Rwandan genocide

The Rwandan genocide, also known as the genocide against the Tutsi,[3] was a mass slaughter of Tutsi, Twa, and moderate Hutu in Rwanda, which took place between 7 April and 15 July 1994 during the Rwandan Civil War.[2]

Rwandan genocide
Part of the Rwandan Civil War
Human skulls at the Nyamata Genocide Memorial
Date7 April – 15 July 1994
TargetTutsi population, Twa, and moderate Hutus
Attack type
Genocide, mass murder
Deaths500,000–1,074,017 killed[1][2]
PerpetratorsHutu-led government, Interahamwe and Impuzamugambi militias, Hutu neighbours
DefenderRwandan Patriotic Front
MotiveAnti-Tutsi racism, Hutu Power

Most historians agree that a genocide against the Tutsi had been planned for at least a year.[4][5] However, the assassination of Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana on 6 April 1994 created a power vacuum and ended peace accords. Genocidal killings began the following day when soldiers, police, and militia executed key Tutsi and moderate Hutu military and political leaders.

The scale and brutality of the massacre caused shock worldwide, but the governments of Western states such as Belgium, France, the United States, and others largely ignored the genocide.[6][7][8][9] Most of the victims were killed in their own villages or towns, many by their neighbors and fellow villagers. Hutu gangs searched out victims hiding in churches and school buildings. The militia murdered victims with machetes and rifles.[10] An estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 Rwandans were killed, about 70% of the country's Tutsi population.[2] Sexual violence was rife, with an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 women raped during the genocide.[11] The genocide ended with the military victory of the Rwandan Patriotic Front.

The genocide had lasting and profound effects on Rwanda and neighbouring countries. Today, Rwanda has two public holidays to mourn the genocide, and denial or historic revisionism of the genocide is a criminal offence.[12]


Pre-independent Rwanda and the origins of Hutu, Tutsi and Twa groups

The earliest inhabitants of what is now Rwanda were the Twa, a group of aboriginal pygmy hunter-gatherers who settled in the area between 8000 BC and 3000 BC and remain in Rwanda today.[13][14] Between 700 BC and 1500 AD, a number of Bantu groups migrated into Rwanda, and began to clear forest land for agriculture.[15][14] Historians have several theories regarding the nature of the Bantu migrations: one theory is that the first settlers were Hutu, while the Tutsi migrated later and formed a distinct racial group, possibly of Cushitic origin.[16] An alternative theory is that the migration was slow and steady from neighbouring regions, with incoming groups bearing high genetic similarity to the established ones,[17] and integrating into rather than conquering the existing society.[18][14] Under this theory, the Hutu and Tutsi distinction arose later and was not a racial one, but principally a class or caste distinction in which the Tutsi herded cattle while the Hutu farmed the land.[19][20] The Hutu, Tutsi and Twa of Rwanda share a common language and are collectively known as the Banyarwanda.[21]

The population coalesced, first into clans (ubwoko),[22] and then, by 1700, into around eight kingdoms.[23] The Kingdom of Rwanda, ruled by the Tutsi Nyiginya clan, became the dominant kingdom from the mid-eighteenth century,[24] expanding through a process of conquest and assimilation,[25] and achieving its greatest extent under the reign of King Kigeli Rwabugiri in 1853–1895. Rwabugiri expanded the kingdom west and north,[26][24] and initiated administrative reforms which caused a rift to grow between the Hutu and Tutsi populations.[26]

Rwanda and neighbouring Burundi were assigned to Germany by the Berlin Conference of 1884,[27] and Germany established a presence in the country in 1897 with the formation of an alliance with the king.[28] German policy was to rule the country through the Rwandan monarchy; this system had the added benefit of enabling colonization with small European troop numbers.[29] The colonists favoured the Tutsi over the Hutu when assigning administrative roles, believing them to be migrants from Ethiopia and racially superior.[30] The Rwandan king welcomed the Germans, using their military strength to widen his rule.[31] Belgian forces took control of Rwanda and Burundi during World War I,[32] and from 1926 began a policy of more direct colonial rule.[33][34] The Belgians modernised the Rwandan economy, but Tutsi supremacy remained, leaving the Hutu disenfranchised.[35] In 1935, Belgium introduced identity cards labelling each individual as either Tutsi, Hutu, Twa or Naturalised. While it had previously been possible for particularly wealthy Hutu to become honorary Tutsi, the identity cards prevented any further movement between the groups.[36]

Revolution and Hutu–Tutsi relations after independence

After World War II, a Hutu emancipation movement began to grow in Rwanda,[37] fuelled by increasing resentment of the inter-war social reforms, and also an increasing sympathy for the Hutu within the Catholic Church.[38] Catholic missionaries increasingly viewed themselves as responsible for empowering the underprivileged Hutu rather than the Tutsi elite, leading rapidly to the formation of a sizeable Hutu clergy and educated elite that provided a new counterbalance to the established political order.[38] The monarchy and prominent Tutsi sensed the growing influence of the Hutu and began to agitate for immediate independence on their own terms.[37] In 1957, a group of Hutu scholars wrote the "Bahutu Manifesto". This was the first document to label the Tutsi and Hutu as separate races, and called for the transfer of power from Tutsi to Hutu based on what it termed "statistical law".[39]

On 1 November 1959 Dominique Mbonyumutwa, a Hutu sub-chief, was attacked close to his home in Byimana, Gitarama prefecture,[40] by supporters of the pro-Tutsi party. Mbonyumutwa survived, but rumours began spreading that he had been killed.[41] Hutu activists responded by killing Tutsi, both the elite and ordinary civilians, marking the beginning of the Rwandan Revolution.[42] The Tutsi responded with attacks of their own, but by this stage the Hutu had full backing from the Belgian administration who wanted to overturn the Tutsi domination.[43][44] In early 1960, the Belgians replaced most Tutsi chiefs with Hutu and organised mid-year commune elections which returned an overwhelming Hutu majority.[43] The king was deposed, a Hutu-dominated republic created, and the country became independent in 1962.[45]

As the revolution progressed, Tutsi began leaving the country to escape the Hutu purges, settling in the four neighbouring countries: Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania and Zaire.[46] These exiles, unlike the Banyarwanda who migrated during the pre-colonial and colonial era, were regarded as refugees in their host countries,[47] and began almost immediately to agitate for a return to Rwanda.[48] They formed armed groups, known as inyenzi (cockroaches), who launched attacks into Rwanda; these were largely unsuccessful, and led to further reprisal killings of Tutsi and further Tutsi exiles.[48] By 1964, more than 300,000 Tutsi had fled, and were forced to remain in exile for the next three decades.[49] Pro-Hutu discrimination continued in Rwanda itself, although the indiscriminate violence against the Tutsi did decrease somewhat following a coup in 1973, which brought President Juvénal Habyarimana to power.[50]

At 408 inhabitants per square kilometre (1,060/sq mi), Rwanda's population density is among the highest in Africa. Rwanda's population had increased from 1.6 million people in 1934 to 7.1 million in 1989, leading to competition for land. Historians such as Gérard Prunier believe that the 1994 genocide can be partly attributed to population density.[51]

Rwandan Civil War

In the 1980s, a group of 500 Rwandan refugees in Uganda, led by Fred Rwigyema, fought with the rebel National Resistance Army (NRA) in the Ugandan Bush War, which saw Yoweri Museveni overthrow Milton Obote.[52] These soldiers remained in the Ugandan army following Museveni's inauguration as Ugandan president, but simultaneously began planning an invasion of Rwanda through a covert network within the army's ranks.[53] In October 1990, Rwigyema led a force of over 4,000[54] rebels from Uganda, advancing 60 km (37 mi) into Rwanda under the banner of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).[55] Rwigyema was killed on the third day of the attack,[56] and France and Zaire deployed forces in support of the Rwandan army, allowing them to repel the invasion.[57] Rwigyema's deputy, Paul Kagame, took command of the RPF forces,[58] organising a tactical retreat through Uganda to the Virunga Mountains, a rugged area of northern Rwanda.[59] From there, he rearmed and reorganised the army, and carried out fundraising and recruitment from the Tutsi diaspora.[60]

Kagame restarted the war in January 1991, with a surprise attack on the northern town of Ruhengeri. The RPF captured the town, benefiting from the element of surprise, and held it for one day before retreating to the forests.[61] For the next year, the RPF waged a hit-and-run style guerrilla war, capturing some border areas but not making significant gains against the Rwandan army.[62] In June 1992, following the formation of a multiparty coalition government in Kigali, the RPF announced a ceasefire and began negotiations with the Rwandan government in Arusha, Tanzania.[63] In early 1993, several extremist Hutu groups formed and began campaigns of large scale violence against the Tutsi.[64] The RPF responded by suspending peace talks and launching a major attack, gaining a large swathe of land across the north of the country.[65] Peace negotiations eventually resumed in Arusha; the resulting set of agreements, known as the Arusha Accords, were signed in August 1993 and gave the RPF positions in a Broad-Based Transitional Government (BBTG) and in the national army.[66][67] The United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), a peacekeeping force, arrived in the country and the RPF were given a base in the national parliament building in Kigali, for use during the setting up of the BBTG.[68]

