The Rwandan Genocide

Between March and July 1994, 800,000 to 1 million people were massacred by a Rwandan militia and supporting civilians. The genocide was a result of a protracted civil war, and of those massacred, as many as 70% were Tutsi and 20% where Hutu. The failure of international forces to both recognise the genocide and to then intervene likely contributed to the high death toll.

The History of the Hutus

The Belgians and French had direct colonial links to Rwanda from 1904, and still had ties through trading arms and offering support for the Hutu government. The colonial powers, as well as missionaries and educationalists, played a large role in the categorisation of the Hutu and the Tutsi. The Hutu was a term used to define people who had been conquered by the dominant pre-colonial Tutsi state in the region. The Tutsi were the ruling elite which could include people who were Hutu before – they had starkly defined races with official documents provided to determine who belonged to which race. The Tutsi race received privileged access to education in order to dominate the Hutu race. Colonial power was particularly ruthless in forced labour camps and capital punishment. When the Tutsi and Belgian authorities were usurped in 1959, the identities given to people were largely continued and constructed their political ideology and post independent revolutionary government. Not only did foreign countries fail to assist the Tutsi plight, but they also created the environment that caused the events.

Prelude to Massacre

In 1959, Tutsi leaders were targeted in attacks associated with the handover of Belgian colonial power to the Hutu majority and more than 10,000 Tutsis fled the country. In 1963, a mass killing took place, of an estimated 10,000 to 14,000 refugees when they staged an armed incursion. After this there are also multiple outbreaks of violence.

In 1993 a peace process occurred in Arusha, Tanzania (Arusha Accord) as a means to bring the Tutsi rebels and exiles back to Rwanda to establish a shared government with the existing Hutu government. This occurred at the same time of the end of apartheid and with South Africa holding their own democratic elections. During this time, many foreign investors and donors would do so upon the condition of democracy. In Zambia democratisation was successful, so Rwanda followed suit. Rwanda received a lot of aid from 1990 from the peace processes.

However, Rwanda democracy was occurring at a time the Hutu’s were amassing a strong military force against the Tutsis, and the foreign investment was encouraging this action. The ruling Hutu party wanted to get rid of the Tutsis and they were against any action to sharing power with the Tutsis. Meanwhile exiled Tutsi rebels coming from neighbouring Uganda had invaded occupied parts of northern and eastern Rwanda and there was some hope to get rid of the Hutu government. There were also efforts to create a more moderate government and consequently were pushing the military forces into the rural villages. This caused greater discontent towards the Tutsis and made it unlikely they could establish a peace settlement – but this was pushed for by Western nations.

The Hutu constituency strongly opposed a peace settlement that favoured the Tutsis, and secretly mobilised forces to defend Hutu dominance. It drew on youth organisations, local forces and radio stations to spread the message. Weapons were amassed and stored for the planned uprising and ‘final solution’ to the Tutsi problem. Registers were drawn up as well of Tutsi people and sympathetic or moderate Hutus in order to be exterminated. All that was required was a signal for the armed forces, militia and ordinary Hutus to kill the Tutsi citizens in an organised political and racially motivated genocide. It is estimated that 10% of ethnic Hutus participated in killing the Tutsis, including neighbours and family members.

A Failure to Intervene

Since the Holocaust in Europe, where more than 6 million Jewish people were systematically killed by their government, there were many slogans of ‘never again’. The UN create a Genocide Convention (1948) after the Second World War as a means to prevent genocide and to give powers to intervene over sovereign states. However, in the case of Rwanda, many nations knew the political issues in Rwanda, such as the killings, the mobilisation of forces and radio stations. The UN were already in the country to oversee peace negotiations, and yet, they ignored the growing political tensions.

Timeline of Events (1994)

6th AprilPresident Habyarimnana (President of Burundi) was killed when his plane was shot down by extremists believing he would implement the Arusha Peace Records. The killing begins of citizens.
7th AprilThe armed forces and youth groups set up roadblocks and began killing Tutsis. Thousands are massacred within the first day. The UN forces are forbidden to intervene as it would breach their monitoring mandate.

Agathe Uwilingiyimana, Prime Minster of Rwanda, was then shot outside of her home. The 10 Belgian guards assigned to protect her were not allowed to resist violently, and they gave up their arms and were subsequently castrated, gagged with their own genitalia, and then murdered
8th AprilThe RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Force) which was a combination of Tutsi freedom fighters and exiles launch an offensive to end the genocide. They save 600 troops that were trapped after attending the city for the Arusha Accords.
21st AprilThe UN cuts its forces from 2500 to 250 following the murder of the UN peace keepers.
30th AprilThe UN Security Council spends eight hours discussing the crisis, and the resolution condemning the killing does not use the word genocide. If it was recognised as a genocide they could legitimately enter Rwanda and intervene. Tens of thousands of refugees flee to Tanzania, Burundi and Zaire, fleeing the advance of the RPF.
17th MayThe slaughter of the Tutsis continues and the UN finally agrees to send 6800 troops and policeman to Rwanda. A new Security Council came to the resolution genocide may have been committed. The United States bans using the word genocide.

Deployment of the mainly African forces is delayed because of disputes over who would finance this. The USA argued with the UN in funding the costs of heavy machinery for peace keeping forces.
22nd JuneWith no sign of UN deployment, the Security Council authorises the deployment of French forces in south west Rwanda, they create a safe territory controlled by the government. Killings of Tutsis due continue in the protected space, but some are protected by the French. The USA finally uses the word genocide just justifies international intervention.
July 1994The UN forces finally defeat the Rwandan army and the government flees to Zaire, followed by refugees. The French end their mission and are replaced by Ethiopian UN troops. The RPF sets up an interim government for national unity. Cholera spreads through refugee camps in Zaire and kill more people.

