On the 25th anniversary of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda that claimed 800,000 lives, the world looks back. And forward.
100-Days of Genocide
Twenty-five years ago today, an ID card in Rwanda marking the bearer as a member of the minority Tutsi ethnic group became a death sentence.
A plane carrying the Rwandan Hutu leader Juvenal Habyarimana and his counterpart Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi had been shot down, killing everyone on board. The incident sparked a chain of events that led Hutus across the country, incentivized by the Rwandan government, to massacre their Tutsi neighbors by the tens of thousands.
Over the next three long months, Tutsi men, women and children, as well as moderate Hutus, were rounded up and systematically murdered in efforts led by the Rwandan army and militia. Most victims were killed using machetes; many were beaten to death with clubs. Their bodies were dumped into mass graves.
As many as 10,000 people were killed per day; by the end, 70% of the Tutsi ethnic population would be wiped out. It was the most intensive killing campaign in history.
The Rwandan genocide of 1994 was also a crisis of sexual violence; over 250,000 women and girls were raped. It also became an AIDS/HIV crisis, as Hutus weaponized HIV-Positive and AIDs patients into “rape squads” formed to infect Tutsi women and girls.
Before the horror ended, approximately 800,000 people would be brutally murdered by their neighbors, friends, and countrymen. Hutu husbands were even ordered to execute their Tutsi wives. UNICEF estimates that of the Rwandan dead, 300,000 were children.
The exact death toll will never be known.
In the aftermath, an estimated 400,000 children were left orphaned by the genocide.
Today, some of those very children are now the keepers of this terrible history; guardians of a sacred trust. Rwanda, and the world, must never forget what happened during those three dark months in 1994.
Aline Uwase Turatsinze is one of these. As a guide at Rwanda’s Genocide Museum in Kigali, she leads visitors through exhibits dedicated to those who were lost during the 100 days of genocide that shattered the nation. Among those, were 60 members of Turatsinze’s own family.
“It’s a responsibility to be standing here … I am protecting the memory but as well putting the ‘Never again’ slogan in action so that it might not happen anywhere in the world. Not in Rwanda, not anywhere in the world.” — Aline Uwase Turatsinze
Turatsinze’s sentiment, that of “Never Again,” is one shared by those dedicated to preserving the memory. And by an international community that failed the people of Rwanda in 1994, and are determined not to fail again.
What happened in Rwanda, must never happen again.
On July 7, 1994 the Rwandan Patriotic Front, backed by Uganda’s army, took control of Rwanda and ended the slaughter. Many of the top Hutu officials responsible for perpetrating the genocide fled the country in an effort to escape justice for the atrocities.
The United Nations established the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) on November 1994. Over 90 people were charged, dozens of senior officials were convicted of genocide.
But the reckoning is far from over. While Rwanda has worked hard to put the crisis behind them, with an emphasis on national healing and a breaking down of ethic barriers, the international community is only now beginning to understand what they could have done, and failed to do, to stop the massacre.
Many in the international community watched the events unfold in Rwanda and did not intervene. Some countries, France for instance, had a vested financial interest in the country. Unfortunately for the Tutsis, France was allied with the Hutu.
As few as 10,000 U.S. troops could have prevented the tragedy. The Clinton administration knew and did nothing. There was even a plan to flood Rwanda with fake ID cards, since ID cards were the main method of singling out Tutsis for execution; that plan was never carried out.
The ID cards, incidentally, dividing the Rwandan population into two separate ethnic groups- and indeed, even pitting the two groups intentionally against each other- was a strategy employed by Belgian colonizers to subdue and control the population.
U.N. Security Council responded to the worsening crisis by voting unanimously to abandon Rwanda. Britain, the Roman Catholic Church and the western media complex, which largely ignored the story until it was much too late for many of the victims, also must share the responsibility.
“The international community didn’t give one damn for Rwandans because Rwanda was a country of no strategic importance. It’s up to Rwanda not to let others forget they are criminally responsible for the genocide.” — General Romeo Dallaire, commander of the U.N. peacekeeping force in Rwanda 1994
April 7 is observed annually as the International Day of Reflection on the Genocide in Rwanda in remembrance of those who lost their lives during the terrible events of 1994. Rwanda itself will dedicate a week-long vigil of commemorating the victims beginning on April 7, followed by 100 days of national mourning.
Have We Learned Anything?
Some. The Obama administration formally accused ISIS of carrying out a genocide against religious minorities back in 2016. The U.S. and its allies took action. In 2019, ISIS has largely been defeated, their last stronghold falling only weeks ago.
Perhaps the world has learned the perils of allowing evil to grow unchecked. But we have a long way yet to go.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)