On Sunday, April 7th, the African country of Rwanda marked 25 years since the Rwandan genocide, one of the worst horrors of the 20th century.
The genocide, which refers to the mass killing of a group of people based on their ethnicity, race, or other characteristics, caused the deaths of over 800,000 civilians in just 100 days.
In Rwanda’s capital of Kigali, citizens prepared to begin a 100-day period of mourning, in which they would honor those who lost their lives to the genocide. At the national stadium, Rwandan President Paul Kagame and other world leaders held a vigil to remember this tragic event and an honorary flame was lit at the Kigali Genocide Memorial.
While it can be difficult to learn about the atrocities of the genocide, it is an essential part of the world’s history which we simply cannot forget.
What is the Rwandan Genocide?
In the early 1900s, Rwanda consisted of two main ethnic groups: the Hutus and the Tutsis. While Tutsis were relatively wealthy cattle-herders, Hutus were lower-class peasants. When Belgium colonized Rwanda in 1962, they placed Tutsis in charge of Hutus. This increased the already present tension between the two groups, leading the Hutus to lead small-scale violent rebellions.
In April of 1994, a plane carrying Rwanda’s Hutu president and another Hutu leader was shot down. While it is unclear whether this incident is what caused the genocide, mass killings of the Tutsis, led by extremist Hutus, began just hours later. At this point, Hutus were the majority in Rwanda, composing over 85% of the population.
Starting from April 7th of 19974, Hutu militia groups relentlessly murdered Tutsis and even moderate (less extreme) Hutus.
While there was no clear physical difference between Tutsis and Hutus, each citizen carried an identification card, issued during Belgium’s rule, which stated their ethnic group. Anyone identified as a Tutsi was slaughtered by a machete. Using radio stations, Hutu extremists spread their views and encouraged the murder of Tutsis.
At the same time, a Tutsi military group called Rwandese Patriotic Front also exerted its presence. At least 2 million Hutus fled the country in fear of attacks from the RPF. By early July, the RPF successfully took over the Rwandan government and the genocide came to a halt.
The Genocide’s Impact
After the genocide, Rwanda established a government under President Paul Kagame and the country changed for the better, with lower crime rates and more sanitary conditions.
But even today, Rwanda is working to repair the damages of the genocide. Hundreds of thousands of children are still orphans after their parents were killed, and viruses caused by the genocide continue to affect the population’s health.
Several nations and organizations, including the U.S, France, and the United Nations, have been criticized for their lack of involvement in rescuing Rwanda from the genocide. Regardless, nations around the world have expressed their support in remembering the crimes that occurred 25 years ago.
The Rwandan genocide was a terrible part of Rwanda’s history. While many lives were lost, the aftermath of the genocide has brought the world together in pursuit of peace and hope.
Sources: New York Times, Al Jazeera, History.com, BBC