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30 Years of Genocide in Rwanda


April 7 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, when a radical group representing the majority Hutu ethnic group began a campaign to eradicate the Tutsi ethnic minority and other opponents. According to some experts, the controversy was caused by the legacy of Belgian colonial policies of ethnic identification. At least eight hundred thousand people were killed as a result of the hundred-day massacre.

On April 6, 1994, a plane carrying Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana and Burundi President Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down over the Rwandan capital Kigali. The disaster marked the beginning of three months of ethnic killings across Rwanda on an unprecedented scale.

Hutu political and military extremists orchestrated the murder of approximately three-quarters of Rwanda's Tutsi population, killing more than half a million people. Many Hutus who tried to hide or protect the Tutsis, as well as those who opposed the genocide, were also killed.

In mid-July 1994, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, a predominantly Tutsi rebel group based in Uganda that had been fighting to overthrow the Rwandan government since 1990, took control of the country and ended the genocide. His troops killed thousands of civilians, mostly Hutu, although the scale and nature of these killings did not amount to genocide.

Stopping the leaders and killers in Rwanda would require military force, but in the early stages it was relatively small. Swift and effective international intervention could stop the genocide and prevent some of the worst killings. The archives show how international leaders not only rejected this course, but for weeks refused to use their political and moral authority to challenge the legitimacy of the genocidal government.

Policy documents, statements and letters show that international leaders at the time refused to say that a government that exterminated its citizens would never receive international assistance, and did nothing to silence radio programs that incited Rwandans to massacre. Such simple measures could undermine the power of the authorities who carried out the massacres.

The Rwandan genocide, as well as the wars in the Balkans, marked a turning point in international commitments to include accountability and criminal justice as part of the response to serious crimes under international law. Their important legacy was the creation of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in 1994, as well as the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 1998 to investigate the Rwandan genocide.


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