Genocide in Rwanda, 1994
Throughout the period of the twentieth century it is believed that more people died during genocides than in wars (Helen Fein 1993:81), despite this staggering claim, the genocides have received noticeably less attention than the recent wars of the twentieth century. There exist many varied definitions of genocide, to state one;
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“a form of one-sided mass killing in which the state or other authority intends to destroy a group, as that group and membership in it are identified by the perpetrator” (Frank Chalk and Kurt Jonassohn, 1990)
This very similar to the UN definition also used by such agencies as Medecins Sans frontiers (Destexhe 1995), the definition included in the 1948 convention states (Article 2):
‘In the Present convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
A) Killing members of the group;
B) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
C) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
D) Imposing measures intending to prevent births within the group;
E)Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.’
Furthermore as Article 1 reiterates ‘genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which [the Contracting Parties to the Convention] undertake to prevent and punish’.
The UN definition of genocide highlights in Article 2 the difference between direct and indirect killings, the latter being techniques such as birth control however they both share the same aim; biological destruction of the group. In addition the UN definition for political reasons excludes mass killing, this definition continues to be up for debate for example Helen Fein (London sage: 1993) views genocide as;
“…sustained purposeful action by a perpetrator to physically destroy a collectivity, directly or indirectly, through interdiction of the biological and social reproduction of group members, sustained regardless of the surrender or lack of threat offered by the victim”.
An exact definition of genocide had direct repercussions when investigating and treating the individuals or groups responsible, it is possible that the potentially guilty party who controlled the genocide may contest the accusation of genocide, stating the actions taken took place in self defence or even under conditions of civil war. They may also believe that those held responsible should be tried under war crimes and not under the crime of genocide, which is described as a crime against humanity under international law (Republic of Rwanda 1995:31). Throughout this case study I intend to provide a detailed insight into the horrific Rwandan genocide during 1994.
Jean Kambanda created history on 1 May, 1998 becoming the first person to ever plead guilty to the crime of genocide at an international court hearing. Kambanda, the prime minister of the Rwandan government, not only planned but instigated the mass attacks and in turn killings in 1994. With the logistics of the genocide overseen by Kambanda, local authorities had enough people in place to initiate the killings; those who were not willing to cooperate with the orders were simply murdered. Furthermore he commissioned an ambience of anger and paranoia, initiated violence and as a result eventually oversaw mass murder. Kambanda as a result was convicted on all six counts and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Kambanda’s politics during his spell in government can be described as irrational and extreme; an underlying theme to his work was exclusion of Tutsis, believing them to be evil.
In order to fully comprehend the reasons behind the genocide in Rwanda, it’s important to understand the history behind it. The origins of Rwanda’s genocide can be traced back a hundred years previous, when in 1894 the King of Rwanda welcomed Gustav Adolf von Gotzen, a German count, to his court. Ten years previously at the Berlin conference Rwanda was gifted to Germany as Africa was divided amongst the European superpowers. Belgium took control of Rwanda in 1916, until 1962 when independence was gained. The Belgians favoured the Tutsi minority (Between 8 and 14 percent of the population at the time of the genocide) granting them preferential status. The ethnic relations between the Tutsis and the Hutus (At least 85% of the population in 1999) were respectable, furthermore they were not believed to be distinct races or tribes, thus Hutu and Tutsis conflict didn’t occur often.
Furthermore any tension that existed between the two ‘tribes’ was increased further and highlighted by the Belgian colonial policy. Gerard Prunier (1997:5) believes that “Each group had an average dominant somatic type, even if not every one of its individual members conformed to it.” With the Hutu being generally a small, stocky somatic type, “a standard Bantu physical aspect”, in comparison the Tutsi were generally tall and thin.
However on the flip side Gunter (1955:672-7) believes ‘there were gross exaggerations of the physical characteristics between Hutu and the taller Tutsi, with the aristocratic minority invariably being compared with the majority of farmers and servants.’ Furthermore the colonisers implemented an identity card system in 1933, this categorised every Rwandan as Hutu, Tutsi, or Twa (The latter being an aboriginal group that before the genocide in 1990 accounted for 1 percent of the population). The identity cards in question were retained during the post independence era, this providing information to the architects of the genocide, as they located their Tutsi victims and Hutu opponents.
