The Rwandan Genocide

A genocide occurs when a group of people commit an act that results in the death of members of their own ethnic or religious group. This includes, but is not limited to, the killing of people by organized groups, a racially-motivated political action, or a violent war.

The Rwandan Genocide

The Rwandan Genocide occurred from April 6 to July 11, 1994, and was the largest single mass murder in modern history. It killed an estimated 500,000 and possibly up to 1 million Tutsis, moderate Hutus, and other Rwandans.

To understand why the genocide occurred, it is important to look at the historical context in which it took place. The genocide was a result of systematic discrimination against Tutsis and moderate Hutus. This arose from economic and class divisions that grew out of colonial rule in the early years of the country.

After colonization, most people in Rwanda were classified as "Hutus" and "Tutsis." The classification was based on the ethnicity of their fathers; it did not necessarily reflect a person's religious beliefs or cultural values. Over time, these categories became more rigid and permanent.

A Hutu Power ideology emerged which argued that Tutsis were foreigners to the country, and were inferior to the Hutu majority. The idea was rooted in the Hamitic Hypothesis, which asserted that Tutsis are descended from a "Hamitic" race, not from the indigenous Rwandan people.

This racist theory was a central tool in inciting the genocide. It was supported by a network of extremist radio stations that propagated racial hate and false information about Tutsis.

Violence and Repression

The genocidal violence against Tutsis began immediately after the plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana was shot down on April 6, 1994. In response, armed Hutu extremists in the army and national police began attacking and killing Tutsis and moderate Hutus in reprisal for the assassination.


Militias were a key component of the genocide. These militias were armed with machetes and other rudimentary weapons. They also enlisted the help of their local communities to carry out the killings. They formed gangs and systematically attacked Tutsis and other civilian targets. They would kill anyone who refused to surrender, including children and elderly.

Sexual Violence

During the genocide, many women were rounded up and subjected to sexual slavery by the militias. They were held in collective groups and sometimes singled out by individual militia men for their personal sexual service.

Prosecution and Justice

The perpetrators of the genocide were prosecuted in both national and gacaca courts. The national courts tried more than 10,000 individuals accused of planning the genocide or committing atrocities.

Gacaca courts heard the cases of hundreds of thousands of suspects, trying 1.2 million cases over a decade until 2012. These community-based courts were run by elected judges who interviewed victims and witnesses in villages across the country.

Unhappiness and Impunity

While the national and gacaca courts have been successful in bringing many of those who committed the genocide to justice, the genocide has also generated considerable unhappiness among Rwandan survivors.

Some survivors have been frustrated at the plight of those who are released on bail while they await trial. They believe that releasing defendants while they are still under investigation violates Rwandan law. They also feel that if the government were to release more people, it would create an environment of impunity and encourage future violence against Tutsis.

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