It was only twenty years ago that the now infamous “Genocide Fax” was sent, a detailed letter to the United Nations headquarters in New York explaining the brewing events leading up to the mass slaughter that we now know as the Rwandan Genocide.

The letter, sent by the then-Force Commander of the UN peacekeeping mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), General Romeo Dallaire, explained that ethnic Hutu extremists were stockpiling weapons and distributing them to the militias. An informant had also revealed to him that “he has been ordered to register all Tutsi in Kigali” in preparation “for their extermination.” These harrowing discoveries prompted Dallaire to contact UN headquarters, convinced that it was necessary to act. The final line of the letter read, ‘Peux ce que veux. Allons-y,’ translating to ‘Where there is a will there is a way. Let’s go.’

The UN however, decided against acting. Then-Head of UN Peacekeeping Operations, Kofi Annan, instructed Dallaire to essentially do nothing, as “unanticipated repercussions” could ensue.

The repercussions that Dallaire anticipated did ensue, following the tragic plane attack that killed then-President Habyarimana just three months later.

Then came the horrifying Rwandan genocide that claimed nearly one million lives in less than 100 days.

Twenty years later the nation has far surpassed anyone’s expectations. Due to an onslaught of foreign aid and a revitalized Rwandan pride, the country has built itself back and shows no signs of stopping.

Under the leadership of President Paul Kagame, more than one million Rwandans have lifted themselves out of poverty and nearly all children attend school. Investment has nearly tripled since 2005 and economic opportunities abound. Malaria deaths have fallen more than 85 percent, and nine out of every 10 Rwandans claim that they “trust in the leadership of their country.” The transformations that Rwanda has made are far from over, as the country aims to be a middle-income nation by 2020.

These achievements prove just how much can be accomplished in the face of adversity. The Rwandan people have lifted their country out of despair and created a beacon of hope to all of those who still suffer under the dark cloud of genocide.

Not only that, but they have taught us a valuable lesson.

We have a responsibility as human beings to protect each other from such mass atrocities. Unfortunately, the United Nations learned this in a painful way. However, they have now been at the forefront of putting a stop to genocides in countries such as Libya, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Twenty years later we remember all of those who lost their lives in the Rwandan genocide, and we thank them for the valuable lesson that we now must put into practice.

Mollie O’Brien

Sources: The Guardian, The Huffington Post
Photo: Global Solutions

The history of disparate rights between the Rwandan Hutu and Tutsi tribes exploded in April of 1994, followed by 100 days of genocide in which the Hutu extremists killed an estimated 500,000-1 million Tutsi people. Rape was encouraged to destabilize the community’s infrastructure and traumatize its people, resulting in the vicious, serial rape of 250,000 to 500,000 women.

Since the reinstatement of Rwanda’s government, all citizens have been allotted equal rights and the long road toward reconciliation has begun. Since the number of accused hugely outweighs the law officers, the Gacaca court system was set up allowing small communities to hold courts and trials where suspects may confess their crimes and promote reconciliation by disclosing the fates of lost community members.

The government’s newly instated laws of racial equality throughout the country extend to social stigmas as well, bolstering the marginalized. But one group was overlooked: children produced by the Rwandan genocide’s relentless rapes.

Chantal Mukeshimana, now 46, lost her husband and three of their children in the genocide during which she was repeatedly gang-raped. One of these attacks implanted her now-19 year old daughter, Angélique, who has always felt distanced by her mother and blames herself for the pain her existence recalls.

Angélique is one of 20,000 young adults who are products of the Rwandan genocide rapes. Kananga from the Unity and Reconciliation Commission has stated, “When we offered support to widows and children we thought we were supporting everyone.” These children of rape are suspended between their parents; they feel shunned by their Tutsi mothers for the horrific means of their conception, and have no means or wish to find their ‘genocidaire’ Hutu fathers.

Chantal is currently responsible for Angélique, two surviving children from her late husband, and her brother who was paralyzed in the genocide. With no government aid she relies on her community of women for support, most of whom have pasts similar to her own. None have had access to rehabilitation therapy, and they’ve banded together in an attempt to plug the holes of their shattered families.

Today, as they enter adulthood, children of the Rwandan genocide rapes are struggling to come to terms with their history. They are a constant reminder to their communities of the violence that killed their loved ones and stole their bodies. Without serious reconciliation many will remain emotionally crippled forever, extending the horror of the genocide beyond the lives of those who experienced it.

