How Rwanda's genocide unfolded

In the year 1994, at least 800,000 mainly Tutsi people were beaten, hacked or shot to death in Rwanda's genocide, a roughly 100-day killing spree carried out mostly by Hutu forces.

Let's take a moment to remember the atrocities and understand what happened back then:

How it all started

On April 6, 1994, Rwanda's president Juvenal Habyarimana was killed when his aircraft was shot down over Kigali. 

Habyarimana who belonged to the Hutu majority was returning from peace talks in Tanzania with Tutsi rebels of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).

His death unleashed a killing spree by Hutu forces and the militia. 

The Tutsis were accused by the Hutu authorities of allegedly colluding with RPF rebels who came from neighbouring Uganda.


Wall of victim names

Soldiers of the elite presidential guard killed the moderate Hutu prime minister, Agathe Uwilingiyimana, as well as 10 Belgian paratroopers guarding her.

As massacres started, authorities allegedly distributed lists of people to be killed, mostly Tutsis but also opposition Hutus as troops and militia set up roadblocks and reportedly conducted house-to-house searches looking for targets.


Plunder & massacre

The Mille Collines radio station reportedly exhorted Hutus to kill Tutsi. 

Men, women and children were massacred in the streets, homes and even in churches and schools where they sought refuge. Ordinary people encouraged by the authorities and the media allegedly took part in the killings.

A quarter of a million women were raped under a systematic campaign carried out by Hutu government soldiers and their allied militia and sometimes by local men, even neighbours.


Belongings of the victims

The international community was helpless at the time as the carnage unfolded. 

A UN peacekeeping operation on was reduced from around 2,300 to 270 men.

A week later Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said a "genocide" is underway.


Flame of remembrance

France started Operation Turquoise, a UN-mandated force tasked with protecting displaced persons and civilians. The Rwandan Patriotic Front(RPF) accused the force of seeking to protect the regime and the perpetrators of the genocide.

A week later the UN Human Rights Commission special rapporteur said the slaughter legally qualifies as "genocide" and appears to have been planned.


Skulls & bones or lives: The price of a war

The mainly Tutsi RPF soldiers finally seized capital Kigali and the killing ended. The UN will later estimate 800,000 people lost their lives.  

Hundreds of thousands of Hutus, fearing reprisals fled to neighbouring Zaire, today's Democratic Republic of Congo.


Seeking Justice

In November 1994 the UN sets up the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in neighbouring Tanzania to try the main perpetrators. In 1998 it becomes the first international court to hand down convictions for genocide.

The court issues dozens of rulings before closing in 2015. Its work is taken over by the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT), with offices in The Hague and Tanzania.

Convictions are made internationally too, including in Belgium, a former colonial power.


The other victims

Over 100 days in 1994, around 800,000 minority Tutsis and moderate members of the Hutu majority were murdered, in a campaign orchestrated and amplified allegedly by the extremist Hutu government. 

But there are other victims too, a quarter of a million women were raped and from this unspeakable violence, an estimated several thousand children were born, doomed to shame in a country where not knowing one's paternal lineage is deemed a dishonour. 




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