Hutu Power movement

In the early years of Habyarimana's regime, there was greater economic prosperity and reduced violence against Tutsi.[50] Many hardline anti-Tutsi figures remained, however, including the family of the first lady Agathe Habyarimana, who were known as the akazu or clan de Madame,[69] and the president relied on them to maintain his regime.[70] When the RPF invaded in 1990, Habyarimana and the hardliners exploited the fear of the population to advance an anti-Tutsi agenda[71] which became known as Hutu Power.[72] A group of military officers and government members founded a magazine called Kangura, which became popular throughout the country.[73] This published anti-Tutsi propaganda, including the Hutu Ten Commandments, an explicit set of racist guidelines, including labelling Hutu who married Tutsi as "traitors".[74] In 1992, the hardliners created the Coalition for the Defence of the Republic (CDR) party, which was linked to the ruling party but more right-wing, and promoted an agenda critical of the president's alleged "softness" with the RPF.[75]

Following the 1992 ceasefire agreement, a number of the extremists in the Rwandan government and army began actively plotting against the president, worried about the possibility of Tutsi being included in government.[76] Habyarimana attempted to remove the hardliners from senior army positions, but was only partially successful; akazu affiliates Augustin Ndindiliyimana and Théoneste Bagosora remained in powerful posts, providing the hardline family with a link to power.[77] Throughout 1992, the hardliners carried out campaigns of localised killings of Tutsi, culminating in January 1993, in which extremists and local Hutu murdered around 300 people.[64] When the RPF resumed hostilities in February 1993, it cited these killings as the primary motive,[78] but its effect was to increase support for the extremists amongst the Hutu population.[79]

From mid-1993, the Hutu Power movement represented a third major force in Rwandan politics, in addition to Habyarimana's government and the traditional moderate opposition.[72] Apart from the CDR, there was no party that was exclusively part of the Power movement.[80] Instead, almost every party was split into "moderate" and "Power" wings, with members of both camps claiming to represent the legitimate leadership of that party.[80] Even the ruling party contained a Power wing, consisting of those who opposed Habyarimana's intention to sign a peace deal.[81] Several radical youth militia groups emerged, attached to the Power wings of the parties; these included the Interahamwe, which was attached to the ruling party,[82] and the CDR's Impuzamugambi.[83] The youth militia began actively carrying out massacres across the country.[84] The army trained the militias, sometimes in conjunction with the French, who were unaware of their true purpose.[83]


Alleged preparation for genocide

Many historians argue that the genocide was planned in advance of Habyarimana's assassination, although they do not agree on the precise date on which the idea of a "final solution" to kill every Tutsi in Rwanda was first mooted. Gerard Prunier dates it to 1992, when Habyarimana began negotiating with the RPF,[4] while journalist Linda Melvern dates it to 1990, following the initial RPF invasion.[5]

In 1990, the army began arming civilians with weapons such as machetes, and it began training the Hutu youth in combat, officially as a programme of "civil defence" against the RPF threat,[85] but these weapons were later used to carry out the genocide.[86] Rwanda also purchased large numbers of grenades and munitions from late 1990; in one deal, future UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, in his role as Egyptian foreign minister, facilitated a large sale of arms from Egypt.[87] The Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR) expanded rapidly at this time, growing from less than 10,000 troops to almost 30,000 in one year.[85] The new recruits were often poorly disciplined;[85] a divide grew between the elite Presidential Guard and Gendarmerie units, who were well trained and battle ready, and the ordinary rank and file.[88]

In March 1993, Hutu Power began compiling lists of "traitors" whom they planned to kill, and it is possible that Habyarimana's name was on these lists;[81] the CDR were publicly accusing the president of treason.[81] The Power groups also believed that the national radio station, Radio Rwanda, had become too liberal and supportive of the opposition; they founded a new radio station, Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLMC), which broadcast racist propaganda, obscene jokes and music, becoming very popular throughout the country.[89] One study finds that approximately 10% of the overall violence during the Rwandan genocide can be attributed to this new radio station.[90] However, a recent paper questions the findings of that study.[91] During 1993, the hardliners imported machetes on a scale far larger than what was required for agriculture, as well as other tools which could be used as weapons, such as razor blades, saws and scissors.[92] These tools were distributed around the country, ostensibly as part of the civil defence network.[92]

In October 1993, the President of Burundi, Melchior Ndadaye, who had been elected in June as the country's first ever Hutu president, was assassinated by extremist Tutsi army officers.[93] The assassination caused shockwaves, reinforcing the notion among Hutus that the Tutsi were their enemy and could not be trusted.[94] The CDR and the Power wings of the other parties realised they could use this situation to their advantage.[94] The idea of a "final solution", which had first been suggested in 1992 but had remained a fringe viewpoint, was now top of their agenda, and they began actively planning it.[94] They were confident of persuading the Hutu population to carry out killings, given the public anger at Ndadaye's murder, as well as RTLM propaganda and the traditional obedience of Rwandans to authority.[94] The Power leaders began arming the interahamwe and other militia groups with AK-47s and other weapons; previously, they had possessed only machetes and traditional hand weapons.[95]

On 11 January 1994, General Roméo Dallaire, commander of UNAMIR, sent his "Genocide Fax" to UN Headquarters.[96] The fax stated that Dallaire was in contact with "a top level trainer in the cadre of Interhamwe-armed [sic] militia of MRND." The informant—now known to be Mathieu Ngirumpatse's chauffeur, Kassim Turatsinze,[97] a.k.a. "Jean-Pierre" – claimed to have been ordered to register all Tutsi in Kigali. According to the memo, Turatsinze suspected that a genocide against the Tutsis was being planned, and he said that "in 20 minutes his personnel could kill up to 1000 Tutsis".[98] Dallaire's request to protect the informant and his family and to raid the weapons caches he revealed was denied.[98]

The ICTR prosecution was unable to prove that a conspiracy to commit genocide existed prior to 7 April 1994.[99] The supposed mastermind, Théoneste Bagosora, was acquitted of that charge in 2008, although he was convicted of genocide.[100][101] André Guichaoua, an expert witness for the ICTR prosecution, noted in 2010:

What the Office of the Prosecutor has consistently failed to demonstrate is the alleged existence of a "conspiracy" among the accused—presuming an association or a preexisting plan to commit genocide. This is the central argument at the core of its prosecution strategy, borrowing from the contentions initially put forth by academics and human rights defenders. With the exception of two judgements, confirmed on appeal, the Trial Chambers have uniformly found the prosecution's proof of a conspiracy wanting, regardless of the case.[102]

Assassination of Habyarimana

On 6 April 1994, the aeroplane carrying Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira, the Hutu president of Burundi, was shot down as it prepared to land in Kigali, killing everyone on board. Responsibility for the attack was disputed, with both the RPF and Hutu extremists being blamed. In 2006, an eight-year investigation by the French judge Jean-Louis Bruguière concluded that Paul Kagame had ordered the assassination.[103] An investigation by the Rwandan government made public in 2010 blamed Hutu extremists in the Rwandan army.[104] In January 2012, a French investigation[105] was widely published as exonerating the RPF,[106][107] but according to Filip Reyntjens, the report did not in fact exonerate the RPF.[108] Despite disagreements about the perpetrators, many observers believe the attack and deaths of the two Hutu presidents served as the catalyst for the genocide.

