22 May 2017

Text: Corinna / Translation: Miriam & Daniel

#Rwanda 1994 – All that is here are humans

Rwanda is a small, densely populated country in Central Africa that is surrounded by Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Resulting in up to 800,000 deaths within 100 days, the genocide in 1994 is viewed as one of the deadliest to have ever occurred. The perpetrators killed their friends, neighbours and sometimes even their own families with the simplest weapons.

Photo: Oledoe/www.flickr.com/Creatice Commons

#Hutu #Tutsi #Twa

The difference between the genocide in Rwanda and genocides elsewhere is that the two rival groups, the Hutu and Tutsi, do not belong to different ethnicities, religions or races. Most anthropologists count both tribes as one ethnic group because they speak the same language, share the same customs and are allowed to get married to members of the other tribe. The interactions between tribes can be seen as a social caste system in which it is possible to change castes. The Tutsi were considered livestock farmers, and therefore the wealthier tribe; while the Hutu were simple farmers; and the Twa inhabited the forest, living as hunter-gatherers.[1]

At the beginning of the 19th century, Europeans began to colonise Africa and to classify the natives. All Africans who looked ‘European’ were viewed as descendants of Ham (Noah’s son in the Bible) and were therefore classified as more intelligent and skilful. After the First World War, Belgium took over Germany’s colonial rule of Rwanda. The new rulers viewed the Tutsi as a ‘European race’ and gave them official positions, while they prohibited the Hutu from receiving higher education.[2]

Furthermore, official passports were introduced which categorised people as either Hutu or Tutsi. One decisive criterion was nose size: allegedly, Tutsi noses were 55.8 mm long and 38.7 mm broad. The Hutus’ noses, however, were only 52.4 mm long but 43.2 mm broad. As a result, 84% of the population were classified as Hutu, 15% as Tutsi – and only 1% as Twa. This passport determined who was allowed access to the country’s already very limited resources, and sparked a decade-long dispute about Rwanda’s denomination and its resources between the Hutu and Tutsi.[3]

#A bloody history #UNAMIR

Rwanda gained independence in 1962 and, following a coup, the Hutu took control. Over the years, approximately 900,000 Tutsi fled to their neighbouring countries, where they lived as refugees. In their exile, the Tutsi formed their own army, the RPF (Rwanda Patriotic Front). A new civil war started during the early 1990s; due to international pressure, the former Hutu-president Juvénal Habyarimana attempted to establish peace talks with the RPF, but was unsuccessful. The so-called Arusha Accords were signed on the 4th August 1993, and a UN Chapter VI Peacekeeping Mission was introduced.

However, the UNAMIR (United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda) had to face financial and administrative struggles right from the start, mainly due to lack of interest by Western countries, which did not want to invest money, weapons or personnel. Rwanda, as a country, held no strategic importance, and had always relied on financial help in order to avoid bankruptcy, and only had very few natural resources. The mission consisted of a mere 2,500 people who were lightly armed and badly appointed.[4] UNAMIR had only 3 days’ food and water rations at their disposal and owned hardly any cars or radios. Petrol, sandbags, night-vision devices and spare parts were also scarce. Due to a lack of furniture, the members had to work on the floor and reports couldn’t be written due to a lack of pens and paper.[5]

In October 1993, violence following a Tutsi coup in Burundi forced approximately 300,000 Hutu refugees to return to Rwanda.[6]

#Hate propaganda #Interahamwe #UN as an supporter

Hate propaganda was issued, Tutsi were dehumanised on the radio, labelled as ‘cockroaches’, with people being encouraged to attack them. The radio and television broadcaster ‘Radio-Télévision Libre des Mille Collines’ was one of the main culprits of diffusing racist ideologies.[7] As such, Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire, Force Commander of UNAMIR, sent daily requests to the UN, asking for more troops, materials, and an extension of his mandate. UN intervention was necessary due to the fact that UNAMIR was only authorised to keep peace in Rwanda by demobilising, securing borders, helping with elections and self-defence, but not to prevent a new war through force of arms or the forcible defence of civilians.

Photo: Hjallig/www.flickr.com/Creative Commons

In January 1994, UNAMIR received secret information reporting that the governing party MRND (National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development) were training a young militia, the so-called Interahamwe, and providing them with weapons to fight the RPF.[8] The Interahamwe mainly consisted of young, unemployed men, but also reservists, students, teachers and doctors from all over the country, totalling approximately 30,000 members.[9] These young men were recruited in their villages, trained in camps for 3 weeks – after which they are returned to their homes. Once home, they were asked to make lists of the Tutsi’s names so that they could be rounded up once the time was right. According to the report, the Interahamwe group was large enough to go to Kingali and kill 1,000 Tutsi within 20 minutes.

