The Rwandan Genocide was the 1994 mass murder of an estimated 800,000 people in the small East African nation of Rwanda. Over the course of approximately 100 days (from the assassination of Juvénal Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira on April 6) through mid-July, over 500,000 people were killed, according to a Human Rights Watch estimate.
Rwanda's key dilemma is how to build a democracy that can incorporate a guilty majority alongside and aggrieved and fearful minority in a single political community. The Rwandan state generally avoids the use of Hutu and Tutsi and political identities. But it has adopted a "genocide framework" from which to categorize the population ... [dividing] the population into five categories: returnees, refugees, victims, survivors, and perpetrators.
The only countries with the resources, organization, and acumen to possibly make a difference were the ones that were performing miserably in Bosnia and were hardly keen to act in an unfamiliar part of the world where the circumstances were even less hospitable. The genocide had the physical property of both repelling and compelling action.
Unlike the Nazi killings, the Rwandan holocaust was not an industrial process carried out by special units at the outskirts of the country. Rather, a large percentage of the Hutu population is individually guilty: machete-wielding Hutu civilians often massacred their own neighbors in and around their homes and churches.
At the time of the Nuremberg trials, there was no legal concept of "genocide." On September 2, 1998, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (a court established by the United Nations) issued the world's first conviction for the defined crime of genocide after trial before an international tribunal. A man named Jean-Paul Akayesu was judged guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity for acts he engaged in and oversaw while mayor of the Rwandan town of Taba.
In the Rwandan context, where state institutions are dense at the local level, where the idea of state power is resonant, and where geography provides little opportunity for exit, large-scale civilian mobilization to kill was rapid, and the violence was extraordinarily intense and devastating.
The civil war profoundly changed all those who took part in it. The Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) went into it as an army of liberation and came out of it as an army of occupation. The Habyarimana regime entered the war pledged to a policy of ethnic reconciliation and came out of it pledged to uphold Hutu Power. ... the genocidal tendency was born out of the crisis of Hutu Power.
With the increase in mixed marriages in recent decades, it has become more difficult to know a person’s group affiliation simply by looking at him or her. Some people look both “Hutu” and “Tutsi” at the same time. ... During the genocide some persons who were legally Hutu were killed as Tutsi because they looked Tutsi.
Because the Tutsis were perceived to have Caucasian features, the Belgians deemed them a superior people ... and conferred on them ideological, political, and economic status. Being exemplary colonial administrators, the Belgians undertook an exhaustive census in 1933, used physical characteristics to determine who was a Hutu and who was a Tutsi, and then handed each person an identity card that fixed once and for all their ethnic calling.
The word “Tutsi,” which apparently first described the status of an individual—a person rich in cattle—became the term that referred to the elite group as a whole and the word “Hutu”—meaning originally a subordinate or follower of a more powerful person—came to refer to the mass of the ordinary people. The identification of Tutsi pastoralists as power-holders and of Hutu cultivators as subjects was becoming general when Europeans first arrived in Rwanda at the turn of the century, but it was not yet completely fixed throughout the country.
Elites planned it. They used the stated to implement their plan. They drew on a specific nationalist ideology. And the violence was a systematic campaign to destroy a named population group. The violence was not just tribalism run amok. It was genocide.