Following Habyarimana's death, on the evening of 6 April, a crisis committee was formed; it consisted of Major General Augustin Ndindiliyimana, Colonel Théoneste Bagosora, and a number of other senior army staff officers.[109] The committee was headed by Bagosora, despite the presence of the more senior Ndindiliyimana.[110] Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana was legally next in the line of political succession,[111] but the committee refused to recognise her authority.[111] Roméo Dallaire met with the committee that night and insisted that Uwilingiyimana be placed in charge, but Bagosora refused, saying Uwilingiyimana did not "enjoy the confidence of the Rwandan people" and was "incapable of governing the nation".[111] The committee also justified its existence as being essential to avoid uncertainty following the president's death.[111] Bagosora sought to convince UNAMIR and the RPF[112] that the committee was acting to contain the Presidential Guard, which he described as "out of control",[113] and that it would abide by the Arusha agreement.[111]

Killing of moderate leaders

UNAMIR sent an escort of ten Belgian soldiers to Prime Minister Uwilingiyimana, with the intention of transporting her to the Radio Rwanda offices to address the nation.[114] This plan was canceled because the Presidential Guard took over the radio station shortly afterward and would not permit Uwilingiyimana to speak on air.[114] Later in the morning, a number of soldiers and a crowd of civilians overwhelmed the Belgians guarding Uwilingiyimana, forcing them to surrender their weapons.[115] Uwilingiyimana and her husband were killed, although their children survived by hiding behind furniture and were rescued by Senegalese UNAMIR officer Mbaye Diagne.[116] The ten Belgians were taken to the Camp Kigali military base, where they were tortured and killed.[117] Major Bernard Ntuyahaga, the commanding officer of the Presidential Guard unit which carried out the murders, was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment by a court in Belgium in 2007.[118]

In addition to assassinating Uwilingiyimana, the extremists spent the night of 6–7 April moving around the houses of Kigali with lists of prominent moderate politicians and journalists, on a mission to kill them.[119][115] Fatalities that evening included President of the Constitutional Court Joseph Kavaruganda, Minister of Agriculture Frederic Nzamurambaho, Parti Liberal leader Landwald Ndasingwa and his Canadian wife, and chief Arusha negotiator Boniface Ngulinzira.[114] A few moderates survived, including prime minister-designate Faustin Twagiramungu,[120] but the plot was largely successful. According to Dallaire, "by noon on 7 April, the moderate political leadership of Rwanda was dead or in hiding, the potential for a future moderate government utterly lost."[121] An exception to this was the new army chief of staff, Marcel Gatsinzi; Bagosora's preferred candidate Augustin Bizimungu was rejected by the crisis committee, forcing Bagosora to agree to Gatsinzi's appointment.[122] Gatsinzi attempted to keep the army out of the genocide,[123] and to negotiate a ceasefire with the RPF,[124] but he had only limited control over his troops and was replaced by the hardline Bizimungu after just ten days.[123]


Genocidal killings began the following day. Soldiers, police, and militia quickly executed key Tutsi and moderate Hutu military and political leaders who could have assumed control in the ensuing power vacuum. Checkpoints and barricades were erected to screen all holders of the national ID card of Rwanda, which contained ethnic classifications. (The Belgian colonial government had introduced use of these classifications and IDs in 1933.) This enabled government forces to systematically identify and kill Tutsi.

They also recruited and pressured Hutu civilians to arm themselves with machetes, clubs, blunt objects, and other weapons and encouraged them to rape, maim, and kill their Tutsi neighbors and to destroy or steal their property. The RPF restarted its offensive soon after Habyarimana's assassination. It rapidly seized control of the northern part of the country and captured Kigali about 100 days later in mid-July, bringing an end to the genocide. During these events and in the aftermath, the United Nations (UN) and countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, and Belgium were criticized for their inaction and failure to strengthen the force and mandate of the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) peacekeepers. In December 2017, media reported revelations that the government of France had allegedly supported the Hutu government after the genocide had begun.[125][126][127][128]

Planning and organization

The large scale killing of Tutsi on the grounds of ethnicity[129] began within a few hours of Habyarimana's death.[130] The crisis committee, headed by Théoneste Bagosora, took power in the country following Habyarimana's death,[131] and was the principal authority coordinating the genocide.[132] Following the assassination of Habyarimana, Bagosora immediately began issuing orders to kill Tutsi, addressing groups of interahamwe in person in Kigali,[133] and making telephone calls to leaders in the prefectures.[134] Other leading organisers on a national level were defence minister Augustin Bizimana; commander of the paratroopers Aloys Ntabakuze; and the head of the Presidential Guard, Protais Mpiranya.[132] Businessman Félicien Kabuga funded the RTLM and the Interahamwe, while Pascal Musabe and Joseph Nzirorera were responsible for coordinating the Interahamwe and Impuzamugambi militia activities nationally.[132]

Military leaders in Gisenyi prefecture, the heartland of the akazu, were initially the most organized, convening a gathering of the Interahamwe and civilian Hutus; the commanders announced the president's death, blaming the RPF, and then ordered the crowd to "begin your work" and to "spare no one", including infants.[135] The killing spread to Ruhengeri, Kibuye, Kigali, Kibungo, Gikongoro and Cyangugu prefectures on 7 April;[136] in each case, local officials, responding to orders from Kigali, spread rumours that the RPF had killed the president, followed by a command to kill Tutsi.[137] The Hutu population, which had been prepared and armed during the preceding months, and maintained the Rwandan tradition of obedience to authority, carried out the orders without question.[138]

In Kigali, the genocide was led by the Presidential Guard, the elite unit of the army.[139] They were assisted by the Interahamwe and Impuzamugambi,[86] who set up road blocks throughout the capital; each person passing the road block was required to show the national identity card, which included ethnicity, and any with Tutsi cards were slaughtered immediately.[140] The militias also initiated searches of houses in the city, slaughtering Tutsi and looting their property.[86] Tharcisse Renzaho, the prefect of Kigali-ville, played a leading role, touring the road blocks to ensure their effectiveness and using his position at the top of the Kigali provincial government to disseminate orders and dismiss officials who were not sufficiently active in the killings.[141]

In rural areas, the local government hierarchy was also in most cases the chain of command for the execution of the genocide.[142] The prefect of each prefecture, acting on orders from Kigali, disseminated instructions to the commune leaders (bourgmestres), who in turn issued directions to the leaders of the sectors, cells and villages within their communes.[142] The majority of the actual killings in the countryside were carried out by ordinary civilians, under orders from the leaders.[143] Tutsi and Hutu lived side by side in their villages, and families all knew each other, making it easy for Hutu to identify and target their Tutsi neighbours.[140] Gerard Prunier ascribes this mass complicity of the population to a combination of the "democratic majority" ideology,[143] in which Hutu had been taught to regard Tutsi as dangerous enemies,[143] the culture of unbending obedience to authority,[144] and the duress factor – villagers who refused to carry out orders to kill were often branded as Tutsi sympathisers and they themselves killed.[143]

There were few killings in the prefectures of Gitarama and Butare during the early phase, as the prefects of those areas were moderates opposed to the violence.[137] The genocide began in Gitarama after the interim government relocated to the prefecture on 12 April.[145] Butare was ruled by the only Tutsi prefect in the country, Jean-Baptiste Habyalimana.[146] Habyalimana refused to authorise any killings in his territory, and for a while Butare became a sanctuary for Tutsi refugees from elsewhere in the country.[147] This lasted until 18 April, when the interim government dismissed him from his post and replaced him with government loyalist Sylvain Nsabimana.[140]

The crisis committee appointed an interim government on 8 April; using the terms of the 1991 constitution instead of the Arusha Accords, the committee designated Théodore Sindikubwabo as interim president of Rwanda, while Jean Kambanda was the new prime minister.[148] All political parties were represented in the government, but most members were from the "Hutu Power" wings of their respective parties.[149] The interim government was sworn in on 9 April, but relocated from Kigali to Gitarama on 12 April, ostensibly fleeing RPF's advance on the capital.[150][151] The crisis committee was officially dissolved, but Bagosora and the senior officers remained the de facto rulers of the country.[152] The government played its part in mobilising the population, giving the regime an air of legitimacy, but was effectively a puppet regime with no ability to halt the army or the Interahamwe's activities.[153][152] When Roméo Dallaire visited the government's headquarters a week after its formation, he found most officials at leisure, describing their activities as "sorting out the seating plan for a meeting that was not about to convene any time soon".[154]

Death toll and timeline

The estimated figure of dead were guesses rather than estimates, since they were not based on any systematic counting.[155] An estimated 2,000,000 Rwandans, mostly Hutu, were displaced and became refugees.[156] Additionally, 30% of the Pygmy Batwa were killed.[157][158] The genocide and widespread slaughter of Rwandans ended after the Tutsi-backed and heavily armed Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), led by Paul Kagame, took control of the capital, Kigali, and the country.