Moreover, the UN mission UNAMIR was said to be infiltrated by radical Hutu planning to kill Belgian UN soldiers in order to force Belgium’s withdrawal from Rwanda – Belgium being Rwanda’s former colonial ruler and providing the strongest contingent of troops – and thereby forcing an end to the entire mission. On the basis of this information, General Dallaire asked to be authorised to seize Interahamwe’s weapons, but the UN rejected the request. They instead suggested that president Habyarimana (MRND) be informed instead.[10] The rejection marked an important turning point for the emerging conflict, as the perpetrators hoped for the UN’s inaction and their assumptions were thereby confirmed.

#Hutu Power

With his party working independently, president Habyarimana was only feignedly in power. The MRND insisted there could never be a government of both Hutu and Tutsi politicians under the terms of the Arusha Accords, as the Tutsi tried to regain control. The leading figures in this were the president’s wife and her three brothers, one of whom was Rwanda’s defence minister and the other two holding leading positions in the military intelligence and the presidential guard. They founded the ‘Zero Network’ and were the driving force behind the so-called ‘Hutu Power’.[11]

The country’s security situation exacerbated daily and Tutsi people were attacked regularly, but without the authorisation and with their lack of personnel, the UNAMIR were unable to intervene effectively.[12] They were doomed to watch the genocide happening.


The 6th April 1994 officially marks the beginning of the genocide: that night, an airplane transporting President Habyarimana was approaching Kigali airport, and was shot by surface to air missiles. The same night, the members of the MRND were evacuated from the government district, while the moderate Hutu were left behind and their residential area was surrounded by armed members of the presidential guard. In retaliation, all moderate Hutu were killed the next morning, and violence spread like wildfire.[13] The paramilitary organisation Interahamwe built road blocks in Kigali, the presidential guard blocked Belgian UN troops at the airport, peacekeepers were surrounded, disarmed, prevented from continuing on their journeys, and then shot. Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana (moderate Hutu) was found dead and ‘[…] half naked with a beer bottle in her vagina’.[14] Her ten Belgian guards were abducted to a military camp, tortured (their penises were cut off and put in their mouths) and killed by a mob- used as a symbol to call for the withdrawal of Belgian troops from Rwanda.[15]

After eliminating the moderate Hutu, the perpetrators focussed on the Tutsi, especially their academic elite. The Interahamwe did their rounds from door to door, demanding to see ethnicity passports.

„He hid in the crawlspace of his house, listening to his neighbors beg and scream and die from machetes and studded sticks and hand grenades. He saw it through the crack in the wall. He heard his neighbors beg to be shot instead of hacked to death. Some paid the killers for a bullet.”[16]

The dead bodies of lawyers, teachers, priests, nuns and doctors started piling up in the streets. Even the churches, providing shelter for the Tutsi, were not spared.

„Several thousand civilians had gathered in the church grounds, promised protection by the Hutu governor. Hutu militias went methodically through the crowd instructing other Hutus to leave, and government soldiers cut off the escape routes. Then the governor fired his weapon in the air as a kill-the-Tutsi signal and young man drunk on banana beer hacked them all to pieces. It’s hard work killing that many people in a confined space with only machetes and clubs, so the killers returned home to their families each night to rest and drink before the next day’s work. It took three days and so far we know of only two survivors.”[17]

Roughly 200,000 civilians joined in the killing – whether due to fear or hatred – using simple weapons like machetes, clubs and picks, and occasionally even rifles. Nobody was safe, whether women, man, child, young, old, priest or nun.[18] In some cases, the Hutu even killed their own Tutsi wives, relatives or children.[19] Everybody with a Tutsi passport was executed:

„[…] an Interhamwe soldier ripped a baby off its mother’s back, and – holding it by its feet – swung it up in the air and slammed it to the pavement, shattering its skull. As incomprehension slipped across the mother’s face, he killed her too.”[20]

During the first 5 days of the genocide, approximately 200,000 people were killed. They did not even refrain from sexual abuse: roughly 250,000 women were systematically raped.[21]

Conflict between the RPF and the government troops arose again. Lieutenant-General Dallaire kept sending requests for more troops and the extension of his mandate. He was, however, repeatedly told that the UNAMIR troops were only allowed to use force of arms when under direct attack, even though, according to his mandate, he would have been authorised to intervene to prevent crimes against humanity. In spite of this, the fact remained that UNAMIR did not have enough personnel and resources to be able to provide help.[22]