– Lydia Caswell

Sources: About, UN
Photo: Flickr

The nation of Rwanda burst into the mainstream consciousness during the infamous mass murders of Rwandan Tutsi.  From early April through mid-July in 1994, approximately 500,000 to 1 million individuals were murdered.  As we approach the 20-year anniversary of the genocide, we should take some moments to not only reflect on the tragedies and lessons learned, but also examine the progress exhibited by Rwanda’s people.

In annual remembrance of the genocide, the nation of Rwanda will launch Kwibuka 20.  The word Kwibuka means ‘remember’ in Rwanda’s national language, Kinyarwanda.  Kwibuku 20, the twentieth commemoration of the genocide, is being used to promote solidarity between families that lost relatives and other survivors while working to ensure that history does not repeat itself.

The three-pronged approach Rwanda is taking against genocide is to remember, to unite and to renew.

A Flame of Remembrance, similar to that of the running of the Olympic torch, will travel through Rwanda’s 30 districts until it reaches Kigali on April 7, 2014, which begins the start of the national mourning period.  The torch will be used to light memorial lamps within communities throughout Rwanda while acting as the source of fire for the candlelit vigil at Amahoro Stadium on April 7.

Events are being held in countries throughout the world as a symbol of solidarity.  From Nigeria and Sudan, to Sweden and the United States, Rwandan embassies are engaging their local communities in discussions on causes and consequences while promoting genocide prevention principles.

The events will also shine light on the tremendous resilience and progress of the once-embattled nation.  In the last five years, 1 million Rwandans have been lifted out of poverty.  Life expectancy rose from a low of 28 years in 1994 to 56 years in 2011.  Infant mortality has dropped from 61,000 in 2000 to 23,000 in 2011.   To add to these amazing accomplishments, 81% of the Rwandan population now has health insurance.

Rwanda also boasts the highest percentage of women in parliament in the world at 64%.  The nation set a goal of universal access to primary education by 2015 and its on pace to meet that goal.  Today, the primary level net enrollment rate is nearly 97%, however secondary level net enrollment is only 28%.

The progress made in honor of those that were lost is commendable and other nations would be well served to learn from Rwanda’s successes.  To get involved with, host an event, or simply learn about Kwibuku 20, visit the website at Kwibuku20.

– Sunny Bhatt

Sources: Kwibuku20, UNICEF, UN
Photo: IGIHE Pictures

Throughout history, there has been a problem in classifying mass killings as genocides.  The term “genocide” carries a lot of weight because it implies that there was a deliberate extermination of a certain group of people.  Would natural disasters deliberately ignored by the government qualify as genocides?  Can colonization be considered a form of genocide?  Was the North Atlantic Slave Trade genocide?  Since the definition and characteristics of genocide are subjective, this post considers a broad definition of genocide, as in, organized mass murders that are politically, racially, religiously or ethnically fuelled.  The following list is by no means ranking the genocides in any terms, nor is this a comprehensive list of world genocides 

The Nazi Holocaust

Nazi Germany, led by Hitler in the 1930s and 1940s, sought to exterminate the Jewish population.  The Jews were used as a scapegoat for Germany’s economic crisis.  Over the course of WWII, close to 8 million Jewish people were slaughtered by the Nazi regime.  Close to 2/3 of all Jews living in Europe were killed, including 1.1 million children.  Furthermore, some 300,000 members of the Jewish population in Eastern Europe were displaced.

Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade

The slave trade to North America killed many Africans as they were uprooted and shipped across the Atlantic.  Over 12 million Africans were transported to the Americas and sold into slavery from the 16th to the 19th century.  The trans-Atlantic slave trade is considered one of history’s greatest tragedies in terms of scale and duration.

Holodomor (Soviet famine of 1932-1933)

Often called the “Terror-Famine” in Ukraine, this genocide was responsible for the deaths of 2.5 to 7.5 million Ukrainians.  From 1932 to 1933, Stalin withheld aid, restricted migration and confiscated food from Ukrainian peasants.  Holodomor, essentially means “extermination by hunger.”  Scholars believe that Stalin was attempting to quell the Ukrainian nationalism that threatened the USSR’s hold over the country.  Due to shoddy record-keeping and government corruption, the details concerning this genocide are largely unknown.

China’s Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution

China’s movement towards a utopian communist society from the 1940s to the 1970s failed miserably. Some 40-70 million people died due to starvation as well as the targeted killing of “rightists” and elites by the Red Guard, a communist youth organization that led the Cultural Revolution.  The promotion of a “class struggle” prompted young people to fight against society’s elites, such as professors, landowners and businessmen.

