Rwandan genocide of 1994


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  • Recently, French President Emmanuel Macron asked for forgiveness for his country’s role in the 1994 Rwandan massacre.


  • The Republic of Rwanda is a landlocked country in the Great African Rift Valley.
  • It is one of the smallest countries on the African mainland.  The capital is Kigali of the country, on the Ruganwa River.
  • Its dominant feature is a chain of mountains, because of which Rwanda is often referred to as “Land of thousand hills”.
  • The major ethnic groups in Rwanda are Hutu, Tutsi and Twa. About 85% of Rwandans are Hutus but the Tutsi minority has long dominated the country.



  • From 1894 to 1918, Rwanda was part of German East Africa. After 1918, Under the mandates system of the League of Nations, Rwanda and Burundi came under Belgium’s administration.
  • Colonialists ruled Rwanda through the Tutsi monarchy. To justify Belgium’s colonial atrocities, the colonial government elevated some Tutsi elites into positions of power to illustrate local rule.
  • Social differences between the Hutu and Tutsi traditionally were profound. But the colonial policy further widened the socio-economic divisions among the tribes.
  • In 1961, Hutu leader Grégoire Kayibanda declared Rwanda an autonomous republic and the next year, the country became independent. Later, Kayibanda became Rwanda’s first elected President.
  • In a 1973 coup, Juvénal Habyarimana took the presidency. France under Mitterrand provided the Habyarimana regime with considerable financial and military support.


  • Tension between the Hutu and Tutsi flared in 1990, when the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (Front Patriotique Rwandais; FPR) led by Paul Kagame, the current President rebels invaded from Uganda.
  • A cease-fire was negotiated in early 1991, and negotiations between the FPR and the government began in 1992.
  • On April 6, 1994, a plane carrying Habyarimana was shot down over Kigali. The Hutu-led government blamed the RPF for the attack.
  • Over the next several months, a wave of mass killings ensued, in which the army and Hutu militia groups known as the Interahamwe and Impuzamugambi played a central role.
  • The killings were pre-planned. The militias, with support from the government, launched a premeditated violent campaign aimed at eliminating the entire Tutsi communities.
  • By the end of the 100-day killing spree, around 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus had been killed. As many as 2,000,000 Rwandans, fled, mostly towards the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
  • The killings came to an end after the RPF captured Kigali and toppled the Hutu regime.


Within Rwanda:

  • Majority of those who fled returned to Rwanda by 1997. The RPF initially went about establishing a multi-ethnic government with a Hutu as the President and Mr. Kagame, a Tutsi, as the deputy.
  • A new constitution aimed at preventing further ethnic strife in the country was promulgated in 2003. Later that year the first multiparty democratic elections in Rwanda since independence were held.
  • Community courts known as Gacaca, were created to speed up the prosecution of hundreds of thousands of genocide suspects awaiting trial. The government also periodically granted mass amnesty to prisoners accused of lesser crimes.
  • Today, Rwanda is a multiparty republic. In 2000, Mr. Kagame assumed the Presidency and continues to be in power.

Outside Rwanda:

  • After the massacre, an estimated 2 million Hutus fled to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Hutu militias are still operating from.
  • The Rwanda-backed rebel groups marched to DR Congo's capital, Kinshasa, and overthrew the government.
  • This eventually led to a new war between six African countries and led to the creation of numerous armed groups fighting for control of this mineral-rich country.


During the massacre:

  • Absence of international interference was a highlight of the massacre. This is one reason for the sheer number of fatalities.
  • The UN and Belgium had forces in Rwanda but the UN mission was not given a mandate to stop the killing.
  • The French, who were allies of the Hutu government, sent a special force to evacuate their citizens. But they did little to stop the slaughter.
  • Following its setbacks in Somalia, the US was determined not to get involved in another African conflict.

After the massacre:

  • The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) was established by the United Nations Security Council to try the culprits of the atrocities.
  • The tremendous number of people to be tried resulted in an inability to proceed in a timely manner.
  • In 2001 the Rwandan government proposed the gacaca legal system as an alternative.


France, which enjoyed close ties with Rwanda’s Hutu-led government of Habyarimana, has long been criticised for its role in the killings:

  • Former French President Mitterrand’s backing to Habyarimana’s policies of ethnic divisionism, hatred and pogroms eventually resulted in the 1994 genocide.
  • In May 2019, President Macron, set up a 15-member expert committee to investigate his country’s role in the genocide.
    • The committee stated that France bore “heavy and overwhelming responsibilities" for being “blind” to the events that led to the killings.
    • The report stated that France did nothing to stop the massacres, and tried to cover up its role and even offered protection to some of the perpetrators.


  • Today, Rwanda is on the path of progress. Between 1990 and 2019, Rwanda's HDI value increased from 0.248 to 0.543, an increase of 119.0 percent. It is ranked seventh in the World Economic Forum's gender gap report.
  • This is an outcome of the country’s efforts towards female advancement. The Rwandan constitution of 2003 provides a gender quota mandating that women hold no less than 30 percent of political seats. As a result, Women make up 62 percent of Rwanda’s national legislature, far more, proportionally, than any other country.
  • Rwanda’s education system is considered one of the most advanced in Africa, with free and compulsory access to primary school and the first years of high school. Nearly 100% of Rwandan children are incorporated into primary school and 75% of young people ages 15+ are literate.


  • Exposed the demons of colonialism:
    • The massacre was one of the most violent examples of the colonial divide and rule policy and the mandate system.
    • With the rise of neo-colonialism (like China’s debt trap policy) and jingoism, events like the genocide mandate the need of a rule based world order.  
  • Restorative Justice:
    • Rwanda’s Gacaca system proved that post-conflict societies should wherever possible seek to combine criminal trials with restorative justice mechanisms.
    • Such systems can be adopted in areas where justice is yet to be delivered. Eg: To address Taliban’s atrocities in Afghanistan.
  • Role of Media in mass Atrocity:
    • Hate media outlets in Rwanda played a key role in laying the groundwork and encouraging the genocide, while the international news media failed to fully grasp and communicate the genocide.
    • This shows the significant role media has to play in ensuring peace and stability across the world.
  • Need of Collective action:
    • The genocide was preventable, but the UN Security Council and the international community dithered and actions were delayed.
    • This inaction gave rise to the Responsibility to Protect principle. The doctrine mandates international action to “protect a state’s population from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.”


Q.  The 1994 genocide in Rwanda was an outcome of the colonial policies and ethnic conflicts. Discuss?