Rwandan Genocide Facts
Rwandan Genocide Facts

44 Tragic Facts about the Rwandan Genocide

James Israelsen
By James Israelsen, Associate Writer
Published February 8, 2018
  • The Rwandan genocide occurred between April and July of 1994. Over the course of 100 days, the ethnic majority group, the Hutu, systematically murdered over 800,000 Tutsi, the minority population.[6]
  • The Rwandan people are collectively known as the Banyarwanda. The Banyarwanda are linked historically, culturally, and linguistically, but are made up of three ethnic subsets with distinct historical socio-political roles. The three groups are the Tutsi, the Hutu, and the Twa.[6]
  • The genocide in Rwanda had deep historical roots, including long-term tension within the socially and ethnically divided population of Rwanda. Those divisions had been exacerbated in a variety of ways by European colonialism.[6]
  • The official name for the Rwandan genocide is the "genocide against the Tutsi," as decided by the United Nations in 2014.[2]
  • Rwanda was partially colonized by Germany from 1897 to 1916. Following WWI, a United Nations charter appointed Belgium as Rwanda's colonial overseer, which lasted until 1961. The Belgian colonizers raised the already socially elevated Tutsi to positions of prominence in local government, in ways that often deeply changed longstanding Rwandese customs and social structures.[6]
  • The differences between the three somatic groups in Rwanda—the Tutsi, Hutu, and Twa—are the subject of a great deal of scholarly debate. Early European anthropologists viewed them as different races, though evolving opinion has been far more mixed on the precise nature of the divide between the three social/ethnic groups.[6]
  • Rwandan People
    The old ethnic tensions of Rwanda were highly inflamed by European racial rhetoric (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

  • Interrelations between the politically dominant Tutsi and the more populous Hutu were historically shaped by a social practice known as ubuhake, which was similar in ways to European feudalism. Ubuhake was a sort of patronage system in which the Tutsi would afford protection and chances of upward social mobility to their Hutu clients, who labored and fought on their behalf. Ubuhake was outlawed in 1954, but its deep-seated effects remained.[6]
  • Following WWII, Hutu ideologues began agitating for greater Hutu control and condemning what they referred to as the social and economic monopolization of power held by the European-favored Tutsi.[6]
  • European colonizers heavily favored the Tutsi, who had lighter skin and finer features than their Hutu and Twa countrymen. European anthropologists constructed elaborate explanations and racial theories to explain the differences between the groups and to defend Tutsi superiority.[6]
  • Rwandan power dynamics shifted violently in 1959, when a Hutu uprising left many hundreds of Tutsi dead and caused thousands more to flee the country. From 1959 to 1961, the Hutu carried out a social revolution, which culminated in Rwandan independence from Belgian rule in 1962 and the establishment of a Hutu-majority government.[5][6]
  • The violence and turmoil of the revolutionary period from 1959–1961 created a great number of Tutsi refugees who fled to neighboring countries. These refugees began seeking ways to regain political power in Rwanda, straining racial and ethnic tensions and setting the stage for the violence of 1994.[5][6]
  • In 1988, displaced Tutsi formed the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) with the goal of repatriating Rwandan refugees and reforming the government, with the aim of sharing power between the Hutu and Tutsi.[5]
  • Rwanda genocide Habyarimana
    Habyarimana's death sparked immediate, coordinated violence
  • The spark that lit the tinderbox of ethnic hatreds and set off the genocide was the assassination of Rwanda's president, Juvénal Habyarimana. On April 6, 1994, Habyarimana's plane was shot down near the Kigali airport. Both Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira, the president of neighboring Burundi, who was in the plane as well, were killed.[5][6]
  • Hutu officials were quick to blame the downing of Habyarimana's plane on the Tutsi-led RPF. Many Tutsi claimed that Hutu extremists had shot down the president's plane as a pretense for the Tutsi massacre that followed. It is still not definitively known who was responsible for Habyarimana's death.[5][6]
  • Hutu police and Interahamwe, or militia groups, spearheaded the killing during the months of Rwandan genocide; however, the vast majority of the actual bloodshed was committed by Hutu peasants.[6]
  • By 1994, ethnic tensions in Rwanda between the Tutsi and Hutu were so inflamed that even prior to President Habyarimana's assassination, a Rwandese magazine was published with the headline: "By the way, the Tutsi could be extinguished."[6]
  • French historian and Rwanda expert Gérard Prunier theorizes that the plan to totally exterminate the Tutsi people was planned by certain extremist Hutu elites as early as 1992.[6]
  • The genocidal violence began with extreme swiftness after President Habyarimana's death. His plane was shot down at 8:30 pm; by 9:15 pm, Hutu police had already set up roadblocks and begun searching Tutsi homes. This may be evidence of a common origin for the assassination plot and the perpetration of the genocide.[6]
  • The Rwandese genocide is of a mixed type - partly classical genocide with the systematic massacre of an allegedly racially alien population, and partly political with the systematic killing of political opponents.