Pol Pot’s Cambodia

From 1975 to 1979, Pol Pot’s regime targeted intellectuals, foreigners and elites in an attempt to create an agrarian utopia reminiscent of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution.  Over 2 million people were killed in a period of 4 years.  Any foreign economic or medical aid was suspended, media was censored, outside contact was forbidden and the country’s currency was eliminated.  People were forced to work all day in the fields, but were forbidden from eating the food they produced.  Those who were not targeted by the government often died of starvation or disease.

Stephanie Lamm

Photo: Alan Hart
Union County College,,, UNESCO, The History Place

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, so it is necessary to compare the country then and now.  Today, the Rwandan population is estimated at 12,012,589 people, which is the 74th biggest population in the world.  But just 20 years ago, before the genocide, there were estimated to be anywhere from 500,000-1,000,000 more people alive (just under 20% of the population at the time).  This number has such a large range because there are still investigations going on to find how many perished that year.

The whole genocide was originally sparked by an ongoing ethnic competition for power between the Hutus and Tutsis.  In 1959, the Hutus (the majority ethnic group) overthrew the Tutsi king in power, started the slaughter of thousands of Tutsis and forced them to take refuge in surrounding countries.  Then in 1990, the offspring of those exiles formed a rebellion called the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and initiated a civil war. This war goaded the tensions between these two ethnicities, and in 1994 led to genocide by the Rwandan government against civilians (three-quarters of which were Tutsi).  The genocide ended when the RPF defeated the national army and almost 2,000,000 Hutu people fled the country (most of which have returned today) fearing a possible retribution of the Tutsis.

Since the end of the genocide, things have been drastically improving in Rwanda, particularly with regards to governance.  In 2003, they had their first post-genocide legislative and presidential elections. Then in 2009, Rwanda joined the Commonwealth after it was able to restore diplomatic relations between Kinshasa and Kigali, with the help of the Congolese Army.  Last year they were able to assume a nonpermanent seat on the United Nations Security Council for the first time for this 2013-2014 term.

Rwanda has also progressed significantly in its services to the poor.  Rwanda is the very first country in sub-Saharan Africa to introduce dual measles-rubella vaccines to its people.  These types of immunizations are incredibly important because they are a cost-effective and successful way to save children’s lives, which is obviously a great accomplishment, but it also reduces overpopulation since child mortality rate and child birthrate are directly proportional.

Rwanda is fully embracing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), being one of the few African countries that are actually on track to achieve seven of the eight. Recently, the poverty rate in Rwanda has dropped almost 12 percent, from 56.7 percent in 2006 to 44.9 percent in 2011.  This decrease comes from a number of reasons: the Rwandan government encouraging all of its citizens to take part in community development, the slowing of population growth, improved national infrastructure and agricultural production.

The percentage of people with safe drinking water in 2011 was 74.2 percent and is only improving.  Also, maternal mortality has dropped drastically, being at 1071 deaths per year in 2000 and 487 in 2010. Today, over 90 percent of children in Rwanda are vaccinated and living healthy lives. UNICEF has been a driving force behind all of this and has helped Rwanda over the last 20 years to go from genocide to development.

– Kenneth W. Kliesner

Sources: CIA World Factbook, UNICEF, UNDP
Photo: Paul Kagame

In the Central African Republic (CAR) broils a sectarian conflict that has left 210,000 fleeing its capital and over 500 dead. Violent clashes between Muslim and Christian militias in the nation’s capital of Bangui have world leaders scrambling to avoid a possible genocide in the strife-ridden country.

In fear of the mass killings, kidnappings and rapes ravaging the capital, hundreds of refugees have risked boat rides across a branch of the Congo River to escape the violence while 40,000 have decided to camp outside the French-controlled Bangui airport, a place of stability and safety for the displaced Africans.

Half a century’s worth of political chaos has left the land-locked country easy pickings for its current rebel terrorists.

After the CAR gained freedom from France in 1960, it remained under despotic rulers for three decades. In 1993, the country began its first civilian rule, which fell a decade later to a military coup led by then rebel Francois Bozize. He instated himself as president and ruled uninterrupted until the rebel coalition Seleka, meaning “alliance” in the Sango language, overran the capital in March and ousted him.

Since the most recent coup, the country has fallen even further into disorder, with the dissembled rebel and Christian militias fighting one another. The reappointed Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye, a former human rights lawyer, expressed dismay at the deterioration of his country.

“It’s anarchy, a nonstate,” said Tiangaye. “Looting, arson, rape, massacres of the civilian population—they are sowing terrorism.”

