Throwback Thursday – Violence Erupts in Rwanda, Pointing to Genocide – Lewis-Clark Valley Community


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On that day in 1994, violence fueled the outbreak of what would become the worst episode of genocide since The Second World War: the massacre of approximately 500,000 to 1 million innocent Tutsi and moderate Hutu civilians. Following the first wave of massacres, Rwandan forces manage to discourage international intervention with the assassination of 10 Belgian peacekeepers.

The Tutsis, a minority group that represented about 10% of the Rwandan population, received no aid from the international community, although the The United Nations later admitted that only 5,000 troops initially deployed would have stopped the mass slaughter.

The immediate roots of the 1994 genocide go back to the early 1990s, when President Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, began using anti-Tutsi rhetoric to consolidate his power among Hutus. From October 1990, there were several massacres of hundreds of Tutsis. Although the two ethnic groups are very similar, sharing the same language and culture for centuries, the law required registration based on ethnicity.

The government and army began rounding up the Interahamwe (meaning “those who attack together”) and prepared for the elimination of the Tutsis by arming the Hutus with guns and machetes. In January 1994, United Nations forces in Rwanda warned that greater massacres were imminent.

Also on April 6, 1994, President Habyarimana was killed when his plane was shot down. It is unclear whether the attack was carried out by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a Tutsi military organization stationed outside the country at the time, or by Hutu extremists attempting to incite a massacre. Regardless, Hutu army extremists, led by Colonel Théoneste Bagosora, immediately sprang into action, murdering Tutsis and moderate Hutus within hours of the crash.

The Belgian blue helmets were killed the next day, a key factor in the withdrawal of UN forces from Rwanda. Soon after, radio stations across Rwanda were broadcasting calls for the Hutu majority to kill all Tutsis in the country. The army and national police directed the massacre, sometimes threatening Hutu civilians when persuasion did not work.

Thousands of innocent people were massacred with machetes by their neighbours. Despite these horrific crimes, the international community, including the United States, has been reluctant to act. They wrongly attributed the genocide to chaos in the midst of tribal warfare. US troops have been sent to Rwanda to help with humanitarian aid to open the country’s main airport for relief flights. However, the president bill clinton later called America’s failure to stop the genocide his administration’s “greatest regret”.

It was left to the RPF, led by Paul Kagame, to begin an ultimately successful military campaign for control of Rwanda. By summer, the RPF had defeated the Hutu forces and driven them out of the country and into several neighboring countries. However, by that time, around 75% of Tutsis living in Rwanda had been murdered.




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