16th Year Remembrance of the Rwandan Genocide

16th Remembrance of the Rwandan Genocide

Today marks the 16th remembrance year of the Rwandan Genocide. Our thoughts are with those unfortunate victims of the Rwandan Genocide, and all those who have suffered under genocidal programs.

In one hundred days, almost one million men, women, and children were murdered by their neighbours, schoolmates, classmates, colleagues, relatives and supposed friends. An estimated 400,000 of the dead were children, and 95,000 more were orphaned. Children were brutally massacred – killed in their homes, in schools, and in hospitals. Newborn babies were murdered in the maternity clinics where they were born. More babies were stolen from their mothers, only to be butchered. Tutsi mothers were forced to kill their own kids. Thousands of children were drowned, burned, buried alive, thrown down toilets while wounded and left for dead. They threw them into water to spare them death by a machete. It was in the words of one survivor, “a last gesture of love,” others strapped on the backs of their mothers, downed when their mothers were forced to jump into the rivers. Many of the young girls who survived were victimized in different ways: abducted, raped, impregnated. What kind of human beings can do this to children? After witnessing the most sickening sights, I too ask that question over and over again as I watch the battered and mutilated orphans.” – Barbara Colorosso

 A Brief Summary of the Rwandan Genocide

 In 1994, Rwanda was a country of about 8 million people, comprised of 14% Tutsi and 85% Hutu. They were a group that intermarried, and coexisted peacefully.

 The division of labour was such where the Hutus were peasant farmers and the Tutsis were cattle owners. It is unclear exactly how this division of labour arose, but when the Belgians entered Rwanda in 1918, they played on this economic difference.

The Belgians reinforced the idea, largely introduced by Roman Catholic missionaries, that the Hutus were native to Rwanda, and the Tutsi’s were a superior, more ‘civilized’ people from the north. In the 1930 the Belgians introduced identity cards that indicated ethnicity. The stereotype was that Hutus were short and stocky and Tutsis were tall and thin, although both Hutus and Tutsis say that it is often impossible to tell them apart. (Which is why they needed identity cards).

There is a long pre-history to the 1994 genocide, and many power changes in both Rwanda and Burundi. (a neighbouring country that like Rwanda is densely populated, mainly by Tutsis and Hutus.) There were at least 5 previous mass killings, beginning with the Hutu revolution in 1959, which changed the country’s leader from Tutsi to Hutu.

About 1 million Tutsi who had fled Rwanda during these massaces lived in refugee camps in Uganda. Eventually, the exiles built up up an army called the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). The RPF invaded Rwanda in 1990 but were held off when the Rwandan government troops were helped by French paratroopers.

Inside Rwanda, the goverment of President Juvenal Habyarimana encouraged violence against the Tutis and began giving military training to militias of young men who later became the Interahamwe.

Under pressure from Western governments beginning in 1992, the government agreed to peace talks. The Arusha Peace Agreement signed in Tanzania in August 4, 1993, mandated power sharing between Tutsis and Hutus, but the government appeared unprepared to go along with this.

The government had been building up caches of assault rifles, guns and grenades as well as farm implements such as machetes and axes. (The arms were supplied mainly by France, which continued to train troops and advise the government on political and military matters until the genocide began.) Militia members were being trained to use explosives and weapons to kill people quickly. The names and addresses of Tutsis were prepared in advance. Children, who did not have identity cards, had already been separated in schools, Tutsis on one side, Hutus on the other.

The spark that kindled the genocide was the shooting down of the presidential plane on April 6, 1994; killing both Rwandan president Habyarimana and the president of Burundi, Cyprien Ntaryamira. Only a few hours after the crash, the presidential guard, government troops and militia killed moderate Hutu officials and opposition leaders – anyone likely to oppose the genocide – and began the systematic extermination of Tutsi’s countrywide. The ringleader of the genocide, denfense ministry official Col.Theoneste Bagosora,

The killing took place openly, everywhere – in people’s houses, on the street, at roadblocks, in public stadiums, even in Churches, hospitals, and schools, where groups of Tutsi had gathered for safety. Some of the worst massacres took place in Churches themselves, wher Church officials often joined in the massacres themselves.

Tutsi women suffered vicious rape and torcher before they were killed. Some, half dead from starvation and beatings and constant rape, were kept as sex slaves for weeks or months. 35-year-old Athanasie Mukarwego’s hisband was torchered to death. The Hutu militia told her, “You, we will kill with rape. Did you know that kills too?” Ten years after the genocide, she was still living in constant horror.

Reports of the mass killings were sent out from Rwanda by the RPF, the Red Cross and many other organizations as the genocide progressed. But instead of strengthening its forces, the UN, led by an aggressive US campaign, pulled out troops, leaving a tiny force of 400 behind.

Why was the world so willing to look the other way? There are a number of reasons. The US has just 6 months earlier lost troops in Somalia. The Western world’s focus was on ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia. In May 1994, at the height of the genocide, 2500 journalists were in South Africa to mark the inauguration of Nelson Mandela as president. Few ventured to Rwanda to check out the situation there. The most important reason: aside from the French who were still supporting the Hutu regime, Western countries had nothing to gain from preventing genocide. Rwanda was a poor agricultural African country. It offered no oil, minerals, or other resources valued by the West.

The RPF finally managed to defeat the Hutu troops and militia in July 1994, and the genocide came to an end. An estimated 800,000 to 1 million people had been murdered, all in 100 days. A Tutsi-led government has been in power since.

Tags: , , , ,

Leave a Reply