    - Gérard Prunier

  • In the initial hours after Habyarimana's assassination, Hutu propagandists sent word over Rwanda's radio waves of invading Tutsi forces and the necessity to rise up and destroy them. One radio broadcaster shouted: "The graves are not yet quite full. Who is going to do the good work and help us fill them completely?" 224[6]
  • A 74-year-old Hutu man who had participated in the genocide confessed shame for his deeds to the RPF (the rival Tutsi military group) upon capture. He defended his actions by saying, "Either you took part in the massacre or else you were massacred yourself. So I took my weapons and I defended the members of my tribe against the Tutsi." 247.[6]
  • One of the first victims of the violence was Rwanda's Prime Minister, Agathe Uwilingiyimana. Her Beligan guards were captured, tortured, and killed, and she was assassinated.[6]
  • Rwanda Genocide Death
    The Rwandan genocide is one of the most stark and shocking genocides in recorded history
  • Along with the Tutsi, liberal and moderate Hutus were exterminated, as well as many Hutus who simply refused to participate in the bloodshed.[5][6]
  • The perpetrators of the genocide--or génocidaires--killed many priests and nuns simply because they tried to stop the killers from harming others.
  • Some people were killed simply for "having a Tutsi look," speaking good French, or owning nice cars, because these signs of social distinction marked them as possible liberals.[6]
  • Hutu ideologues incited the Hutu peasantry to violence over the radio, admonishing them to go out and exterminate the "Tutsi cockroach."[5][6]
  • The génocidaires were intent on the complete extermination of the Tutsi, killing the elderly as well as babies.[6]
  • Hutu militias and peasants used rape as a tactic of war and intimidation, raping hundreds of thousands of women during the months of violence. Many women were gang-raped, raped with weapons or sharpened sticks, or subjected to genital mutilation.[4]
  • The génocidaires committed the vast majority of their killings with machetes, a common tool in every Rwandan household.[6]
  • From 1990 to 1994, many efforts were made, both within Rwanda and by the international community, to foster peace between the Hutu and the Tutsi. While both sides participated in the peace talks, extremists in the Hutu government were already planning the systematic killing of Tutsis and moderate Hutus.[5]
  • During the months of genocidal violence, an estimated 150,000 to 250,000 Rwandese women were raped.[5]
  • Rwanda Genocide Woman
    Women were among the most brutally affected (Andrew Renneisen / Stringer)
  • Most women raped during the genocide were killed immediately afterwards, though some were allowed to survive, being told that it was only so that they might "die of sadness."[4]
  • Many Rwandan women were forced into sexual slavery or "forced marriages" with Hutu militia commanders.[4]
  • In more remote areas of Rwanda, the bodies of victims were piled four or five feet high at times; no one was left to bury them.[6]
  • The genocide placed some people in positions of incredible social and moral complexity, especially in cases of Hutu–Tutsi intermarriage. Children of mixed parentage were often saved by Hutu relatives, while the Tutsi side of their family was massacred.[6]
  • There were cases of extreme heroism among the Rwandan people during the genocide. Many Christians fought to protect the Tutsi, and a number of Hutu risked their lives to save Tutsi friends, neighbors, or loved ones.[6]
  • The international community did little to stop the Rwandan genocide. Belgium pulled its troops out; France sent soldiers to establish a "safe zone," which ended up aiding in the escape of many Hutus; and the United States did effectively nothing.[5][6]
  • Rwanda Genocide Dead
    The dead numbered nearly a million
  • The rate of slaughter during the Rwandan Genocide was five times higher than that of the Nazi death camps.[6]
  • When interviewed, one of the Hutu murderers said that the seed of genocide was planted in the Hutu mind in 1959, after the revolution against the Tutsi. The death of President Habyarimana was simply the signal to begin.[1]
  • Many of the Hutu génocidaires, speak in interviews of the violence with a clinical detachment, as if discussing harvesting crops.[1]
  • Because it was nearly impossible to catch the killings on video, much of the Western world remained ignorant of the scope of the violence in Rwanda.[6]
  • On the whole, the international community failed to aid Rwanda in its hour of need for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the desire to remain aloof from a situation rife with internal tensions not totally understood.[6]
  • The violence stopped in early July of 1994, when the Tutsi military force (RPF) seized Rwanda's capital.[7]
  • The RPF, the Tutsi military force that ended the genocide, was led by Paul Kagame, who became president of Rwanda in 2000.[2]
  • As of 2004, it is illegal to speak about ethnicity in Rwanda.[3]
  • Horrifying Rwandan Genocide Facts INFOGRAPHIC
    Rwanda Infographic Thumbnail

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