The earliest inhabitants of Rwanda were pygmy hunter-gatherers, the Twa. Immigration was probably slow with incoming groups integrating into, rather than conquering, the existing society. The Tutsi herded cattle. The Hutu farmed the land. Although the Hutu, Tutsi and Twa share a common language, the Tutsi evolved as the leaders. After World War II, a Hutu emancipation movement emerged. Catholic missionaries were concerned more with the underprivileged Hutu than the Tutsi elite, leading to the formation of a sizeable educated Hutu clergy that counterbalanced the established political order.
In 1960, elections returned an overwhelming Hutu majority. The king was deposed, a Hutu dominated republic created, and the country became independent in 1962. As the revolution progressed, Tutsi began leaving the country to escape the Hutu purges until, in 1993, they were awarded positions in a Broad-Based Transitional Government. Almost every party had a “Power” wing from which radical youth militia groups of Killer Kids emerged that eventually carried out massacres across the country.
The army began arming Hutu civilians with weapons, such as machetes, and training the Hutu youth in combat, officially as “civil defense”. Rwanda also purchased large numbers of grenades and munitions; future UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali in his role as Egyptian foreign minister facilitated a large sale of arms from Egypt. The “Hutu Power” began compiling lists of “traitors” to be killed; they founded a popular radio station, RTLMC, which broadcast racist propaganda, obscene jokes and music. By one estimate, 10% of the violence during the Rwandan genocide can be attributed to this station.
In October 1993, the country’s first ever Hutu president was assassinated by Tutsi army officers. The assassination caused shockwaves, reinforcing the notion among the Hutu that the Tutsi were their enemy and could not be trusted. On January 11, 1994, General Dallaire sent a “Genocide Fax” to UN Headquarters stating that a high level informant, a local politician, had been ordered to register all Tutsi in Kigali so that up to 1,000 Tutsi could be killed in 20 minutes, leading to their extermination.
On April 6, 1994, the plane carrying the Rwandan President and the Hutu President of Burundi, was shot down as it was landing in Kigali, killing everyone on board. The large-scale killing of Tutsi began within hours. Military leaders ordered the Hutu to “begin your work” and to “spare no one”. The Hutu population, which had been prepared and armed during the preceding months, maintained the Rwandan tradition of obedience to authority, and carried out the orders without question.
During the first six weeks, up to 800,000 Rwandans were murdered, a rate five times higher than during the Nazi Holocaust. In rural areas, where Tutsi and Hutu lived side by side and families knew each other, the Hutu easily identified and killed their Tutsi neighbours. In urban areas, where residents were more anonymous, identification was facilitated using roadblocks; each person passing the roadblock was required to show their national identity card, which included ethnicity, and any with Tutsi cards were slaughtered immediately. Local officials and government-sponsored radio stations incited citizens to kill their neighbors. Those who refused to kill were murdered on the spot. “Either you took part in the massacres or you were massacred yourself.” 1,500 Tutsi sought refuge in a Catholic church but the authorities used bulldozers to knock down the building. The militia killed every person who tried to escape. The local priest was later found guilty and sentenced to life in prison for his role in the demolition of his church; he was convicted of the crime of genocide and crimes against humanity.
Hutu extremists released hundreds of patients suffering from AIDS from hospitals, and formed them into “rape squads.” The intent was to infect and cause “slow, inexorable death”. Thousands of women who were subjected to rape are now HIV-positive. Tutsi women were targeted with the intent of destroying their reproductive capabilities. Sexual mutilation with machetes, knives, sharpened sticks, boiling water, and acid occurred after rape. Men were seldom the victims of war rape, but sexual violence against men included mutilation of the genitals that were then displayed in public as trophies.
Out of a population of 7.3 million, the official Rwandan government figures estimated the number of genocide victims to be 1,174,000 in 100 days or 10,000 every day, 400 every hour, 7 every minute.
Most of the killings were carried out by child soldiers some of a very tender age. Could it be that children cannot, do not, understand the value of life? Could it be that the many murders in this country are committed by people who are either too young to care, or too immature to know what they do? Is not the care of our youth the key to our future?