Rwanda Genocide

April 1, 2024

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By Daniella Lurion (FSWC Director of Tour for Humanity)

Name: Rwanda. Location: south-central Africa. Capital city: Kigali. Climate: temperate and tropical. Landscape: lush, jungle. The keywords above describe a beautiful country with opportunity. Yet when you Google “Rwanda,” images of horror, destruction and suffering appear. The images of genocide.

In 1994, Rwanda’s population was composed mostly of three ethnic groups: Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa. Approximately 85 percent of the country was Hutu, while 14 percent was Tutsi and one percent was Twa. Years of European colonial rule – first German, then Belgian - had seen the Tutsi minority receive privileges as they were seen as being more European looking. This led to animosity, anger, discrimination, violence and eventually, genocide.

Years of ethnic and social unrest exploded into violence when Hutu president Juvénal Habyarimana’s plane was shot down. This gave anti-Tutsi extremists an excuse to begin the murder of the Tutsis. Moderate Hutus and political leaders who might have been able to prevent the violence were among the first to be killed.  

Thirty years ago on April 6, 1994, the “100 days of slaughter” began – during which more than 800,000 Tutsis were killed in the small African nation. Until then, Hutus and Tutsis had lived side-by-side for decades in Rwanda. With the onset of genocide, neighbours turned on neighbours, and friends turned on friends. Families fled their towns and sought refuge in schools, only for those places to become massacre sites. A vocational school in the village of Murambi became one of those sites, where 50,000 Tutsis were killed in just eight hours. Today, it’s preserved as a genocide memorial.

The Rwandan Genocide eventually ended when the Rwandan Patriotic Front overthrew the Hutu government and took over Kigali. In the aftermath, the United Nations established the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Its mission was to bring to justice those accused of crimes against humanity. One of the first defendants convicted of the crime of incitement of genocide was a newspaper publisher and radio station owner. This landmark ruling was the first time since the Nuremberg trials that an international court examined the responsibility of the media for mass atrocities.

In the years since 1994, the path has not been easy. Survivors of the genocide have become an integral part of Rwanda’s recovery. Survivor Freddy Mutanguha reflects, “For survivors, testimony is important for many reasons. We need to speak to release our anger; to process our experience, and reduce the trauma; to honour the memory of our murdered loved ones and community; to secure a measure of justice, and to begin the long road to peace and reconciliation.”