GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 868, 4 April 2024

30 years after the Rwandan Genocide
Anu Maria Joseph

In the news
On 7 April, it would be 30 years of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, a massacre of 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus by the ethnic Hutus over 100 days. On the day, Rwandan President Paul Kagame will light a remembrance flame at the Kigali Genocide Memorial.

The UN and the African Union (AU) would additionally join the commemoration. On 2 April, remembering the genocide, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated: “This year, we remind ourselves of genocide’s rancid root: hate. To those who would seek to divide us, we must deliver a clear, unequivocal and urgent message: never again.”

On 4 April, French President Emmanuel Macron, in a video message which is to be released on 7 April, stated: “France, which could have stopped the genocide with its western and African allies, did not have the will.”

Issues at large
First, a brief historical note on the genocide. In 1994, on 6 April, a day before the massacre began, a plane carrying Rwanda's Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana was shot down, killing everyone on board. The extremists within the Hutus blamed the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF); the latter is a Tutsi-led rebel group which fought the Rwandan government during 1990-1993. Subsequently, the Hutu extremists began a slaughter campaign against the ethnic Tutsis. Neighbours and families killed each other using machetes and small arms. Tutsi women and girls were raped and kept as sex slaves; more than 15,000 women and girls were raped. The youth wing of the governing MRND party, Interahamwe, was converted into a militia to carry out the massacre. Through radios and newspapers, the Hutus spread the genocide propaganda under the phrase "weed out the cockroaches." The slaughter ended on 4 July 1994; the RPF with the support of the Ugandan army marched into the capital Kigali. Nearly two million Hutus fled to the Democratic Republic of Congo fearing revenge attacks.

Second, the limited international response. It was too late and when it happened it was too little. The UN Mission to Rwanda (UNAMIR) was deployed in October 1993 with a limited mandate to implement the Arusha Agreement; the agreement signed in August 1993, between the RPF and the Rwandan government, ended the conflict. The mission did little during the genocide and withdrew soon after the outbreak. Later, in November 1994, the UNSC established the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha (in Tanzania) to prosecute the perpetrators. The Tribunal has indicted 93 people responsible for the genocide. In 1999, the UN acknowledged its failure in stopping the genocide. Outside the UN, there was little interest among the other big countries. The US, after its troops were killed in Somalia in 1993, was not interested in getting involved in another African conflict. France, an ally of the Hutu government, (France supported the Hutu-led government under Habyarimana who was fighting against the Tutsi-led RPF militia since 1990) evacuated its citizens and was accused of not doing enough to stop the violence. It was only in 2021, after 27 years, that French President Emmanuel Macron, for the first time, acknowledged its "overwhelming responsibility" for the genocide. 

Third, the generational trauma and a neverending post-genocide reconstruction. Two-thirds of the Rwandan population today are born after the genocide. Gacaca, a system of community courts within Rwanda was set up to achieve truth, justice and reconciliation. The gacaca courts adjudicated over 1.2 million cases. At present, Rwandan society does not talk about ethnicity anymore. The historic ethnic division between the Tutsi, Hutus and Twa is replaced by Ndi Umunyarwanda, meaning "I am Rwandan." Ndi Umunyarwanda has been a successful post-genocide social reconstruction to move on from the past, at least for the young generation. However, fear of a resurgence of ethnic tensions exists among the old generation. A wave of violence has been ongoing in eastern DRC bordering Rwanda with the involvement of several militant groups, including the Democratic Forces for the Liberation Rwanda (DFLR). DFLR is known to be the perpetrators of the genocide. Many fear that the extreme ideologies of the DFLR could surpass the progress made by the Ndi Umunyarwanda.

Fourth, lessons learned and not learned from the Rwandan genocide. The first UN initiative to prevent another genocide was the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) in 2005. According to the R2P, all countries have the responsibility to protect people from genocide crimes by force, if required, with the authorisation of the UNSC. However, R2P is criticised for its non-binding character. The R2P was first tried in Libya in 2011 against the Gadaffi regime. Although the foreign intervention prevented genocide, the fall of Gadaffi and the subsequent civil war put the Western intentions behind the interventions under scrutiny. Now, the West is indifferent to intervention, especially in Africa. In 2020, an ethnic conflict broke out in Ethiopia's Tigray region between the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Ethiopian federal forces. The conflict killed more than 600,000 people. The international community remained silent while the violence continued. The situation repeated today in the Sudanese civil war and the war in Gaza. 

In perspective
The international community consider the Rwandan genocide of 1994 as a lesson that gathered a collective conscience against 'genocide.' 30 years into truth, justice and reconciliation, Rwanda is on the right path towards social reconstruction. However, concerns about resurging ethnic tension do persist. Meanwhile, the international community continue to discuss how an early action could have prevented the genocide. 

Although "never again" is a common narrative, collective mechanisms and actions to prevent genocides are a few. Moreover, countries waver to acknowledge the "g-word" which comes with a baggage of responsibilities. Countries settle for conflicts in Africa as low-intensity conflict leaving it to humanitarian agencies. After Rwanda, Darfur in Sudan, Rohingyas in Myanmar and Tigrayans in Ethiopia all were genocide victims which the international community failed to acknowledge and prevent. Until addressing the causes is prioritised above the consequences, "responsibility to protect (R2P)" would remain aspirational and "never again" would end up "yet again."

Other GP Short Notes

Click below links for year wise archive
2022 | 2021 | 2020 | 2019 | 2018