During the remainder of April and early May, the Presidential Guard, gendarmerie and the youth militia, aided by local populations, continued killing at a very high rate.[140] Gerard Prunier estimates that during the first six weeks, up to 800,000 Rwandans may have been murdered,[140] representing a rate five times higher than during the Holocaust of Nazi Germany.[140] The goal was to kill every Tutsi living in Rwanda[159] and, with the exception of the advancing RPF army, there was no opposition force to prevent or slow the killings.[140] The domestic opposition had already been eliminated, and UNAMIR were expressly forbidden to use force except in self-defence.[160] In rural areas, where Tutsi and Hutu lived side by side and families knew each other, it was easy for Hutu to identify and target their Tutsi neighbours.[140] In urban areas, where residents were more anonymous, identification was facilitated using road blocks manned by military and interahamwe; each person passing the road block was required to show the national identity card, which included ethnicity, and any with Tutsi cards were slaughtered immediately.[140] Many Hutu were also killed for a variety of reasons, including alleged sympathy for the moderate opposition parties, being a journalist or simply having a "Tutsi appearance".[140]

The RPF was making slow but steady gains in the north and east of the country, ending the killings in each area occupied.[140] The genocide was effectively ended during April in areas of Ruhengeri, Byumba, Kibungo and Kigali prefectures.[140] The killings ceased during April in the akazu heartlands of western Ruhengeri and Gisenyi, as almost every Tutsi had been eliminated.[140] Large numbers of Hutu in the RPF conquered areas fled, fearing retribution for the genocide;[161] 500,000 Kibungo residents walked over the bridge at Rusumo Falls, into Tanzania, in a few days at the end of April,[162] and were accommodated in United Nations camps effectively controlled by ousted leaders of the Hutu regime,[163] with the former prefect of Kibungo prefecture in overall control.[164]

In the remaining prefectures, killings continued throughout May and June, although they became increasingly low-key and sporadic;[140] most Tutsi were already dead, and the interim government wished to rein in the growing anarchy and engage the population in fighting the RPF.[165] On 23 June, around 2,500 soldiers entered southwestern Rwanda as part of the French-led United Nations Opération Turquoise.[166] This was intended as a humanitarian mission, but the soldiers were not able to save significant numbers of lives.[167] The genocidal authorities were overtly welcoming of the French, displaying the French flag on their own vehicles, but slaughtering Tutsi who came out of hiding seeking protection.[167] In July, the RPF completed their conquest of the country, with the exception of the zone occupied by Operation Turquoise. The RPF took Kigali on 4 July,[168] and Gisenyi and the rest of the northwest on 18 July.[169] The genocide was over, but as had occurred in Kibungo, the Hutu population fled en masse across the border, this time into Zaire, with Bagosora and the other leaders accompanying them.[170]

Given the chaotic situation, there is no consensus on the overall number of people killed during the genocide. Unlike the genocides carried out by Nazi Germany and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, authorities made no attempts to record deaths. The succeeding RPF government estimated that 1,074,017 were killed, 94% of whom were Tutsi.[1] The journalist Philip Gourevitch agrees with an estimate of one million, while the UN estimates the death toll to be 800,000. Alison Des Forges of Human Rights Watch estimated that 507,000 Tutsis were killed by assuming an interior Tutsi population of 657,000 prior to the genocide and 150,000 survivors. Concerning killings by the RPF, Des Forges wrote that "our research indicates considerable killing of civilians by RPF forces," but did not proffer an estimate due to lack of data, other than arguing that estimates in the range of 25,000 to 60,000 "appear more likely to be accurate than claims that the RPF killed hundreds of thousands of people."[171] Filip Reyntjens estimated that about 1.1 million lives were lost during the time of the genocide. Of those, he estimated that 600,000 were Tutsi and 500,000 were Hutu. This estimate did not explain the cause of death.[172] James Smith of Aegis Trust notes, "What's important to remember is that there was a genocide. There was an attempt to eliminate Tutsis – men, women, and children – and to erase any memory of their existence."[173]

Thousands of widows, many of whom were subjected to rape, are now HIV-positive. There were about 400,000 orphans and nearly 85,000 of them were forced to become heads of families.[174]

Means of killing

On 9 April, UN observers witnessed the massacre of children at a Polish church in Gikondo. The same day, 1,000 heavily armed and well trained European troops arrived to escort European civilian personnel out of the country. The troops did not stay to assist UNAMIR. Media coverage picked up on the 9th, as The Washington Post reported the execution of Rwandan employees of relief agencies in front of their expatriate colleagues.

Butare prefecture was an exception to the local violence. Jean-Baptiste Habyalimana was the only Tutsi prefect, and the prefecture was the only one dominated by an opposition party.[175] Opposing the genocide, Habyalimana was able to keep relative calm in the prefecture, until he was deposed by the extremist Sylvain Nsabimana. Finding the population of Butare resistant to murdering their fellow citizens, the government flew in militia from Kigali by helicopter, and they readily killed the Tutsi.[175]

Most of the victims were killed in their own villages or in towns, often by their neighbors and fellow villagers. The militia typically murdered victims with machetes, although some army units used rifles. The Hutu gangs searched out victims hiding in churches and school buildings, and massacred them. Local officials and government-sponsored radio incited ordinary citizens to kill their neighbors, and those who refused to kill were often murdered on the spot: "Either you took part in the massacres or you were massacred yourself."[10]

One such massacre occurred at Nyarubuye. On 12 April, more than 1,500 Tutsis sought refuge in a Catholic church in Nyange, then in Kivumu commune. Local Interahamwe, acting in concert with the authorities, used bulldozers to knock down the church building.[176] The militia used machetes and rifles to kill every person who tried to escape. Local priest Athanase Seromba was later found guilty and sentenced to life in prison by the ICTR for his role in the demolition of his church; he was convicted of the crime of genocide and crimes against humanity.[176][177][178] In another case, thousands sought refuge in the Official Technical School (École Technique Officielle) in Kigali where Belgian UNAMIR soldiers were stationed. On 11 April, the Belgian soldiers withdrew, and Rwandan armed forces and militia killed all the Tutsi.[179]

Several individuals attempted to halt the Rwandan genocide, or to shelter vulnerable Tutsi. Among them were

  • Roméo Dallaire (Canadian Lieutenant-General of UNAMIR)
  • Henry Kwami Anyidoho (Ghanaian Deputy Commander of UNAMIR)
  • Pierantonio Costa (Italian diplomat who rescued many lives)
  • Antonia Locatelli (Italian volunteer who in 1992, two years before the actual genocide, tried to save 300 or 400 Tutsis by calling officials in the international community and was later murdered by the Interahamwe)
  • Jacqueline Mukansonera (Hutu woman who saved a Tutsi during the genocide)
  • Zura Karuhimbi (Hutu elderly widow who sheltered more than 100 refugees in her village home, posing as a witch to repel and frighten militiamen)
  • Paul Rusesabagina (the Academy Award nominated film Hotel Rwanda is based on his story)
  • Carl Wilkens (the only American who chose to remain in Rwanda during the genocide)
  • André Sibomana (Hutu priest and journalist who saved many lives)
  • Captain Mbaye Diagne (Senegalese army officer of UNAMIR who saved many lives before he was killed).

Sexual violence

Rape was used as a tool by the Interahamwe, the chief perpetrators, to separate the consciously heterogeneous population and to drastically exhaust the opposing group.[180] The use of propaganda played an important role in both the genocide and the gender specific violence. The Hutu propaganda depicted Tutsi women as "a sexually seductive 'fifth column' in league with the Hutus' enemies". The exceptional brutality of the sexual violence, as well as the complicity of Hutu women in the attacks, suggests that the use of propaganda had been effective in the exploitation of gendered needs which had mobilized both females and males to participate.[181] Soldiers of the Army for the Liberation of Rwanda and the Rwandan Defence Forces, including the Presidential Guard, and civilians also committed rape against mostly Tutsi women.[182] Although Tutsi women were the main targets, moderate Hutu women were also raped.[182]

Along with the Hutu moderates, Hutu women who were married to or who hid Tutsis were also targeted.[11] In his 1996 report on Rwanda, the UN Special Rapporteur Rene Degni-Segui stated, "Rape was the rule and its absence was the exception."[183] He also noted, "Rape was systematic and was used as a weapon." With this thought and using methods of force and threat, the genocidaires forced others to stand by during rapes. A testimonial by a woman of the name Maria Louise Niyobuhungiro recalled seeing local peoples, other generals and Hutu men watching her get raped about 5 times a day. Even when she was kept under watch of a woman, she would give no sympathy or help and furthermore, forced her to farm land in between rapes.[183]

Many of the survivors became infected with HIV from the HIV-infected men recruited by the genocidaires.[184] During the conflict, Hutu extremists released hundreds of patients suffering from AIDS from hospitals, and formed them into "rape squads". The intent was to infect and cause a "slow, inexorable death" for their future Tutsi rape victims.[185] Tutsi women were also targeted with the intent of destroying their reproductive capabilities. Sexual mutilation sometimes occurred after the rape and included mutilation of the vagina with machetes, knives, sharpened sticks, boiling water, and acid.[11] Men were also the victims of sexual violation,[182] including public mutilation of the genitals.[182]

Some experts have estimated that between 250,000 and 500,000 women were raped during the genocide.[11]

Killing of the Twa

The pygmy people called the Batwa (or 'Twa') made up about 1% of Rwanda's population. An estimated 10,000 of a population of 30,000 were killed. They are sometimes referred to as the "Forgotten victims" of the Rwandan genocide.[157] In the months leading up to the genocide, Hutu radio stations accused the Batwa of aiding the RPF and Twa survivors describe Hutu fighters as threatening to kill them all.[186]

Rwandan Patriotic Front military campaign and victory

On 7 April, as the genocide started, RPF commander Paul Kagame warned the crisis committee and UNAMIR that he would resume the civil war if the killing did not stop.[187] The next day, Rwandan government forces attacked the national parliament building from several directions, but RPF troops stationed there successfully fought back.[188] The RPF then began an attack from the north on three fronts, seeking to link up quickly with the isolated troops in Kigali.[189] Kagame refused to talk to the interim government, believing that it was just a cover for Bagosora's rule and not committed to ending the genocide.[190] Over the next few days, the RPF advanced steadily south, capturing Gabiro and large areas of the countryside to the north and east of Kigali.[191] They avoided attacking Kigali or Byumba, but conducted manoeuvres designed to encircle the cities and cut off supply routes.[192] The RPF also allowed Tutsi refugees from Uganda to settle behind the front line in the RPF controlled areas.[192]

