WMC Women Under Siege Conflict Report: Rwanda (2012)
The Rwandan genocide, which took the lives of an estimated 800,000 people, the majority of whom were Tutsis, erupted on April 6, 1994. Fueled by ethnic divisions between Hutus and Tutsis dating back to Belgium’s colonial rule, which began after the First World War, the killing was complete in just 100 days.
The Belgians favored the Tutsi minority among the country’s three ethnic groups—the Hutus, Tutsis, and Twas—for having European facial features. They gave Tutsis higher education opportunities and administrative office positions while discriminating against the Hutu majority. They also registered identity cards for each person to distinguish Tutsis from the Hutus and the Twas. Officially delineating identities through registration fed resentment among the Hutus, setting the stage for the ethnic conflict that led to the genocide in 1994.
Before the Belgians lost colonial rule in 1962, the Hutu majority rallied political support and took over the government. A series of coups eventually led a Hutu, Juvenal Habyarimana, to take the presidency in 1973. The Hutus’ political gain led thousands of Tutsis to flee because of an increase in discrimination and violence, even killing. Tutsi refugees poured into neighboring countries, later giving birth to the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), the group that would ultimately end the genocide.
During Habyarimana’s presidency, in October 1990, the Tutsi-led RPF attempted to invade from neighboring Uganda. Habyarimana exaggerated the incident to gain further support from Hutus: Tutsis were painted as the enemy of the state and the Hutu political government set up a campaign to incite hatred of the rival ethnic group. Human rights activist and historian Alison Des Forges wrote in 1999: “From the start, those in power were prepared to use physical attacks as well as verbal abuse to achieve their ends. They directed massacres of hundreds of Tutsi in mid-October 1990 and in five other episodes before the 1994 genocide. In some incidents, Habyarimana’s supporters killed Hutu opponents—their principal political challengers—as well as Tutsi, their declared ideological target.” Thus, when Habyarimana’s plane was shot down on April 6, 1994, the Hutu paramilitary organization, called the Interahamwe, was prepared to carry out plans to execute Tutsis in large-scale massacres and tear the country apart with mass rape.
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