Photo: configmanager/www.flickr.com/Creative Commons

#Rescue the Whites

On the 9th April 1994, a heavily armed military unit, consisting of 1,500 Belgian, Italian and French soldiers, arrived in Kigali. It turned out, however, that this unit was merely sent to evacuate the ‘whites’, such as diplomats and their staff, emigrants, and journalists. To secure the success of this mission, the UNAMIR was permitted to use force of arms and to act outside their mandate. After the mission, even Belgium withdrew their soldiers from Rwanda, causing the loss of a third of all UNAMIR members. The international community thereby sent out a clear signal that nobody cared about Rwanda or would try to stop the genocide. The massacres escalated immediately – the same day, roughly 2,000 people were killed with machetes and grenades.[23]

„Often the killers, whether drunk and willing or conscripted and reluctant, severed the Achilles’ tendons of their victims to immobilize them. They would be left for hours in agony, until the murderers  mustered the energy to return and finish them off.“[24]

An average of 4,000 Tutsi were killed every day and their names and addresses were published on the radio: „Finish them off, exterminate them, sweep them out of the country!“.[25]

#Withdrawal instead of salvation

At the end of April, approximately 100,000 bodies littered Rwanda’s streets and fields, but the UN still didn’t react and only sent a couple of members of staff to assess the situation. Lieutenant-General Dallaire was told: „We will recommend to our government not to intervene as the risks are high and all there is here are humans.“[26]

On the basis of their assessment, the UN Security Council decided on the 21st April 1994 to gradually withdraw troops. It was planned that only 270 soldiers were to stay and try to achieve a ceasefire.[27] On the 29th and 30th of April 1994, approximately 250,000 people fled to Tanzania. Consequently, the former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali approached the UN Security Council again, asking them to act rigorously and re-evaluate their decisions. The USA were, however, not interested in interfering, and instead merely implored the Rwandan government to stop the murders.

#Glimmer of hope?

On the 17th May 1994, the UN and the USA agreed to increase the number of soldiers in Rwanda to 5,500, but the mission’s mandate remained unchanged. The Western states were still unwilling to provide troops and resources, so only 1,000 soldiers arrived in Rwanda during the first few weeks.[28] The full number of troops was reached in December 1994 – 6 months after the genocide had stopped.[29]

Meanwhile, the RPF began to turn the tide and to repress Hutu extremists. The French government supported the Hutu government and their army, training them and providing them with weapons, and, with the permission of the UN Security Council, started the so-called Operation Turquoise. They were able to send troops to Rwanda within three days to satisfy the “humanitarian situation” and to establish security zones providing safety and shelter for the refugees. As it turned out, the security zones were unfortunately ideal for the Hutu extremists to freely escape to Congo. In July, the RPF finally defeated the military and militia without the help of the foreign troops and thereby ended the genocide. US troops and their relief goods arrived in Rwanda only a few days later. There were dead bodies everywhere – in churches, schools, hospitals, in the streets, rivers and lakes. The villages were destroyed and there was no running water, electricity or telephone connection.[30] In the short period of three months, approximately 800,000 people were killed – making it proportionally three times deadlier than the Holocaust.[31] Roughly 1,200 Tutsi found refuge in the “Hôtel des Mille Collines”, defended by Dallaire’s few troops.[32]

#Laziness, #greed or #racism?

The international community was informed of the situation from the start: at the beginning of the 1990s, a CIA analysis was conducted, estimating half a million deaths should the peace agreement fail. The French government also knew as of 1990 that the country was heading towards a genocide.[33]

UNAMIR were present on-site and reported daily. The UN, and especially their biggest sponsor, the USA, however, decided not to interfere and even prohibited their staff to use the term “genocide” in public statements – thereby avoiding the call to action pursuant to Article 1 of the Genocide Convention.[34] Even the UN special rapporteur Bacre Waly Ndiaye, on-site in Rwanda himself, stated that the violence could only be described as a genocide and the Genocide Convention should therefore apply. His superiors in Geneva, however, asked him not to use the term in his statement, and when he did nevertheless, his report disappeared.[35]

This genocide could have been prevented, had the warning signs been taken seriously and had there been more political will. In situations like this, where violence dominates and human rights are fundamentally violated, it is morally defensible to intervene militarily.[36]

The UN’s peacekeeping mission under Chapter 6 could have been altered to a peacekeeping mission under Chapter 7; UNAMIR should have been provided with more soldiers and material; radio stations should have been closed down, weapons confiscated and police patrols deployed. Additionally, the international community should have threatened the Rwandan government to withdraw all their financial support, if they didn’t take action. This would have had a great effect on the government, since Rwanda depended on the money in order to avoid bankruptcy.

