The Rwandan genocide sprung from a complex web of factors spanning hundreds of years. This compendium of 15 Rwandan genocide facts illustrates the most important things to understand about the genocide.
Top Rwanda Genocide Facts
- The Dates
The Rwandan genocide began on April 6, 1994, and ended approximately 100 days later on July 16.
- The Death Toll
According to U.N. estimates, between 800,000 and one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed. As many as 10,000 people were killed per day. Seventy percent of the Tutsi population was wiped out, and over 10 percent of the total Rwandan population.
- Major Players – The Hutus
The Hutus are the majority ethnic group in Rwanda. At the time of the genocide, they made up 85 percent of the population. Historically, the Hutus were farmers who occupied a lower social status than their Tutsi neighbors. They took control of Rwanda after the nation gained its independence in 1962.
- Major Players – The Tutsis
The Tutsis traditionally owned cattle, which allowed them to achieve more wealth and social power than the Hutus. Compared to the Hutus, the Tutsis were taller and thinner. Though the minority, the Tutsis benefited from their elite status under Belgian rule.
- The President
On April 6, 1994, Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana was killed in a plane crash. While it has never been determined exactly who was to blame, both Hutu extremists and the rebel Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) were accused of the crime. Less than half an hour after the crash, the Hutu presidential guard began shooting Tutsi civilians.
- The Prime Minister
On April 7, the day after the fatal crash, Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana was assassinated, along with ten Belgian peacekeepers assigned to protect her. Other moderate Hutu leaders were murdered as well.
- The Role of Radio
Hutu leaders used radio broadcasts to incite genocide, broadcast misinformation and identify Tutsi targets and locations. Ten percent of the violence can be attributed to radio broadcasts.
Hundreds of thousands of women were raped, including nearly every survivor over the age of 12. For the first time, rape was listed as an official act of genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).
Hutus released AIDS patients from hospitals in order to form rape squads. Though men were quickly killed by the attackers, rapists intentionally infected their female victims and told them that they would die slowly and painfully from AIDS. As a result, more than 67 percent of rape victims are now HIV-positive.
Leaders handed out kill lists to militias familiar with local communities, so they had no trouble locating their victims. Neighbors killed neighbors, and some Hutu husbands even murdered their Tutsi wives out of fear for their own lives. Religious institutes provided no respite; priests and nuns were convicted of killing those who sought sanctuary in churches. Militias targeted those taking refuge in churches as well, sometimes killing thousands with grenades, fire, machetes and firearms.
- The Rest of the World
The rest of the world watched the Rwandan genocide in horror, but did very little to stop it. U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali lamented that “in Rwanda nobody was interested.” Bill Clinton, U.S. President at the time of the massacres, admitted that the genocide was “one of history’s great failures” and “one of my personal failures.”
- The End
The killings ended when the Tutsi RPF took control of Rwanda on July 16, 1994.
- The Aftermath
After the RPF took control, two million Hutus fled into the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. There, Hutu militias caused years of conflict and were responsible for up to five million deaths.
- The Trials
In December 1996, proceedings began in Rwanda’s first genocide trial under the ICTR. Additionally, local courts tried almost two million people for their roles. Lower sentences were given when defendants showed remorse and sought reconciliation.
- New Language
Because they had no vocabulary to adequately convey the magnitude of post-traumatic stress and grief endured by survivors, Rwandans coined a new term: “ihahamuke.”
These 15 Rwandan genocide facts shed light on the atrocities committed in the African nation in 1994. Hopefully, they serve as a reminder of the international community’s duty to prevent similar horrors in the future.
– Anna Parker