The Tutsi, who were deemed better educated and more prosperous, headed the campaign for independence after World War II. As a result the Belgians changed allegiance, now backing the Hutus. The change in allegiance let vengeful Hutu components murdered approximately 15,000 Tutsis over a three year period between 1959 and 1962, as Prunier (1997:63) states ‘ Violence in Rwanda forced many Tutsi into exile between 1959 and 1964, then again during 1972-3, amounting to approximately 600000-700000 people’. The Tutsi fled notably to Uganda and Burundi, where they formed a guerrilla organisation known as the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), with the aim of overturning the new regime. This aim came to fruition in 1990, when the RPF invaded and occupied the north east of Rwanda. In August 1993 Habyarimana finally accepted an internationally-mediated peace treaty, providing the RPF with a share of political power and a military presence in Kigali. As a result the UN deployed 5,000 peacekeepers to oversee issues, referred to as UNAMIR (United Nations Assistance Mission to Rwanda). However there is a school of thought that believes the Rwandan government, despite to treaty, didn’t accept the peace agreement. In addition some government’ officials and high ranked military officers had at that point designed personal ways to combat the Tutsi ‘issue’ as early as 1992. Habyarimana’s controversial decision to make peace with the RPF won others over to their side, including opposition leaders. Many believed themselves to be patriots when involved in the genocide. The above situation was referred to as the ‘Hutu power’ movement, this movement included moderate Hutu’s who opposed the genocide, which organised and supervised the genocide of April-July 1994.
Additionally not only a strong sense of secrecy but a false sense of security combined to disarm the majority who were murdered during the genocide, Friedlander (1997: 60-1) described the situation pre genocide as an ‘illusion of normality’. It is thought that a great deal of the Tutsi contingent based in Rwanda failed to anticipate the imminent genocide of 1994, despite mounting evidence that something was being planned, including periodic killings of innocent and unarmed Tutsi’s. Covert actions were an important dimension of the Rwandan regime’s close political control, and were especially effective in a highly stratified society, where power differentials had long been taken for granted (Maquet 1961). Some high profile politicians and public figures had consistently voiced an opinion that the Tutsi ‘had it coming to them’, however references to a potential future genocide were few and far between. Firm statements of intent were rare, furthermore the rumours that indicated a potential planned genocide in fact served further to disarm the Tutsi contingent of Rwanda, by appearing to ’cry wolf’. Had the Tutsi believed the genocide to be possible a greater number would have fled the country before April 1994 (Chretien 1995: Reyntjens 1994). According to Clapham (1998:209), ‘groups who sought a genocidal solution’ used the period of the Arusha negotiations to prepare for the genocide, and had no intention of agreeing with the terms of any settlement. Ambiguity was deliberately cultivated during preparation for the genocide, and even during its implementation.
April 6th 1994, the day that is widely thought to have triggered the holocaust in Rwanda. Presidents Habyarimana was assassinated when his plane was shot down from the sky by a surface to air missile as the plane approached Kigali airport. Although responsibility for the assassination has never been resolved, many believe that the Hutu extremists had opted to remove their president, who had previously allowed the Tutsi back into government, and initiate a ‘solution’ to the Tutsi ‘problem’. This is thought due to the speed with which the genocide was effectively launched.
Within 24 hours of the president’s plane being shot down, roadblocks sprang up around the Kigali. The interahamwe ( “those who help one another”) militia controlled these roadblocks. In addition to this the Tutsi were segregated and hacked to death with machetes at roadside, however because of the perceived physical differences between the two ‘racial’ groups many taller Hutus were also killed. Furthermore death squads were established and given targets, both Tutsi and moderate Hutu, including the prime minister Agate Uwilingiyimana.
The genocide quickly expanded from the capital city to more rural areas. The official sanction to kill originated from government state, but the killings were also conducted by normal people and quickly established militia’s, the astounding issue here is why were the population of Rwanda so determined to kill. Prunier (1997:140-1) proposed the ideal of the manipulation of certain group identities;
“In a world where illiteracy is still the rule, where most of the population has horizons which are limited to their parochial world, where ideologies are bizarre foreign gadgets reserved for intellectuals, solidarity is best understood in terms of close community. In turn, these positive (or negative) group feelings are manipulated by the elite in their struggles for controlling the scarce and even shrinking financial, cultural and political resources.”
However the reason could lie in the culture of Rwanda, a culture that embodies obedience to authority. The incursions and attacks of the PRF prior to the genocide made the Hutu’s perceive every Tutsi as a threat even more so.
It is estimated that in just two weeks after the start of the genocide, approximately a quarter of a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus had been murdered. Alongside the mass murder of Soviet prisoners of war during World War II, it is thought to be the most concentrated act of genocide ever; “ The dead of Rwanda accumulated at nearly three times the rate of Jewish dead during the Holocaust.” (Gourevitch 1998:3), however Prunier (1997:261)believes the killings happened at an ever faster rate; “ The daily killing rate was at least five times that of the Nazi death camps.”
