100 Days of Hell: The 1994 Rwandan Genocide

The Rwandan Genocide occurred over the course of 100 days in 1994, between April 7 and mid-July. Nearly a million people were killed in Rwanda, in a mass slaughter unparalleled in modern history. It is believed that 800,000 people were killed in the first six weeks, at a rate five times higher than that of the Nazi Holocaust. Around one-fifth of the country’s entire population was murdered.

Most of the dead were Tutsis, and most of the killers were Hutus. This was genocide; a concerted effort to exterminate an entire group of people.

Origin

The Tutsi minority were the ruling caste, historically in control of the monarchy, the army and the administration. Resentment boiled over among Hutus, who made up 84% of Rwanda’s population. In 1990, rebels of the Tutsi-dominated Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) invaded Northern Rwanda from neighbouring Uganda.

The RPF’s success prompted President Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, to sign a deal with them to end years of civil war and allow power sharing. However, Habyarimana was slow in implementing the plan and a transitional government failed to take off.

On April 6, 1994, a plane carrying Habyarimana and Burundi’s President Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down in a rocket attack. Habyarimana’s death triggered a 100-day orgy of violence, perpetrated mainly by Hutus against Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

Hutu extremists blamed the RPF and immediately started a well-organised campaign of slaughter. The RPF said the plane had been shot down by Hutus to provide an excuse for the genocide.

Genocide

With meticulous organization, lists of government opponents were handed out to militias who went and killed them, along with all of their families.

Neighbours killed neighbours and some Hutu husbands even killed their Tutsi wives, saying they would be killed if they refused.

Image of Rwandan Genocide
Family photographs of infants and children killed in the massacre hang on display/Ben Curtis, AP.

At the time, identity cards had people’s ethnic group on them, so militias set up roadblocks where Tutsis were slaughtered, often with machetes which most Rwandans kept around the house.

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Thousands of Tutsi women were taken away and kept as sex slaves.

Hundreds of thousands of people were slaughtered by hand, using home-made weapons and household tools – knives, hammers and machetes.

Tutsi families were blown up in churches where they had taken refuge.

Aftermath

Finally in July, the RPF – under the command of Paul Kagame – captured Kigali, and around two million Hutus fled to Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo). Thousands of these refugees, who included those who carried out the massacres, died of dehydration and cholera.

The West largely stood by and ignored what was happening. When diplomatic messages warned the United States, Britain and the United Nations of an imminent “new bloodbath” in February 1994, no action was taken. The UN finally agreed to increase its contingent of troops to 5,000 but they weren’t deployed until after the killing had stopped.

Further Reading

Rwanda genocide: 100 days of slaughter

Rwanda: How the genocide happened

Rwandan genocide remembered by Tutsis and Hutus, 25 years on

11 powerful photos from the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide

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