France sent 1,600 troops to support the African Union-led forces on the ground, with hopes that other United Nations forces will help to restore order to the area. A visit by Samantha Power, the American ambassador to the United Nations, to CAR has reinforced her opinion that further action is necessary.

“I come away from our time in CAR very concerned about the extent of the polarization, the tautness of the society and the temptation that families and communities that have been victimized have to take justice into their own hands,” said Power.

Power’s fears arise from concerns that the conditions in the CAR may engender genocide. With both Christians and Muslims facing casualties, a desire for revenge may drive civilians to join militias. The Security Council passed a resolution to send 6,000 African troops to help bolster the 1,600 French troops already stationed. Whether that will be enough to quell the rebels, CAR refugees can only wait and see.

Emily Bajet

Sources: Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, BBC, BBCNew York Times, New York Times, New York Times, New York Times
Photo: The Washington Post

Since its devastating 1994 genocide, Rwanda has been in a state of recovery. Nearly 20 years ago, Hutus killed approximately 800,000 Tutsis over the course of 100 days. In addition to numerous social, political and economic changes, the mass murders shifted the country’s gender ratio drastically, leaving women to outnumber men 70 to 30 percent. As a result, Rwandan women have taken center stage in the country’s recovery – by weaving baskets.

The practice of basket weaving has been a part of Rwandan culture for centuries. Women weaved baskets to help carry and contain food, to decorate ceremonies and to transport goods. Following the genocide, however, basket weaving took on a new meaning.

In the past two decades, basket weaving has become a way for Rwandan women to come together, pushing past the “Hutu-Tutsi” barrier that had once divided them. Working next to women whose husbands had been killed and women whose husbands had committed the killings, women all over Rwanda have chosen peace over hatred.

But healing isn’t the only positive effect of basket weaving. Rwandan women have also gained economic independence and improved their local communities by selling their baskets in Western markets.

For example, Gahaya Links started off as a small company with only 27 basket weavers. Today, it is a business with more than 4,500 artisans that is continuing to help impoverished areas of Rwanda. The company has done so well that their products are being sold by stores across the U.S., including big department stores like Macy’s.

While Gahaya Links is the foremost basket weaving company, a number of other basket weaving businesses have been started. The profits of these companies go toward providing Rwandan families with food and medicine.

It’s been 19 years since the genocide and the country is still recovering. But sometimes recovery can begin with something as small as a handcrafted basket.

Chante Owens

Sources: Beauty of Rwanda, CBS, CNN
Photo: World Designs


The Rohingya people represent a small Muslim minority in the Southeast Asian country of Myanmar. They are denied citizenship, forbidden from colleges, and have suffered mass killings and violence that the government has done nothing to halt. And recently, Myanmar passed a law restricting Rohingya childbirths, an action which may qualify as an act of genocide.

The Rohingya people have lived in Myanmar since the eighth century. However, their existence was wiped from official record in 1982 with the passage of a citizenship law. The law had the effect of making the Rohingya stateless peoples, illegal immigrants in their own country, with no rights or international recognition.

Rohingya people have experienced harsh violence and now will suffer an enforced two-child limit. The limitation is officially claimed as an effort to ease tensions between the Buddhist majority and Muslim minority, however the policy serves as a frightening indicator that genocide may not be far away. Genocide Watch has even gone so far as to issue a “Genocide Emergency Alert” for Myanmar, and the United Nations has also expressed similar concerns.

Genocide Watch breaks down genocides into eight distinct stages. In order, they are as follows: Classification, Symbolization, Dehumanization, Organization, Polarization, Preparation, Extermination and Denial. Myanmar is quickly ticking stages off the list.

Rohingya people are regularly forced to live in ethnic enclaves with enforced curfews. They experience intense violence which the government has done little if anything to prevent. They are becoming increasingly isolated from resources and from the outside world. If nothing is done to stop these policies, the Rohingya may be removed entirely from their country. The international community must act now to hold the Burmese government responsible and stop the eradication of the Rohingya ethnic group before it is too late.

-Caitlin Zusy

Sources: UN Dispatch,

Rwandan Genocide
On April 6, 1994, Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana — an ethnic Hutu — was returning from Tanzania when his plane was shot down over the Rwandan capital of Kigali. Whether his assassination was carried out by the Tutsi-led Rwanda Patriotic Front or Hutus searching for a reason to wipe out the Tutsi minority remains a mystery. In the 100 days following, over 800,000 Tutsis were slaughtered largely at the hands of Hutu extremists.