On a slightly more specific note, the gender aspects of the brutal killings is one of the least investigated factors of the Rwandan genocide. Judy El-Bushra states: “During the war of 1994, and particularly as a result of the genocide massacres which precipitated it, it was principally the men of the targeted populations who lost their lives or fled to other countries in fear. … This targeting of men for slaughter was not confined to adults: boys were similarly decimated, raising the possibility that the demographic imbalance will continue for generations. Large numbers of women also lost their lives; however, mutilation and rape were the principal strategies used against women, and these did not necessarily result in death.” (El-Bushra, “200:73). This trend can be seen throughout the early 1990’s when Tutsi males were murdered as they were presumed to be part of the RPF organisation.
‘Throughout the genocide orders to kill were passed down from the top, and the majority who refused to kill were often killed’ (Gourevitch 1997:44-51), an example of this can be seen when the prefect of Butare refused to order Hutu to murder the Tutsis, he was killed and replaced by militia’s from the north (Prunier 1995:261; Article 19 1996:57). As a result all social ties were abolished, leaving a situation where ‘pupils were killed by their teachers, shop owners by their customers, neighbour killed neighbour and husband killed wives in order to save them from a more terrible death’ ( Destexhe 1995:31). The Hutu used physical features as a guide during the genocide, such as a ‘long nose, long fingers or height (were) considered a sufficient basis for a sentence of death’ (African rights 1996:45), however as Clapham (1998:197) states ‘the blurred vision between the two ‘ethnic groups’ could not be taken as a reliable identity indicator’. On the topic Prunier (1995: 198,142) states that ‘Chopping up men was “bush clearing” and slaughtering women and children was “pulling out the roots of the bad weeds”’.
As mentioned above the Tutsis and moderate Hutu males were almost exclusively targeted prior the genocide and in fact in its early stages, however there exist strong evidence that between April and June 1994 the gendering of the genocide altered, with more women and children being murdered in the later stages. Alison Des Forges in a 1999 report on the genocide wrote; “In the past Rwandans had not usually killed women in conflicts and at the beginning of the genocide assailants often spared them. When militia had wanted to kill women during an attack in Kigali in late April, for example, Renzaho [a principal leader of the genocide] had intervened to stop it. Killers in Gikongoro told a woman that she was safe because ‘Sex has no ethnic group.’ The number of attacks against women [from mid-May onwards], all at about the same time, indicates that a decision to kill women had been made at the national level and was being implemented in local communities.” (See Human Rights Watch, “Mid-May Slaughter: Women and Children as Victims,” in Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda.)
As briefly discussed the Tutsi formed an organisation called the RPF, as soon as the genocide erupted the RPF launched an attack on Kigali. As a result the government resistance was destroyed; this eventually brought an end to the genocide in many areas of the country. On July 4 1994, Kigali fell to the RPF and in turn the genocide came to an end on July 18th.
It is difficult to establish an accurate death toll for the genocide, a figure of 800,000 is generally accepted, although this remains unclear. This figure provided by the Human Rights Watch and is based upon a 1991 census, thus not taking into account the number of other victims of the genocide. However Philippe Gaillard estimates that up to one million people were killed, this confirmed by Charles Petrie, the deputy co-ordinator of the UN Rwanda Emergency Office. Additionally in a preliminary report published by the Rwanda Military of Local Government in December 2001, the figure of just over one million casualties is cited, based on a census in July 2000. The report states that 93.7% of the victims being killed because they were Tutsi; 1% because they had some form of relations with Tutsis; 0.8% because they looked like Tutsis; and 0.8% because they opposed the Hutu movement. Furthermore young people were particularly targeted, as 53.7% of the victims were between 0 and 24 years of age.
Furthermore the strategy behind the Rwandan genocide was created and implemented by a small contingent of government officials, led by Bagosora, a Hutu extremist. Bagosora, a retired army colonel, held the position of defence minister at the time of Habyarimana’s assassination. Agathe Habyarimana, the wife of the former president, Bagosora acted quickly in not only organising the genocide but rallying government support. These leaders exploited the highly-centralized nature of the Rwandan state, “The genocide happened not because the state was weak, but on the contrary because it was so totalitarian and strong that it had the capacity to make its subjects obey absolutely any order, including one of mass slaughter.” (Prunier1995:353-54.). Reyntjens (1996:244-5) believed the ‘Rwandan peoples tendency for obedient compliance, aided in facilitating the ruthless efficiency of the 1994 genocide’. There can exist no simple explanation to the genocide, a numbers of causes may have aided in contribution, such as; colonial ideology of racial division (identity cards, preferential status to Tutsi then change of allegiance); political and economic struggles prior 1994; the nature of their organised society; and finally the fragile regional and class base of a political fraction determined to retain state power at any cost, which perhaps resulted in the mass killings
To conclude I believe I have provided an extensive background to the genocide in Rwanda, which is crucial when aiming to understand to reasons behind the genocide leaving approximately one million dead. Furthermore I have provided an overview of surrounding factors that contributed to the violence and a detailed account of the genocide.
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