UN agencies clash over reports that RPF have carried out reprisal killings of the Hutus, and several hundred civilians are said to have been executed. The killing to Tutsis continues in the camps.

The 1990s & Intervention

The soft power of development throughout the 1990s, and the encouragement of democracy, saw foreign countries playing role in initiating peace negotiations. This meant insisting the Hutu led government of Rwanda opened the country’s borders and politics to the Tutsis. These talks underestimated the strength of the Hutu extremists and that the politics was deeply entrenched in an anti-Tutsi policy.

The USA was deeply opposed to providing foreign aid to Rwanda, which exacerbated the issue – they refused to recognise genocide was happening, which meant they did not intervene. Moreover, once it was agreed that genocide was happening, military intervention came too late. There were repeated calls to intervene both before and during the genocide, including from the commander of the US Forces already in Rwanda, who, tried to sow the issues to aid workers, charities and the media.

Why did nations not intervene?

  • Earlier failed US efforts in Somalia to create peace in 1992. 19 US troops were humiliated and killed when a peacekeeping operations failed.
  • Another failed intervention could make people lose faith and confidence in the UN.
  • Caution with military intervention, trying to do things more peacefully.
  • The US would only engage and intervene if it directly affects their interests of citizens. The soldiers were to remain under US command and not the UN’s.
  • Originally little or no national interest to intervene.

For many EU and US states and nations, they did not want to intervene given the cost of war. As Rwanda did not neighbour with them, they did not care to the stability of the region, and it was left to the neighbouring countries to react. The UN also does not like to intervene in the politics of sovereign states and their rights, which causes delays in intervention. The Genocide Convention of the UN offers an institutional and legal framework to justify intervention, but also needs to respect the sovereign rights.

Global Intervention after the atrocities

It is widely considered that the failure of the UN in intervening with the Rwandan affairs caused the genocide in 1994. However, their efforts after the crisis have also been heavily criticised. Some claim the French blocked EU assistance to the UN Human Rights operation and reconstruction aid. To further this the withdrawal of French troops in Tanzania, where many refugee camps arose, also demonstrate the failure to effectively intervene and hindered aid worker and charity efforts. Some claim the work of the UNHCR was invaluable in coordinating the refugee exodus, but, the UN Security Council failed to prevent the genocide.

The issues after the genocide included:

  • Revenge killings from the Tutsis
  • Hutu intimidation with aid intervention
  • Hutu attempts of dominance and resurgence
  • Aid getting into the country
  • Refugees moving back into Rwanda

Once the genocide was over, a lot of the media ceased to publicise the efforts thereafter and this created a sense of the issue was distant.

To further this the UN Secretary wanted to dispatch a 5000 strong force to the camps in Zaire, but it was not supported by the member states. This included from Geneva, New York and London.

Once the genocide was on the media there was public outcry for those who could help and had the capacity and resources to intervene to help the nation of Rwanda.

Taking Responsibility

There are many agents responsible for the Rwandan Genocide, including the civilians who participated, the national groups who coordinated the genocide, the government who supported the genocide and the inaction of the UN and Security Council.

Individuals were held accountable for their actions, some imprisoned and others pardoned for admitting to their crimes. Others have waited years and died in custody for their trial. It is not necessarily the justice from the deceased that is required, but also the justice for the current victims. Justice needed to be fair and all encompassing.

The International Tribunal found a group of 20 people responsible for the genocide.  However, the classification from colonial times was also found responsible for the tensions and eventual war. The asymmetrical power base and unequal economy also contributed to public opinion and feelings of discontent between the Hutus and Tutsis. In this respect the structural connections and conditions of Rwanda caused the outbreak of war.

Also, not forgetting the heinous crimes of the Tutsi oppressors against the Hutus just generations before. There were fears of the Tutsis reinstating colonial rule if they won the civil war, which provoked a greater response. The genocide was a result of fear of the Hutus losing power again. Notably Hutus who saved Tutsis neighbours and friends were also murdered for sympathising with the enemy, some 60,000.

Only an equal state where power between the Hutus and Tutsis was evenly shared, where neither were regarded as victims or perpetrators would cause long term peace. The new government formed did just this. However, there are Hutu militia in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and it is still a nation of fear even though classification has ceased.

The UN and other colonial ties made it their responsibility to monitor peace keeping efforts. Commemoration of the event have been helped by international investment and local efforts. Memorials exist to remember those lost where memories are preserved. There are also programmes to help the women raped during the genocide, many whom have HIV/ AIDs, orphans of the genocide and those suffering with PTSD.

The Organisation of African Unity or African Unity was a group that was created to intervene with tribal or stately conflicts in Africa. It has a regional peacekeeping force on standby for conflicts. It works with organisations and governments to secure advance funding in order to train troops and mobilise them quickly.

Foreign Aid & International Criticism

Humanitarian aid in Rwanda actually did not help those in need. It led to the continuance of the refugee camps on the outskirts of Rwanda, and assisted the killers in the camps. The foreign aid which was fixated on the citizens, and not the stability of the nation, ultimately destabilised the country and exacerbated tensions. The RWA was convinced the UN were harbouring the Hutu militants that were continuing to murder Tutsis and wanted to get rid of UN intervention.

There was also no intervention when in 1997 there were revenge killings of Hutus in camps. Despite pleas by NGOs, governments did not intervene due to the previous intervention. After 1995, camps were being closed down on the borders and with the lack of international interest and decreasing funds, the UN went from discussing methods of separating the groups or moving the camps farther from the border to cutting off relief to the camps.

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