan government staged false RPF attacks on the cities of Rwanda to raise fear in the Hutus.

            In 1993, the problems in Rwanda escalated and the Hutu President, Melchior Ndadaye of Burundi, was assassinated. Ethnic tensions heightened quickly. 2,500 UN military officials from all over the world were sent to Rwanda to keep the peace between the Hutus and Tutsis. They were led by General Romeo Dallaire of Canada. The UN officials tried to keep peace as best they could, however the seize fire agreement was threatened by the Interahamwe, a group of extremists for Hutu nationalism who wished to exterminate all of the Tutsis. On April 6, 1994, President Habyarimana’s plane was shot down while returning from a peace meeting with the Tutsi rebels. This horrific event was the catalyst for the Rwandan genocide and gave the Hutu extremists justification to kill the Tutsis, something they had been planning to do; it is possible that Hutu extremists shot down the President’s plane in order to set their plan in motion. That night Hutus told all Rwandans to stay in their homes. Little did the Tutsis know this was so the Hutus could find them and kill them. Hutus marched throughout the country with machetes, guns, grenades, and clubs, brutally murdering both Tutsis and Hutu moderates. The identification cards that had been put into action back in the days of the Belgians were now used to round up the Tutsis. A main tool during the genocide was the radio. The Hutu extremists controlled the radio and used it to play hate propaganda messages telling all Hutus to kill the Tutsis. The radio also pinpointed where Tutsis were hiding.

            As the genocide heightened ten UN soldiers from Belgium were captured, tortured, and killed. Immediately the United States, France, Belgium, and Italy evacuated any personnel they had in Rwanda; however, they left the Tutsis and Hutu moderates to fend for themselves. The UN and U.S. refused to acknowledge the situation in Rwanda as genocide because that would then have called for an intervention. The rest of the world turned their backs on the helpless people of Rwanda who were being murdered. The UN Security Council unanimously voted to abandon Rwanda. Only 200 UN soldiers were left as meager peace-keeping force instructed not to interfere except in self-defense. The Tutsis were told to take refuge in churches and schools, and yet those were the places where the biggest massacres happened. Hospitals were raided and patients were killed. People’s houses were destroyed, items stolen, whole lives were destroyed by the Hutu extremists trying to exterminate Rwanda of the Tutsi “cockroaches.” By mid May an estimated 500,000 Rwandans had already been killed. Thousands of bodies were floating down the Kigara River into Lake Victoria. Finally in July of 1994, three months after the genocide began, the RPF defeated the Hutus by invading from neighboring countries. They were finally able to halt the genocide.

At the end of the awful event of the mass killings and extermination of the Tutsi people, 1/10 of the population had been murdered; 800,000 people in close to 100 days. The genocide in Rwanda was the fastest and most efficient killing in history.