Genocide in Rwanda
A. The UN Convention defines genocide as all acts committed
with the intent to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnic,
racial, or religious group.
B. By this definition, there have been three cases of genocide
in this century:
1. Slaughter of Armenians by Ottoman Turks (1915)
2. World War II Holocaust
3. Systematic killing of Tutsis by Hutu extremists in Rwanda (1994)
C. In Rwanda, however, the slaughter of the Tutsis was not considered genocide until
after the event. The international community ignored it for two reasons:
Under the 1948 Genocide Convention and UN charter, both the US and UN would have
had to have gotten involved and taken action against the Hutus had the incident been
labeled "genocide." Even Warren Christopher instructed his staff to say only that "acts of
genocide may have been committed."
Because both Tutsis and Hutus were being killed, it was not labeled as genocide until after
the fact. Since it was generally considered that genocide could not occur again after
W.W.II, the conflict between Tutsis and Hutus was not identified until it was too late (Did
Genocide Actually 1).
II. Background to Genocide
Two tribes currently exist in Rwanda: Tutsis and Hutus. The Tutsis are generally tall and
thin while the Hutus generally are shorter and stockier.
The Tutsis migrated into the region many years ago and though they were not as numerous
as the Hutus, proceeded to rule over them under a medieval system similar to servitude.
This servitude was indirectly encouraged by Belgian colonists, who preferred the Tutsis
and, consequently, aided them in education, commerce, government, and security.
Fighting broke out in 1959 and continued through the 1960s. The Hutus, tired of being
ruled by the Tutsis, attempted to overthrow them. Hundreds of thousands died in the
fighting. The fighting was described by English philosopher Bertrand Russell as "the most
horrible and systematic human massacre we have had occasion to witness since the
extermination of the Jews by the Nazis" (Lamb 1).
The Hutus overthrew the Tutsis and took control of both the government and the military,
leaving the Tutsis extremely vulnerable, the position they were in when the genocide began
III. Beginning of Genocide
Tension has always existed between the Tutsis and the Hutus, but nobody was prepared
for the four months between April and July 1994.
Actual fighting broke out in early April after a plane carrying Presidents Juvenal
Habyarimana of Rwanda and Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi, both Hutus, crashed as it
approached Kigali airport. Reports are that the heavy gunfire was heard moments before
the plane went down and that it was in fact shot out of the sky by rebel Tutsis.
Upon hearing the news, Hutus took to the streets with any weapons they could find and
began systematically assassinating anyone who appeared to be a Tutsi (Gibbs 1-2).
IV. No Mercy
Hutu assassins showed no mercy for Tutsis. Thousands took refuge in a sports complex,
which was then bombarded with grenades and mortar shells. A group of 21 orphans were
selected from a group of 500 because they looked Tutsi and were promptly killed along
with 13 Red Cross workers who attempted to protect them. All over the country,
countless deaths occurred. Mass graves had to be built for the bodies that piled up (Gibbs
Hutu boys as young as eight were kept in detention camps after the genocide for taking
part in the killing. Assassins were old, young, male, and female. Nobody in the country
was not affected by the mass murder (Raghavan).
"Did genocide actually occur in Rwanda?"
Gibbs, Nancy. "Why? The Killing Fields of Rwanda." TIME .14 May 1994
Lamb, David. "The Road to Ruin for Rwanda." Los Angeles Times. 11 June 1994.
Raghavan, Sudarsan. "'I've Killed Nobody'." Houston Chronicle. 19 May 1996.