Throughout April, there were numerous attempts by UNAMIR to establish a ceasefire, but Kagame insisted each time that the RPF would not stop fighting unless the killings stopped.[193] In late April, the RPF secured the whole of the Tanzanian border area and began to move west from Kibungo, to the south of Kigali.[194] They encountered little resistance, except around Kigali and Ruhengeri.[190] By 16 May, they had cut the road between Kigali and Gitarama, the temporary home of the interim government, and by 13 June, had taken Gitarama itself, following an unsuccessful attempt by the Rwandan government forces to reopen the road; the interim government was forced to relocate to Gisenyi in the far north west.[195] As well as fighting the war, Kagame was recruiting heavily to expand the army. The new recruits included Tutsi survivors of the genocide and refugees from Burundi, but were less well trained and disciplined than the earlier recruits.[196]

Having completed the encirclement of Kigali, the RPF spent the latter half of June fighting for the city itself.[197] The government forces had superior manpower and weapons, but the RPF steadily gained territory as well as conducting raids to rescue civilians from behind enemy lines.[197] According to Dallaire, this success was due to Kagame's being a "master of psychological warfare";[197] he exploited the fact that the government forces were concentrating on the genocide rather than the fight for Kigali, and capitalised on the government's loss of morale as it lost territory.[197] The RPF finally defeated the Rwandan government forces in Kigali on 4 July,[168] and on 18 July took Gisenyi and the rest of the northwest, forcing the interim government into Zaire and ending the genocide.[169] At the end of July 1994, Kagame's forces held the whole of Rwanda except for the zone in the south-west which had been occupied by a French-led United Nations force as part of Opération Turquoise.[198]

The Liberation Day for Rwanda would come to be marked as 4 July and is commemorated as a public holiday.[199]

Killings by the Rwandan Patriotic Front

During the genocide and in the months following the RPF victory, RPF soldiers killed many people, although the nature and causes of these atrocities is a matter of dispute. According to one view, which is supported by the post-genocide regime, killings by RPF soldiers were perpetrated by undisciplined recruits seeking revenge. Furthermore, all such transgressions were promptly punished.[200] Another view, maintained by critics of the regime, is that RPF committed atrocities in a systematic fashion which were directed by officers with a high level of authority,[201] possibly implicating Paul Kagame himself;[202] crimes which should have been prosecuted by the ICTR.[203] Some of those critics argue that these killings amounted to genocide under international law.[204][205][206]

The first rumours of RPF killings emerged after 250,000 mostly Hutu refugees streamed into Tanzania at the border crossing of Rusumo on 28 April 1994.[207] The refugees had fled before the Tutsi rebels arrived because they believed the RPF were committing atrocities. A spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) observed that "There's a lot of propaganda by the Government radio aimed at the Hutu" which "makes them feel very anti-Tutsi."[208] After the RPF took control of the border crossing at Rusumo on 30 April,[209] refugees continued to cross the Kagera River, ending up in remote areas of Tanzania.[210] In early May, the UNHCR began hearing concrete accounts of atrocities and made this information public on 17 May.[211][212][213]

After the RPF took power in Rwanda, UNHCR sent a team led by Robert Gersony to investigate the prospects for a speedy return of the nearly two million refugees that had fled Rwanda since April. After interviewing 300 people, Gersony concluded that "clearly systematic murders and persecution of the Hutu population in certain parts of the country" had taken place. Gersony's findings were suppressed by the United Nations.[214] The Gersony Report did not technically exist because Gersony did not complete it,[215] but a summary of an oral presentation of his findings was leaked in 2010.[216][217] The new authorities categorically denied the allegations of Gersony,[218] details of which leaked to the press.[219] According to an RPA officer, "There was not time to do proper screening. [...] We needed a force, and some of those recruited were thieves and criminals. Those people have been responsible for much of our trouble today."[200] In an interview with journalist Stephen Kinzer, Kagame acknowledged that killings had occurred but stated that they were carried out by rogue soldiers and had been impossible to control.[220]

The RPF killings gained international attention with the 1995 Kibeho massacre, in which soldiers opened fire on a camp for internally displaced persons in Butare prefecture.[221] Australian soldiers serving as part of UNAMIR estimated at least 4,000 people were killed,[222] while the Rwandan government claimed that the death toll was 338.[223]

International involvement

United Nations

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) had been in Rwanda since October 1993,[224] with a mandate to oversee the implementation of the Arusha Accords.[225]

UNAMIR commander Roméo Dallaire learned of the Hutu Power movement during the mission's deployment,[226] as well as plans for the mass extermination of Tutsi.[227] He also became aware of secret weapons caches through an informant, but his request to raid them was turned down by the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO),[226] which felt that Dallaire was exceeding his mandate and had to be kept "on a leash".[98][228] Seizing the weapons was argued to be squarely within UNAMIR's mandate; both sides had requested UNAMIR and it had been authorized by the UN Security Council in Resolution 872.[228]

UNAMIR's effectiveness in peacekeeping was also hampered by President Habyarimana and Hutu hardliners,[229] and by April 1994, the Security Council threatened to terminate UNAMIR's mandate if it did not make progress.[230]

Following the death of Habyarimana, and the start of the genocide, Dallaire liaised repeatedly with both the Crisis Committee and the RPF, attempting to re-establish peace and prevent the resumption of the civil war.[231] Neither side was interested in a ceasefire, the government because it was controlled by the genocidaires, and the RPF because it considered it necessary to fight to stop the killings.[187] UNAMIR's Chapter VI mandate rendered it powerless to intervene militarily,[140] and most of its Rwandan staff were killed in the early days of the genocide, severely limiting its ability to operate.[187]

UNAMIR was therefore largely reduced to a bystander role, and Dallaire later labelled it a "failure".[232] Its most significant contribution was to provide refuge for thousands of Tutsi and moderate Hutu at its headquarters in Amahoro Stadium, as well as other secure UN sites,[233] and to assist with the evacuation of foreign nationals. On 12 April, the Belgian government, which was one of the largest troop contributors to UNAMIR,[234] and had lost ten soldiers protecting Prime Minister Uwilingiliyimana, announced that it was withdrawing, reducing the force's effectiveness even further.[235] On 17 May 1994, the UN passed Resolution 918, which imposed an arms embargo and reinforced UNAMIR, which would be known as UNAMIR II.[236] The new soldiers did not start arriving until June,[237] and following the end of the genocide in July, the role of UNAMIR II was largely confined to maintaining security and stability, until its termination in 1996.[238]

France and Opération Turquoise

During President Habyarimana's years in power, France maintained very close relations with him, as part of its Françafrique policy,[239] and assisted Rwanda militarily against the RPF during the Civil War;[240] France considered the RPF, along with Uganda, as part of a "plot" to increase Anglophone influence at the expense of French influence.[241] During the first few days of the genocide, France launched Amaryllis, a military operation assisted by the Belgian army and UNAMIR, to evacuate expatriates from Rwanda.[242] The French and Belgians refused to allow any Tutsi to accompany them, and those who boarded the evacuation trucks were forced off at Rwandan government checkpoints, where they were killed.[243] The French also separated several expatriates and children from their Tutsi spouses, rescuing the foreigners but leaving the Rwandans to likely death.[243] The French did, however, rescue several high-profile members of Habyarimana's government, as well as his wife, Agathe.[243]

In late June 1994, France launched Opération Turquoise, a UN-mandated mission to create safe humanitarian areas for displaced persons, refugees, and civilians in danger; from bases in the Zairian cities of Goma and Bukavu, the French entered southwestern Rwanda and established the zone Turquoise, within the CyanguguKibuyeGikongoro triangle, an area occupying approximately a fifth of Rwanda.[238] Radio France International estimates that Turquoise saved around 15,000 lives,[244] but with the genocide coming to an end and the RPF's ascendancy, many Rwandans interpreted Turquoise as a mission to protect Hutu from the RPF, including some who had participated in the genocide.[245] The French remained hostile to the RPF, and their presence temporarily stalled the RPF's advance.[246]

A number of inquiries have been held into French involvement in Rwanda, including the 1998 French Parliamentary Commission on Rwanda,[247] which accused France of errors of judgement, including "military cooperation against a background of ethnic tensions, massacres and violence",[248] but did not accuse France of direct responsibility for the genocide itself.[248] A 2008 report by the Rwandan government-sponsored Mucyo Commission accused the French government of knowing of preparations for the genocide and helping to train Hutu militia members.[249][250] In 2019, President Macron decided to reopen the issue of French involvement in the genocide by commissioning a new team to sort through the state archives.[251]

