The Rwanda Genocide

19/11/2014 12:26

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the 1994 Rwanda Genocide, and I thought I would post an op-ed article assessing one of the most catastrophic genocides in Africa. This genocide is a great example of large-scale perpetuation of human rights abuses, which could have been stopped in its initial stages. The Hutus and Tutsis have always been at odds with each other since the colonial period, a time in which the colonial masters favoured the Tutsis over the Hutus. The Belgians thought the Tutsis were much better than the Hutus, and offered them better jobs, and better education opportunities, something that really escalated the hatred between the Hutus and Tutsis. In 1959, the first of the tribal spars between the Hutus and Tutsi surfaced when riots led to the death of over 20,000 Tutsis. Things only got worse for the Tutsis when the Belgians relinquished power over to the Rwandans, and the first Hutu president was elected.  The Hutus started alienating and mistreating the Tutsis from this point on, blaming them for all the problems Rwanda was facing.  The Hutus imagined that killing all the Tutsis would rid Rwanda of all its problems.

In 1994 however, this tribal conflict turned into one of the worst genocides of the 20th century. Between April and June of 1994, over 800,000 Tutsis were killed. The Tutsis were blamed for the death of President Juvenal Habyarimana of Rwanda who died on April 6 after his plane was shot down by ground fired missiles. The death of Habyarimana led to complete unrest in Rwanda as the Hutus went on a killing rampage, butchering thousands of Tutsis every day. Because the Tutsis had been rumoured to have their origins and roots in Ethiopia, their dead bodies were dumped into River Kagera with the Hutus claiming they were shipping them back to Ethiopia where they belonged. The Rwanda genocide forecasted yet another tragic massacre of thousands of people, mainly because two tribes couldn’t stand each other. The manner, in which these people were killed too, was just disgraceful. Many were cut to pieces in the presence of their families; some were shot, while some were hang upside down, before they were shot. These mass killings included all age groups. Little children, who were probably too young to even start school and who weren’t aware of the ongoing situation, were also killed mercilessly. All these autocracies and violations of human rights could have been stopped in their initial stages, if international law had been applied. The future of this nation was riding on how well the UN would handle this, because if they had intervened at the right time, chances are this genocide wouldn’t be what we know it to be today. 

What is extremely tragic about this particular genocide is the fact that so many opportunities presented a chance of redemption although none of these were taken into consideration. The world sat back and watched as these African people butchered each other like animals. A simple step of faith or a little risk operationalized might have changed the outcome of this notorious event. It didn’t mean anything to the rest of the world, that people were dying every minute in Rwanda.  The UN initially offered support to Rwanda, but after the death of ten Belgian soldiers and with the ever increasing prospects of violence coming to new heights, every nation that had sent in soldiers to Rwanda decided to withdraw their forces.

While it’s sad that some Belgian soldiers were killed during this genocide, it doesn’t justify the fact that the world would turn their backs on Rwanda after the death of only ten soldiers. When the ten Belgian soldiers were killed, France, Belgian, Italy and the United States all sent planes to rescue their own expatriates on April 10 1994, leaving the Hutus and Tutsis to tear each other apart. If all these countries had united forces with one another, they could have stopped this genocide from blowing out of proportion. It’s at this point in the genocide that everything could have been turned around. What is even more frustrating is the fact that at this point in time, the UN and US had still not labelled this as genocide, which would have necessitated more immediate intervention, but rather saw this as a tribal conflict between two disgruntled groups[1]. To this worsening event, the UN Security Council responded by voting unanimously to abandon Rwanda in its plight.

The moral default of this is just overwhelming. A successful justification cannot be made for the international betrayal of Rwanda because although something could have been done to stop this tragedy, no feasible attempts were made to this end. While there were less than five hundred UN soldiers in Rwanda, most of the world turned its attention to the ongoing genocide in Yugoslavia that only saw to the death of 200000 people, while Rwanda simultaneously lost close to a million lives. This is not to suggest that the Rwanda genocide was more important than the Bosnia genocide.  The urgency in both nations was equally great although the world decided to ignore one nation. Some scholars have argued that this reaction was an apotheosis of racial segregation. No one cared about this small country in Africa that possibly had nothing to offer the rest of the world, thus ignored the reality of the matter and necessity to act. How then can the African continent trust the UN if they continuously fail to follow through on their promise to promote peace, and protect human rights?

[1] accessed on November 18, 2014  at 9pm.