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10 years: Remembering the Rwanda genocide in 1994

By Jacob Crawfurd, April 2004

10 years has passed since one of the bloodiest and certainly the quickest genocide in world history. Approximately 1 million people were brutally slaughtered within 100 days. That is 1 person killed every tenth second! Today the Rwandans are understandably focused on healing the nation and getting back to normal living conditions, but there are many lessons to learn for all of us -also outside Africa.

Africa not in focus

The genocide had been carefully planned and the start signal was given when the president of Rwanda was shot down in his plane. It was April 6th 1994 and within hours the killings had started. Still today it is not clear whether the plane was shot down by Tutsi rebels or by forces within the Hutu rule that didn't agree with the moderate president. Prior to this event there had been many signs that something was about to happen. But political leaders all over the world completely ignored what was going on in Rwanda. The Western world was busy in Yugoslavia and USA was still in shock after the retreat from Somalia, but there is NO excuse. They knew Rwanda was about to explode …and they looked away! This failure should not be forgotten and never repeated. But have we learned ten years after? Isn’t Africa still being ignored when the rich countries have too much to do at home or other places where more money is at stake? The genocide in Rwanda did not last long, but it triggered a very long war in neighbouring D.R. Congo (then Zaire).

United Nations

Sadly even United Nations made fatal mistakes when it came to Rwanda. In March 2004 Secretary general Kofi Annan admitted to have made serious mistakes about Rwanda. The Canadian leader of a small UN-force in Rwanda discovered that something was wrong several months before the genocide took place. He asked for assistance, but was told to sit tight directly by Kofi Annan, who was then head of United Nations peacekeeping agency (UNAMIR). The alarm was made, but the bell never rang and the information didn’t reach the UN Security Council before it was far too late. The failure of the UN system is no argument to push the organisation aside. On the contrary: the role of UN should be strengthened in every possible way. The current situation with US president Bush at the wheel is leading the world directly to disaster.

Background for the Hutu/Tutsi conflict

The historical background for the conflict is a long and complicated story that started many years earlier. Some Western countries (the former colony power of Belgium in particular) had a more direct part of the responsibility for the dangerous development. Originally there were no direct conflicts between the Hutu and Tutsi people in Rwanda, but in 1935 the Belgium colonial rule forced everybody to carry papers identifying them as belonging to one of the groups. The Belgians strengthened their own power by playing the groups against each other and favoured the Tutsi minority. The first ethnic killings of Tutsis took place around 1959. Rwanda became independent in 1962 and by then the Hutus were in power. The following decades saw regular fights between government forces and Tutsi rebels attacking from Burundi. During the years the conflict escalated until 1993 when the president (pressed by Ugandan forces) agreed to a new constitution. But at the same time other, less moderate forces within the Hutu government carefully planned to eridacate all Tutsis once and for all. The killings of Tutsis and moderate Hutus had started and stopped again after 100 days -not by UN forces, but Tutsi rebels mobilised outside Rwanda. A memorial ceremony was held in Kigali on April 7th 2004. Most African leaders were present, but only the Belgian government was represented from the Western countries.

90,000 are today imprisoned in Rwanda. A big effort is now being made to build up a functioning juridical system in Rwanda, but the work is huge and so far only few people has had their case to court. Efforts are made to heal the wounds and to no longer focus on tribal/ethnic background.

Follow the links below for more detailed information about Rwanda and the 1994 genocide.

Rwanda Links:

International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (in English, French and Kinyarwanda)

Map of Rwanda (PDF file from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda)

African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights

Official Website of the Republic of Rwanda

Remembering Rwanda: The Rwanda 10th Anniversary Memorial Project

AllAfrica: Rwanda: a Nation in Healing, 10 Years After Genocide

CIA World Factbook: Rwanda

The Great Genocide Debate : Africa Direct Conference , London July 27, 1997

Internews: Rwanda ICTR

Rwanda History

BBC: Rwanda timeline

Frontline: The Triumph of Evil

CNN: West 'guilty' over Rwanda genocide




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