United States

Intelligence reports indicate that United States president Bill Clinton and his cabinet were aware before the height of the massacre that a "final solution to eliminate all Tutsis" was planned.[252] However, fear of a repeat of the events in Somalia shaped US policy at the time, with many commentators identifying the graphic consequences of the Battle of Mogadishu as the key reason behind the US' failure to intervene in later conflicts such as the Rwandan genocide. After the battle, the bodies of several US casualties of the conflict were dragged through the streets of Mogadishu by crowds of local civilians and members of Aidid's Somali National Alliance. According to the former US deputy special envoy to Somalia, Walter Clarke: "The ghosts of Somalia continue to haunt US policy. Our lack of response in Rwanda was a fear of getting involved in something like a Somalia all over again."[253] President Clinton has referred to the failure of the U.S. government to intervene in the genocide as one of his main foreign policy failings, saying "I don't think we could have ended the violence, but I think we could have cut it down. And I regret it."[254] Eighty percent of the discussion in Washington concerned the evacuation of American citizens.[255]


Israel has been accused of selling arms (guns, bullets and grenades) to the Rwandan government that were used during the genocide.[256] In 2016, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that records which document Israel's arms sales to Rwanda during the 1994 genocide will remain sealed and concealed from the public.[257]

Roman Catholic Church

The Roman Catholic Church affirms that genocide took place but states that those who took part in it did so without the permission of the Church.[258] Though religious factors were not prominent, in its 1999 report Human Rights Watch faulted a number of religious authorities in Rwanda, including Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and Protestants, for failing to condemn the genocide – though that accusation was belied over time.[259] Some in the Catholic Church's religious hierarchy have been tried and convicted for their participation in the genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.[258] Bishop Misago was accused of corruption and complicity in the genocide, but he was cleared of all charges in 2000.[260] Many other Catholic and other clergy, however, gave their lives to protect Tutsis from slaughter.[259] Some clergy participated in the massacres. In 2006, Father Athanase Seromba was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment (increased on appeal to life imprisonment) by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda for his role in the massacre of 2,000 Tutsis. The court heard that Seromba lured the Tutsis to the church, where they believed they would find refuge. When they arrived, he ordered that bulldozers should be used to crush the refugees who were hiding inside the church and if any of them were still alive, Hutu militias should kill them all.[261][262]

On 20 March 2017, Pope Francis acknowledged that while some Catholic nuns and priests in the country were killed during the genocide, others were complicit in it and took part in preparing and executing the genocide.[263]


Hutu refugees particularly entered the eastern portion of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or DRC).. Hutu genocidaires began to regroup in refugee camps along the border with Rwanda. Declaring a need to avert further genocide, the RPF-led government led military incursions into Zaire, resulting in the First (1996–97) and Second (1998–2003) Congo Wars. Armed struggles between the Rwandan government and their opponents in the DRC have continued through battles of proxy militias in the Goma region, including the M23 rebellion (2012–2013). Large Rwandan Hutu and Tutsi populations continue to live as refugees throughout the region.

Refugee crisis, insurgency, and two Congo Wars

Following the RPF victory, approximately two million Hutu fled to refugee camps in neighbouring countries, particularly Zaire,[264] fearing RPF reprisals for the Rwandan genocide.[161] The camps were crowded and squalid, and thousands of refugees died in disease epidemics, including cholera and dysentery.[265] The camps were set up by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), but were effectively controlled by the army and government of the former Hutu regime, including many leaders of the genocide,[163] who began rearming in a bid to return to power in Rwanda.[266][267]

By late 1996, Hutu militants from the camps were launching regular cross-border incursions, and the RPF-led Rwandan government launched a counteroffensive.[268] Rwanda provided troops and military training to the Banyamulenge,[267] a Tutsi group in the Zairian South Kivu province,[269] helping them to defeat Zairian security forces. Rwandan forces, the Banyamulenge, and other Zairian Tutsi, then attacked the refugee camps, targeting the Hutu militia.[269][267] These attacks caused hundreds of thousands of refugees to flee;[270] many returned to Rwanda despite the presence of the RPF, while others ventured further west into Zaire.[271] The refugees fleeing further into Zaire were relentlessly pursued by the RPA under the cover of the AFDL rebellion,[272] killing an estimated 232,000 people.[273] The defeated forces of the former regime continued a cross-border insurgency campaign,[274] supported initially by the predominantly Hutu population of Rwanda's northwestern prefectures.[275] By 1999,[276] a programme of propaganda and Hutu integration into the national army, succeeded in bringing the Hutu to the government side and the insurgency was defeated.[277]

In addition to dismantling the refugee camps, Kagame began planning a war to remove long-time dictator Mobutu Sese Seko from power.[267] Mobutu had supported the genocidaires based in the camps, and was also accused of allowing attacks on Tutsi people within Zaire.[278] Together with Uganda, the Rwandan government supported an alliance of four rebel groups headed by Laurent-Désiré Kabila, which began waging the First Congo War in 1996.[279] The rebels quickly took control of the North and South Kivu provinces and later advanced west, gaining territory from the poorly organised and demotivated Zairian army with little fighting,[280] and controlling the whole country by 1997.[281] Mobutu fled into exile, and Zaire was renamed the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).[282] However, Rwanda fell out with the new Congolese government in 1998, and Kagame supported a fresh rebellion, leading to the Second Congo War, which would last up until 2003 and cause millions of deaths and massive damage.[283][282] In 2010, a United Nations (UN) report accused the Rwandan army of committing wide scale human rights violations and crimes against humanity in the Congo during those wars, charges denied by the Rwandan government.[284]

Domestic situation

The infrastructure and economy of the country had suffered greatly during the genocide. Many buildings were uninhabitable, and the former regime had carried with them all currency and moveable assets when they fled the country.[286] Human resources were also severely depleted, with over 40% of the population having been killed or fled.[286] Many of the remainder were traumatised:[287] most had lost relatives, witnessed killings or participated in the genocide.[288] The long-term effects of war rape in Rwanda for the victims include social isolation, sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies and babies, with some women resorting to self-induced abortions.[289] The army, led by Paul Kagame, maintained law and order while the government began the work of rebuilding the country's structures.[219][290]

Non-governmental organisations began to move back into the country, but the international community did not provide significant assistance to the new government, and most international aid was routed to the refugee camps which had formed in Zaire following the exodus of Hutu from Rwanda.[291] Kagame strove to portray the new government as inclusive and not Tutsi-dominated. He directed the removal of ethnicity from Rwandan citizens' national identity cards, and the government began a policy of downplaying the distinctions between Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa.[219]

Justice system after genocide

The systematic destruction of the judicial system during the genocide and civil war was a major problem. After the genocide, over one million people were potentially culpable for a role in the genocide, nearly one-fifth of the population remaining after the summer of 1994. After the genocide, the RPF pursued a policy of mass arrests for the genocide, jailing over 100,000 in the two years after the genocide. The pace of arrests overwhelmed the physical capacity of the Rwandan prison system, leading to what Amnesty International deemed "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment".[292] The country's nineteen prisons were designed to hold about eighteen thousand inmates, but at their peak in 1998 there were 100,000 people in detention facilities across the country.[292]

Government institutions, including judicial courts, were destroyed, and many judges, prosecutors, and employees were murdered. Of 750 judges, 506 did not remain after the genocide – many were murdered and most of the survivors fled Rwanda. By 1997, Rwanda only had fifty lawyers in its judicial system.[293] These barriers caused the trials to proceed very slowly: with 130,000 suspects held in Rwandan prisons after the genocide,[293] 3,343 cases were handled between 1996 and the end of 2000.[294] Of those defendants, twenty percent received death sentences, thirty-two percent received life in prison, and twenty percent were acquitted.[294] It was calculated that it would take over two hundred years to conduct the trials of the suspects in prison – not including the ones who remained at large.[295]

The government began the long-awaited genocide trials, which had an uncertain start at the end of 1996 and inched forward in 1997. It was not until 1996 that courts finally began trials for genocide cases with the enactment of Organic Law No. 08/96 of 30 on 30 August 1996.[296] This law initiated the prosecution of genocide crimes committed during the genocide and of crimes against humanity from October 1990.[296] This law established the regular domestic courts as the core mechanism for responding to genocide until it was amended in 2001 to include the Gacaca courts. The Organic Law established four categories for those involved in the genocide, specifying the limits of punishment for members of each category. The first category was reserved those who were "planners, organizers, instigators, supervisors and leaders" of the genocide and any who used positions of state authority to promote the genocide. This category also applied to murderers who distinguished themselves on the basis of their zeal or cruelty, or who engaged in sexual torture. Members of this first category were eligible for the death sentence.[297]

