April 10th marks 21 years since one of the most devastating and violent events that sent profound shocks throughout the international community that remain strong today. The Rwandan Genocide occurred on April 10th, marks the deaths of approximately 1 million people from the Tutsi minority by the Hutus. There was no freak accident, unusual circumstance, or unforeseen circumstances leading to this Genocide but a systematic approach by the Hutus.
To understand why the Rwandan Genocide took place, it is paramount to understand the historical context behind the conception of Rwanda. Before World War I, the Tutsis formed an aristocracy, rendering the Hutus as lower class. The Tutsis were rewarded for privileged status under Belgian rule during 1916-1962, resulting in racial divide and division based on class. In the post-World War II era, Rwanda fell under United Nations control. In turn, the Belgians are instructed to prepare Rwanda for independence and majority rule. The notion of majority rule meant Hutu dominance, as the Belgians shifted favor to the Hutus. In 1959, the first outbreak of violence after Hutu activists died.
Thus, in 1960, Rwanda held an election which brought forth a Hutu victory, and in 1962 Rwanda became an independent state. The Party for Hutu Emancipation came to power after the first Rwandan election, which increased violence against Tutsis. A state of emergency was declared after Tutsi guerrillas entered Southern Rwanda. In 1973, General Habyarimana assumed power, who prohibited Tutsi refugees back into Rwanda. In 1987, the Rwanda Patriotic Force was established to oppose General Habyarimana’s rule.
The rise of Hutu power occurred when Interahamwe became a significant force. The Interahamwe were youths who were recruited to inflict profound violence against Tutsis. They were instructed to use machetes to carry out acts of violence against the Tutsi people. In 1994, Habyarimana was Assisi named after signing a peace deal with the Rwandan Patriotic Force. This was one lighting of the match that resulted in the Genocide. There was an escalation of Hutu extremism, and the Tutsis were referred to as “cockroaches” and that there must be the “elimination of cockroaches.”
The United States was informed of the possibility that Hutu extremists were planning on committing Genocide against Tutsis as early as 1992. United Nations forces were also present in Rwanda but didn’t attempt to prevent the Genocide. The majority of criticism the United Nations and International community faced was that they failed to respond to a warning that the Genocide was going to occur.
The Hutus and the Interahamwe committed acts of Genocide. A war broke out between the Rwandan Patriotic Force and the military. In 1996, there was mass repatriation of Rwandan refugees from across Africa. In 1997, Interahamwe was persecuted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes. The Responsibility to Protect emerged from the Rwandan Genocide because the United Nations did not intervene because it was a conflict between two ethnic groups within a nation, and the United Nations did not want to infringe on the sovereignty of another country. Due to the failure to prevent the United Nations because of laws surrounding sovereignty, the Responsibility to Protect emerged to “embodies a political commitment to end the worst forms of violence and persecution. It seeks to narrow the gap between member states’ pre-existing obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law and the reality faced by populations at risk of Genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.” It upholds that internationally, member-states of the United Nations should work together to foster all citizens’ welfare and protect them from actual perpetrators.
Console Nishimwe shared her story of what happened during the Rwandan Genocide as a survivor of this devastating event: “Every survivor will tell you how horrible it was. The radio announcements were becoming increasingly alarming; it was really scary to hear how Tutsis were being killed in some areas of Rwanda. We were told we would be killed. It became risky staying at home as people were being killed in their own homes and in the streets. So my family and I, as many other Tutsi families, were forced to run away from home and hide. I still remember how scared my parents were, but as children, my siblings and I thought the mayhem would stop soon, but that was not the case. We spent three months hiding in many places, and during this period, many of my family members were murdered — including my father, my three brothers, my grandparents, my uncles, and many friends. My father was the first person to be killed, followed by my brothers. So my mother, my sisters and I kept hiding without knowing whether we were going to survive or not. I also remember hearing the people who took my father talking about how happy they were to have killed him. It was one of the worst times in my life. I wished they had killed me too…We survived, but we were crashed emotionally and psychologically, especially my mother. We didn’t want to leave; we just hoped we could die too. So we just kept praying and hiding, without knowing whether we would survive or not. The killers were also raping and torturing women. During the time we were hiding, I was among the many girls who were raped and, unfortunately, I contracted HIV as a result. It was very hard for me. I can’t find words to describe how I felt. I never thought I would be a normal teenager again.”
May the victims of the Rwandan Genocide rest in peace, and may we never forget the tremendous suffering and devastation that occurs when a blind eye is turned to those who need help and protection.