Genocide is the intent to systematically eliminate a cultural, ethnic, linguistic, national, racial or religious group.
The term did not exist before 1944 when it was used to describe the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany against the Jewish People. Sadly this was not the only occasion in which it has occurred and since 1944 there have been further atrocities.
In my lifetime there have been three major genocide events among others.
- Cambodia – 1975-1979
- Bosnia – 1992-1995
- Rwanda – 1994
In 2013 I spent a short time in Cambodia and visited the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center in Phnom Penh – you can read about this place here. It was a both humbling and awesome experience and one which lives in the memory still.
On our visit to Kigali we visited the Genocide Memorial.
This like Choeung Ek is a place to commemorate the innocent victims of mass slaughter and both explain the causes and warn future generations of the dangers which led to genocide.
The account below is my understanding of the events leading up to 1994 and beyond and any inaccuracies are my own. However I have tried to convey a simplified account based on information gleaned from the exhibit.
In the case of Rwanda the origins of the genocide lie with the colonial powers who ruled this country, Germany and notably Belgium in the post world war 1 era. Belgium strove to impose a view which divided the hitherto uniform Rwandan society into three groups Hutus (85%), Tutsis (14%) and Twa (1%). In particular they allied themselves with minority Tutsis whom they regarded as more intelligent than the majority Hutus. Over time this differential split society into privileged and underprivileged. All Rwandans were allocated identity cards which (in some cases arbitrarily) conferred one of the three ethnic groups. Hutus were discriminated against but as general education levels rose became more vocal. Eventually the Belgians realizing the errors of their ways reversed the situation and Hutus took power. On independence in 1961 Hutu goverments dominated and discriminated in their turn against Hutus. Even so in many communities Hutu and Tutsi lived alongside one another and we’re friends, in some cases their was intermarriage. When in 1973 a hardliners sized power tensions increased still further. A narrative developed referring to Hutus as ‘cockroaches’ and stirring up racial tensions. Many Hutus were driven out of the country and a rebel group RPF was formed made up of mainly Tutsis. The army was solely Hutu and there was also the Hutu militia (Interahamwe) who were being trained up. In spite of attempts at a peace treaty, and following a plane crash (shot down by assailants unknown) which assassinated the Rwandan and Burundian Presidents in 1994 the violence erupted.
On April 7th 1994 the genocide began, Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in a 100 day period. Neighbour turned on neighbour, friend on friend, urged on by the Hutu government and it’s militia.
An estimated 1,000,000 people were killed in this period (20% of the population and 70% of Tutsis). Much of this killing involved machetes, clubs and other blunt objects. Tutsi women and girls were raped (many by men with known HIV), Tutsis were maimed and killed. There was no leniency shown to children or the old all were targeted and often mothers and fathers were murdered in front of their children or vice versa. The West ignored or in France’s case actively supported the Hutus prior to the genocide and in spite of warnings the UN reduced it’s peace keeping forces prior to the genocide. The RPF mobilized and strove to regain the country and after 100 days drove out the Hutus, many fleeing to Congo DR.
Below are images from the memorial.
Particularly harrowing are the images of children all murdered in the genocide, either hacked to death, burned, shot or stabbed.
The time since 1994 has seen a reorganization of the country and attempts at reconciliation, which appears to have been largely successful. The large death toll and HIV infection have nonetheless left an impact, but the country looks to be booming 22 years on. It is only to be hoped that the racial tensions of the past have been reduced. The exhibition ends on a positive note referring to the way survivor victims have moved on.
The gardens beyond the memorial house the mass graves and like Choeung Ek are a place of peace and reflection.
From the grounds of the Memorial Garden you can see the skyline of Kigali rising like a Phoenix from the ashes a symbol of hope for the future of this country.