While Rwanda had the death penalty prior to the 1996 Organic law, in practice no executions had taken place since 1982. Twenty-two individuals were executed by firing squad in public executions in April 1997. After this, Rwanda conducted no further executions, though it did continue to issue death sentences until 2003. On 25 July 2007 the Organic Law Relating to the Abolition of the Death Penalty came into law, abolishing the death penalty and converting all existing death penalty sentences to life in prison under solitary confinement.[298]

Gacaca courts

In response to the overwhelming number of potentially culpable individuals and the slow pace of the traditional judicial system, the government of Rwanda passed Organic Law No. 40/2000 in 2001.[299] This law established Gacaca Courts at all administrative levels of Rwanda and in Kigali.[296] It was mainly created to lessen the burden on normal courts and provide assistance in the justice system to run trials for those already in prison.[294] The least severe cases, according to the terms of Organic Law No. 08/96 of 30, would be handled by these Gacaca Courts.[296] With this law, the government began implementing a participatory justice system, known as Gacaca, in order to address the enormous backlog of cases.[300] The Gacaca court system traditionally dealt with conflicts within communities, but it was adapted to deal with genocide crimes. Among the principal objectives of the courts were identification of the truth about what happened during the genocide, speeding up the process of trying genocide suspects, national unity and reconciliation, and demonstrating the capacity of the Rwandan people to resolve their own problems.[296]

The Gacaca court system faced many controversies and challenges; they were accused of being puppets of the RPF-dominated government.[301] The judges (known as Inyangamugayo, which means "those who detest dishonesty" in Kinyarwanda) who preside over the genocide trials were elected by the public.[301] After election, the judges received training, but there was concern that the training was not adequate for serious legal questions or complex proceedings.[301] Furthermore, many judges resigned after facing accusations of participating in the genocide;[301] 27% of them were so accused.[296] There was also a lack of defense counsel and protections for the accused,[301] who were denied the right to appeal to ordinary courts.[301] Most trials were open to the public, but there were issues with witness intimidation.[301] The Gacaca courts did not try those responsible for massacres of Hutu civilians committed by members of the RPF, which controlled the Gacaca Court system.[301]

On 18 June 2012, the Gacaca court system was officially closed after facing criticism.[302] It is estimated that the Gacaca court system tried 1,958,634 cases during its lifetime and that 1,003,227 persons stood trial.[303]

International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda

Meanwhile, the UN established the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), based in Arusha, Tanzania. The UN Tribunal tried high-level members of the government and armed forces, while Rwanda prosecuted lower-level leaders and local people.[304]

Since the ICTR was established as an ad hoc international jurisdiction,[305] the ICTR was scheduled to close by the end of 2014,[306] after it would complete trials by 2009 and appeals by 2010 or 2011. Initially, the U.N. Security Council established the ICTR in 1994 with an original mandate of four years without a fixed deadline and set on addressing the crimes committed during the Rwandan genocide.[307] As the years passed, it became apparent that the ICTR would exist long past its original mandate. With the announcement of its closing, there was a concern over how residual issues would be handled, because "The nature of criminal judicial work [...] is such that it never really ends."[307] The ICTR officially closed on 31 December 2015,[308] and its remaining functions were handed over to the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals.

Censorship and information control after the genocide

General information control

Article 38 of the Constitution of Rwanda 2003 guarantees "the freedom of expression and freedom of access to information where it does not prejudice public order, good morals, the protection of the youth and children, the right of every citizen to honour and dignity and protection of personal and family privacy."[309] However, in reality, this has not guaranteed freedom of speech or expression given that the government has declared many forms of speech fall into the exceptions. Under these exceptions, longtime Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, asserted that any acknowledgment of the separate people was detrimental to the unification of post-Genocide Rwanda and has created numerous laws to prevent Rwandans from promoting a "genocide ideology" and "divisionism."[310] However, the law does not explicitly define such terms, nor does it define that one's beliefs must be spoken.[311] For example, the law defines divisionism as ‘the use of any speech, written statement, or action that divides people, that is likely to spark conflicts among people, or that causes an uprising which might degenerate into strife among people based on discrimination’.[312] Fear of the possible ramifications from breaking these laws have caused a culture of self-censorship within the population. Both civilians and the press typically avoid anything that could be construed as critical of the government/military or promoting "divisionism."[313]

Information control in the media

Article 34 of the Rwandan constitution states that "freedom of the press and freedom of information are recognized and guaranteed by the state," however, the constitution does not in practice prevent media restrictions.[314] In response to the effects of the radio broadcasts in encouraging the genocide, in the years following the genocide, Rwanda's government imposed strict guidelines for freedom of speech and press in relation to the genocide and the Hutu and Tutsi ideologues. Kagame proposed that these laws were necessary for retaining national unity and protecting against future genocide.[315] These strict media laws have translated into banning government criticism and restricting freedom of speech.[313] Furthermore, the country's broad definition of the limits of free speech has allowed for police to make their own interpretations of the law and exile journalists as the government pleases. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the government threatens journalists who investigate or criticize the government. The CPJ proposed that these threats and the possible jail sentences cause journalists to self censor, even beyond what would normally be censored by the government.[313]

Rwandan journalists are required to obtain licenses from the government controlled Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA). Article 34, along with the bans on speech that includes genocide ideology and divisionism, has commonly been used as a method for revoking journalists licenses.[313] Commonly, these laws are used to block opposition voices such as when the government blocked Inyenyeri News, The Rwandan, and Le Prophete.[314] In a documentary, BBC mentioned that a significant number of Hutus were killed and discussed theories of the RPF shooting down the president's plane. In response to the documentary, the Rwandan government shut down BBC in the local to BBC promoting a "revisionist" position on the genocide in a documentary.[316]

Information control in education

While before the genocide, Rwandan history textbooks would acknowledge and highlight differences between Tutsi and Hutu people, today, the only government approved Rwandan history textbook stresses the Rwandans as one people and virtually ignore the ethnic differences and pre-genocide conflicts.[317] Furthermore, both many Rwandan people and international scholars feel that the teaching of the genocide does not properly teach students the entire story of the genocide.[318] In 2016, Rwanda introduced a curriculum that hoped to bring more balanced discussion to the topic of the genocide, however, the Rwandan laws relating the "divisionism" and "genocide ideology" still limit the scope of such discussion.[319] Teachers are reported to fear the repercussions from discussing the genocide in a non-approved way and self-censor opinions under these rules.[319]

Information control in politics

Since taking office, Kagame has implemented information and media controls to prevent the spread of dissent, including threatening and imprisoning journalists and political opponents for breaking his rules or disrespecting his government and military.[320][313] Kagame's censorship of access to independent media and human rights organizations that do not support his administration has been viewed as a route to eliminating political dissent during elections.[321] His opponents from the past two presidential elections have been jailed after the elections. His 2010 election opponent, Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, served 8 years of a 15-year prison sentence for "conspiracy against the country through terrorism and war" and "genocide denial".[322][323] His 2017 opponent, Diane Rwigara, was imprisoned for more than a year and placed on trial, where she faced the prospect of 22 years in prison for incitement and fraud due to the content of her campaign.[324][325] There are often rumors of political opponents being assassinated, even after they have taken refuge in other countries.[326] The two very well known instances of this were the assassinations of Patrick Karegeya and Andre Kagwa Rwisereka.[327][328] Karegeya was a former Rwandan chief of external intelligence and founder of the opposition party, Rwandan National Congress, who was murdered in South Africa, and Rwisereka was a founding member of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda.[328][327] In 2017, his administration attempted to create rules that would require government approval of all social media by politicians in order to ensure opposition candidates were not "poisoning the minds" of Rwandans. After international backlash, this policy was never enacted.[329]


The genocide had lasting and profound effects on Rwanda and neighboring countries. The pervasive use of rape as a weapon of war caused a spike in HIV infection, including babies born to mothers infected during rapes. Due to the wholesale slaughter of both men and women, many households were headed by widows or totally orphaned children.[330] The destruction of infrastructure and the severe depopulation of the country crippled the economy, challenging the nascent government to achieve rapid economic growth and stabilization. The RPF military victory and installation of an RPF-dominated government prompted many Hutu to flee to neighboring countries.

Today, Rwanda has two public holidays which mourn the genocide. The national mourning period begins with Kwibuka (Remembrance), the national commemoration, on 7 April and it concludes with Liberation Day on 4 July. The week following 7 April is an official week of mourning, known as Icyunamo. As a result of the genocide, nations collaborated to establish the International Criminal Court in order to prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.


There are an estimated 300,000 survivors of the Rwandan genocide.

The 2007 report on the living conditions of survivors conducted by the Ministry in charge of Social Affairs in Rwanda reported the following situation of survivors:[331]

Survivors of the Rwandan genocide
Category Number of survivors
Very vulnerable survivors 120,080
Shelterless 39,685
Orphans living in households headed by children 28,904
Widows 49,656
Disabled during the genocide 27,498
Children and youth with no access to school 15,438
Graduates from high school with no access to higher education 8,000

Survivor organizations

There are a number of organizations representing and supporting these survivors of the genocide. These include the Survivors Fund, IBUKA and AVEGA.[332]

Canadian Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire became the best-known eyewitness to the genocide after co-writing the book Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda (2003) describing his experiences with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.[333] Dallaire's book was made into the movie Shake Hands with the Devil (2007).