A History of Ethnic Conflict
For hundreds of years the African country of Rwanda has been composed of three main ethnic groups: the Hutus, who made up a majority of the population; the minority Tutsis; and a very small population of hunter-gathers, the Twa. The Hutus and the Tutsis have had a long history of conflict, beginning with the colonization of Rwanda by European powers. The Germans were the first to colonize the country and believed the minority Tutsi to be superior to the majority Hutu as they were believe to have more “European characteristics” such as lighter skin and taller stature. In 1916, Belgium took control of Rwanda and solidified this divide by issuing identity cards based on ethnicity. For the next 20 years, the Tutsis were privilege to better jobs, better educational opportunities and better all around treatment by the Belgian colonists despite their making up only around 10% of the total population.

By 1959, the Hutus had had enough. Riots ensued and over 20,000 Tutsis were killed while others fled for neighboring Uganda, Burundi and Tanzania. When Rwanda was eventually granted independence from Belgium in 1962, the tables were turned and the Hutus gained control. In the decades to come, the Tutsis would be blamed for every ill facing the country.

The Rwandan Genocide
Fast forward to April 6, 1994. Within twenty-four hours of the attack on president Habyarimana’s plane, Hutu extremists had taken over the Rwandan government, blamed the Tutsis for the attack, and begun the killing campaign. Starting in Kigali and quickly spreading to the rest of the country, Hutu extremists began slaughtering Tutsis in droves. Soldiers and police encouraged civilians to kill their Tutsi neighbors, often offering incentives like food or access to the land of those they killed. No Tutsi was safe from those who wanted them dead. Men, women and children were tortured and killed, mostly with machetes due to the expensive nature of bullets. Thousands of women were raped and tortured before being killed. To make matters worse, the Hutu extremists refused to allow the bodies of those they killed to be buried. Instead, they were left to rot where they were killed or thrown into rivers and streams. In all, over 800,000 Rwandans were brutally murdered between April 7 and mid July 1994. Only when the Rwandan Patriotic Front captured Kigali and declared a ceasefire did the killings end.

Rwanda Today
In 2000, Paul Kigame, former Tutsi leader of the RPF, became president and remains in power today. The Kigame government has invaded the Democratic Republic of the Congo twice with the intention of destroying the some two million Hutus who have lived in hiding there since 1994. While the genocide has ended, tension between the two groups still runs deep and simmers just below the surface.

In 1979, president Jimmy Carter declared, “Out of our memory … of the Holocaust we must forge an unshakeable oath with all civilized people that never again will the world stand silent, never again will the world … fail to act in time to prevent this terrible crime of genocide.” Yet just 15 years later, the Rwandan genocide unfolded on television screens while some of the most powerful nations on earth stood by and watched. What will it take to create a world where “never again” doesn’t so quickly become “never again unless”?

In the words of the philosopher Hannah Arendt: “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

– Erin Ponsonby

Source: BBC, United Human Rights Counsel
Photo: Guardian

Ending Genocide: The Enough Projects’ Pledge

There was the massacre of Armenians in Turkey in the early 1900s, resulting in more than a million Armenian lives lost. Next came the attempted extermination of the Jews in World War II by Adolf Hitler, resulting in six million deaths. The tense conflict between the Hutu and Tutsi militias in Rwanda followed in the 1990s, accounting for 800,000 deaths.

Looking back upon history, it becomes hard to imagine that evil deeds of this nature such as genocide still exist today and are performed on a daily basis. Yet in the Congo today, women are being raped and tortured by the thousands and famine is prominent.

The Enough Project is intent on ending genocide. The project plans to address the issues of mass genocides and crimes against humanity still existing today. Based in Africa, the project serves to deliver the three Ps to the innocent citizens of African nations. The three P’s, the main focus of the initiative, are peace, protection, and punishment.

Creating peace begins with lawmakers and individuals in power who can make a difference. It also includes having countries that are well equipped to step in and prevent genocide to assist the project. Protection comes next. Many people who are victims of genocide are helpless and unable to protect themselves from the harm of their perpetrators. Someone needs to account for these people and save them from the destructive nature of genocide. These people could be trained guards, military forces, or even police forces.

Finally, the punishment portion of the Enough Project involves holding accountable those who are responsible for the heinous crimes. This ensures such crimes will never be perpetrated again. Furthermore, the organization works to prevent further genocide by analyzing these crises as well as advocating for concrete action to be taken by policymakers in order to “transform the United States from a late responder to a world leader in the prevention of genocide and crimes against humanity”.

The Enough Project uses these tactics to drive programs in the Congo, Darfur and other parts of Africa. Through activism and analysis of the crimes being committed, the Enough Project serves to end the violent history of genocide.

– William Norris

Sources: Enough Project, History Place