The country was of neither political nor strategical interest to the countries and had very few natural resources. It is also possible that „Rwanda was simply too remote, too far, too poor, too little, and probably too black to be worthwhile“.[37] The UN’s resources in Rwanda had also evidently been stretched – due to the large amount of operations in Rwanda. Their unsuccessful mission in Somalia resulting in the deaths of 18 soldiers caused the USA to become traumatised and had no interest to deploy more troops or spend more money.[38] The international community decided to just observe, rescue their own citizens and withdraw their troops – and thereby became accomplices.


In response to the crimes under international criminal law in Rwanda, the UN Security Council established the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in 1994 located in Arusha, Tanzania. Until today, 75 cases were heard, 12 of which ended in acquittal and a further 11 cases were appealed.



# Barth, B. (2006) Genozid – Völkermord im 20. Jahrhundert: Geschichte, Theorien, Kontroversen. München: Verlag C. H. Beck oHG.

# Cain,K. Postlewait H. & Thomson, A. (2004) Emergency Sex (and Other Desperate Measures); London: Ebury Press.

# Dallaire, R. (2004) Shake Hands With The Devil- The Failure of Humanity In Rwanda. London: Arrow Books.

# Desforges, A. (1999) Leave None to Tell the Story- Genocide in Rwanda. Human Rights Watch [Online]. Available at: http://www.grandslacs.net/doc/1317.pdf (Accessed: 03 January 2011)

# Jones, A. (2010) Genocide- A Comprehensive Introduction. 2nd edition. London and New York: Routledge.

# Neuffer, E. (2003) The Key to my Neighbour’s House- Seeking Justice in Bosnia and Rwanda. London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

# Othman, M. C. (2005) Accountability for International Humanitarian Law Violations: The case of Rwanda and East Timor. Berlin: Springer Verlag

# Smith, W. (2007) ‘Anticipating a Cosmopolitan Future: The Case of Humanitarian Military Intervention’, International Politics, 44, pp. 72- 89.

# Spencer, P. (2012) Genocide since 1945 – Making of the Contemporary World. London and New York: Routledge.
[1] Neuffer, E. (2003) pp. 85- 87
[2] Neuffer, E. (2003) pp. 87- 88
[3] Neuffer, E. (2003) pp. 88- 89
[4] Dallaire, R. (2004) pp. 89
[5] Dallaire, R. (2004) pp. 135
[6] Dallaire, R. (2004) pp. 114
[7] Neuffer, E. (2003) pp. 100
[8] Dallaire, R. (2004) pp. 141- 146
[9] Spencer, P. (2012) pp. 94
[10] Dallaire, R. (2004) pp. 141- 146
[11] Spencer, P. (2012) pp. 94
[12] Cain,K. Postlewait H. & Thomson, A. (2004) pp. 205
[13] Dallaire, R. (2004) pp. 161
[14] Neuffer, E. (2003) pp. 105- 109
[15] Neuffer, E. (2003) pp. 110- 111
[16] Othman, M. C. (2005) pp. 30
[17] Cain,K. Postlewait H. & Thomson, A. (2004) pp. 235
[18] Neuffer, E. (2003) pp. 114- 115
[19] Spencer, P. (2012) pp. 93
[20] Neuffer, E. (2003) pp. 116
[21] Spencer, P. (2012) pp. 93
[22] Dallaire, R. (2004) pp. 271- 229
[23] Neuffer, E. (2003) pp. 117- 118
[24] Jones, A. (2010) pp. 352
[25] Neuffer, E. (2003) pp. 119
[26] Dallaire, R. (2004) pp. 6
[27] Neuffer, E. (2003) pp. 123
[28] Neuffer, E. (2003) pp. 124, 126
[29] Dallaire, R. (2004) pp. 433
[30] Neuffer, E. (2003) pp. 127- 128
[31] Spencer, P. (2012) pp. 90
[32] Spencer, P. (2012) pp. 96
[33] Desforges, A. (1999) pp. 132
[34] Jones, A. (2010) pp. 353; 359
[35] Jones, A. (2010) pp. 351
[36] Smith, W. (2007) pp. 75
[37] Jones, A. (2010) pp. 347
[38] Barth, B. (2006) pp. 123- 124

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