Another firsthand account of the Rwandan genocide is offered by Dr. James Orbinski in his book An Imperfect Offering: Humanitarian Action in the Twenty-first Century.

Immaculée Ilibagiza documented her story in Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, which recounts how she survived for 91 days with seven other women during the genocide, in a damp and small bathroom, no larger than 3 feet (0.91 m) long and 4 feet (1.2 m) wide.

Gil Courtemanche, a French-Canadian writer, authored Dimanche à la piscine à Kigali (A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali), which focuses on events in Kigali during the genocide. Courtemanche's book was made into a movie, A Sunday in Kigali (2007).

The critically acclaimed and multiple Academy Award-nominated film Hotel Rwanda (2004) is based on the experiences of Paul Rusesabagina, a Kigali hotelier at the Hôtel des Mille Collines who sheltered over a thousand refugees during the genocide.[334] It is listed by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 most inspirational movies of all time. This same story is related in Rusesabagina's autobiography An Ordinary Man (2006).

The HBO television movie Sometimes in April (2005). centers on two brothers: Honoré Butera, who works for Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines, and Augustin Muganza, a captain in the Rwandan army (who was married to a Tutsi woman), who bear witness to the killing of close to over a million people in 100 days, while becoming divided by politics and losing some of their own family.

The independent documentary film Earth Made of Glass (2010) which addresses the personal and political costs of the genocide, focusing on Rwandan President Paul Kagame and genocide survivor Jean-Pierre Sagahutu, premiered at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival.[335]

In 2005, Alison Des Forges wrote that eleven years after the genocide, films for popular audiences on the subject greatly increased the "widespread realization of the horror that had taken the lives of more than half a million Tutsi".[336] In 2007, Charlie Beckett, Director of POLIS, said: "How many people saw the movie Hotel Rwanda? [It is] ironically the way that most people now relate to Rwanda."[337]

Among songs, "Rwanda" by the punk-ska band Rancid from the album Rancid (2000) is about the Rwandan genocide. So is the punk-ska band Rx Bandits' song "In All Rwanda's Glory", on their album Progress, which they say contains "overly political lyrics". Brooke Fraser wrote the song "Albertine" on her album Albertine about an eponymous orphan from the genocide whom Fraser met one time in Rwanda in 2005. In 2016, the Christian metalcore band Fit for a King explained that a song titled "Stacking Bodies", on their newest album, is about the Rwandan genocide.[338]

Former journalist and United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power is interviewed about the Rwandan genocide in Watchers of the Sky (2014), a documentary by Edet Belzberg about genocide throughout history and its eventual inclusion in international law.[339][340][341]

Juliane Okot Bitek's book of poetry, 100 Days (2016, University of Alberta Press) uses the Rwandan genocide as a framework within which to explore "the senseless loss of life and of innocence" as well as "her own family's experience of displacement under the regime of Idi Amin"[342] Juliane Okot Bitek is the daughter of Ugandan poet Okot p'Bitek.

Brandon Stanton, the creator of Humans of New York, visited Rwanda in September 2018.[343] Beginning on 16 October 2018, he began covering the genocide on his site through a series of interviews and photos from persons who were affected.[344] On his site, he stated his objective: "During my week in Rwanda, I focused on the stories of people who took a moral stand during the genocide. These are members of the Hutu majority who risked their lives to shield and protect Tutsis. In Rwanda they are known as ‘The Rescuers.'"[345] In conjunction with the series, he hosted a GoFundMe campaign to benefit the Gisimba Orphanage in Rwanda and the planned but yet-to-be-built Gisimba House in Uganda.[346] He supplemented the campaign with $13,000 from HONY's Patreon fund, as well as with $1 for every donation beyond the 5,000th donation.[346][347] The campaign reached its goal of $200,000 in 18 hours.[347] Stanton also supported another campaign of the Little Hills organization, which plans to build Rwanda's first children's hospital.[348][349]

Inspired by the events of the genocide, international involvements and subsequent prosecution of war criminals, Hugo Blick wrote and directed the fictional television drama series Black Earth Rising. The show, co-produced by BBC Two and Netflix, aired on BBC Two in September 2018 and started streaming on Netflix in January 2019.

The Ugandan producer and director Richard Mulindwa's film 94 Terror (2018), set during the genocide, depicts an unlikely friendship between a Hutu and a Tutsi, and their escape to Uganda across the River Kagera border.

Revisionist accounts

Since the end of the genocide there have been frequent charges of revisionism.[12][350]

A "double genocides" theory, accusing the Tutsis of engaging in a "counter-genocide" against the Hutus,[351] is promulgated in Black Furies, White Liars, a book by French investigative journalist Pierre Péan. A study issued in 2009 of central and southern Rwanda, based on 8 months of field research in Rwanda over a period of 2 years, found, however, that the absolute number of Tutsis killed was double that for Hutus, and that the patterns of killing for the two groups differed.[352] Jean-Pierre Chrétien, a French historian, criticized Péan's "amazing revisionist passion".[353] Péan has responded to this accusation by describing Chrétien as a "tutsiphile impénitent" (unrepentant tutsiphile).[354]

A great deal of effort has been extended to make sure the focus stays exclusively on the Francophone Tutsi victims and their Hutu executioners. But of the estimated one million people killed, between 300,000 and 500,000 of them were Tutsi, according to best estimates. What about the other 500,000 to 700,000 people? Who is responsible for their deaths?[355][356]

—Christian Davenport
Professor of Peace Studies at the University of Michigan

In 2009, scholars Christian Davenport of the University of Michigan and Allan C. Stam of Dartmouth College argued that the anti-Tutsi genocide constituted only part of the slaughter of spring and summer 1994; that the RPF was "clearly responsible" for another major portion of the killings; that the victims were "fairly evenly distributed between Tutsi and Hutu"; that the majority of the dead were Hutu, rather than Tutsi; and that, "among other things, it appears that there simply weren't enough Tutsi in Rwanda at the time to account for all the reported deaths".[357]

In October 2014, a BBC documentary, Rwanda: The Untold Story, was aired featuring interviews with Davenport and Stam. It suggested that Kagame's RPF was involved in the shooting down of Habyarimana's plane. It aroused considerable controversy.[358] Following this, the Rwandan government banned the BBC's Kinyarwanda-language radio broadcasts from the country[359] before conducting a three-week inquiry into the documentary.[360] In November 2014, Emmanuel Mughisa (also known as Emile Gafarita), a former Rwandan soldier who said he had evidence that Kagame had ordered Habyarimana's plane shot down, was abducted in Nairobi hours after he was called to testify at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. He was reported as "join[ing] a long list of Mr Kagame's opponents who have disappeared or died".[361]

In 2018, the Canadian journalist Judi Rever released a book titled In Praise of Blood. Based on interviews with RPF defectors and top-secret documents that were leaked from the ICTR, Rever argued that a second genocide against Hutus had in fact been committed by the RPF in 1994 as well as in the following years.[362] Scholars had mixed reactions to Rever's work. René Lemarchand called it a "path-breaking inquest", "destined to become required reading for any one claiming competence on the Rwanda genocide".[1] But Scott Straus wrote that "Rever consistently uses conspiratorial and sensationalistic language to advance her claims" and found the book "irresponsible".[363]

Rwandan constitution and revisionism

Under the Rwandan constitution, "revisionism, negationism and trivialisation of genocide" are criminal offences.[364] Hundreds of people have been tried and convicted for "genocide ideology", "revisionism", and other laws ostensibly related to the genocide. According to Amnesty International, of the 489 individuals convicted of "genocide revisionism and other related crimes" in 2009, five were sentenced to life imprisonment, five were sentenced to more than 20 years in jail, 99 were sentenced to 10–20 years in jail, 211 received a custodial sentence of 5–10 years, and the remaining 169 received jail terms of less than five years.[365] Amnesty International has criticized the Rwandan government for using these laws to "criminalize legitimate dissent and criticism of the government".[366] In 2010, Peter Erlinder, an American law professor and attorney, was arrested in Kigali and charged with genocide denial while serving as defense counsel for presidential candidate Victoire Ingabire.[367]


In March 2019 President Félix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of the Congo visited Rwanda to sign the Kigali Genocide Memorial Book, saying, "The collateral effects of these horrors have not spared my country, which has also lost millions of lives."[368] On 7 April the Rwandan Government initiated 100 days of mourning in observation of the 25th anniversary of the genocide by lighting a flame at the Kigali Genocide Memorial. Dignitaries from Chad, the Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Niger, Belgium, Canada, Ethiopia, the African Union and the European Union attended.[369]

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