Taking Flight…

Sometimes in April: A Visit to Kigali Genocide Memorial

SubscribeFiled Under: Africa,by Neeraj

In September 2015, we went to Kigali, Rwanda en route to the Democratic Republic of Congo, and no trip to Rwanda is complete without visiting the Genocide Memorial.  The seeds of hatred between the Hutu and Tutsi people being shrewdly planted by European colonists (Belgians in this case) during the Colonial era ultimately resulted in the genocidal killings of the Tutsi people – starting in April 1994 – in which nearly a million people were killed by Hutu militias in a mere 100 days.

The text below is from the Kigali Genocide Memorial and we bring it to you here to give a glimpse of the horrors that Rwanda experienced – not so long ago – while the world silently watched and did nothing to stop.  It is worthwhile to note that some of the most “civilized” nations, such as France, United Kingdom, Belgium and the United States, sold arms to the killers.

Je suis Rwanda, anyone?


Genocide as defined by the United Nations Convention: 1948

Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

  • Killing members of the group
  • Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group
  • Deliberately inflicting conditions calculated to bring about its physical destruction
  • Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group
  • Forcibly transferring children of this group to another group


We did not choose to be colonised.  The Germans arrived first (1895-1916).  During World War One, the country was occupied by Belgian troops, who in 1923 were granted a mandate by the League of Nations to govern Rwanda-Urundi, which it ruled indirectly.  They turned their mandate into a colonial occupation until our independence in 1962.

There were some benefits to their presence here.  Christianity was integrated into society, schooling and medicine developed, as did the infrastructure.  Useful export markets for our produce also opened up.

However, we did not share good times together.  Initially, we did try to resist the influence of colonialism, fighting the first Germans in 1875.  But the colonial powers were stronger and their influence greater.

The Belgians presented Tutsi as an ‘alien’ race, and  used physical features (such as measurement of nose and skull size, and skin tone – Tutsi were more “European-like”) as a way to differentiate from the ‘indigenous’ Hutu.  Adding ‘race’ to Rwandan identify cards in 1930s, they counted 15% as being Tutsi, 84% as Hutu and 1% as Twa.  Ethnic identity began to determine Rwandan lives.

The primary identity of all Rwandans was originally associated with eighteen different clans.  The categories Hutu, Tutsi and Twa were socio-economic classifications within the clans, which could change with personal circumstancesUnder colonial rule, the distinctions were made racial, particularly with the introduction of the identity card in 1932.  In creating these distinctions, the colonial power identified anyone with ten cows in 1932 as a Tutsi and anyone with less than ten cows as Hutu, and this also applied to his descendants.

We had lived in peace for many centuries, but now the divide between us had begun….

The Catholic Church influenced education in Rwanda.  Teaching increasingly conveyed the racist ‘Hamitic’ ideology, largely accepted by the Church.  Hamitic ideology portrayed the Tutsis as a superior group.

Colonial authorities viewed Tutsi as more intelligent and encouraged Tutsi youth to attend newly established schools.  A select few were appointed chiefs and subchiefs, but the majority of Tutsi derived little benefit from colonial rule.

In his 1959 pastoral letter for Lent, Bishop Andre Perraudin supported the view of Rwandan society being divided by ‘race’, portraying the majority Hutu ‘race’ as being oppressed by the minority Tutsi.  Amid increasing tensions between Hutu and Tutsi elites, the Bishop’s message became a turning point.

The arrival of the Europeans changed many aspects of Rwandan life.  They exploited Rwandan workers, instituting a system of forced labour to construct roads and buildings, and to cultivate coffee and other crops for export.

In the 1950s, under pressure from the United Nations (UN), Belgium began initiating programs of social development.  In 1957, the High Council of Rwanda requested governance reforms, including more Rwandan participation in the administration in preparation for independence.  In response, colonial authorities and some Catholic Church leaders encouraged a group of Hutu leaders to draft the “Hutu Manifesto.”  This portrayed Tutsi as obstacles to the development of Hutu people.

In 1959 King Rudahigwa died; thereafter massacres of Tutsi were organized.  Many thousands of Tutsis were killed, others fled to neighbouring states for refuge.

In 1961 we held elections.  The first government’s Prime Minister was Gregoire Kayibanda, founder of the Parmehutu, a party for the emancipation of the Hutu.

A year later, Rwanda gained independence.

Independence when it came did not improve Rwanda’s fortunes.  Tutsis were resettled to Bugesera during the 1960s to separate them from the rest of the population.

Rwanda became a highly centralised, repressive state with a single-party system.

The regime was characterised by the persecution and ethnic cleansing of Tutsis.  In addition to ethnic divisions, the Kayibanda regime created regional divisions which contributed to the coup d’etat by Major General Juvenal Habyarimana in 1973.

“The Hutu and the Tutsi communities are two nations in a single state.  Two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy, who are ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts and feelings as if they were the inhabitants of different zones or planets.”

Juvenal Habyarimana refined and codified Kayibanda’s fascist policies.  The Mouvement Revolutionnaire et National pour le Developpement (MRND) was the only party, and Habyarimana declared that all Rwandans were members.

Habyarimana’s MRND was responsible for establishing the Interahamwe, a flamboyant and potentially dangerous Hutu youth militia that gained enormous popularity.  Advocating ‘Hutu Power’ and ‘Hutu-ness’ at the expense of Tutsi lives, their message was reinforced and spread by an extremist media.  By 1990 the genocidal ideology of Hutu Power had been perfected.

Aid reinforced division and persecution, and so international donors began demanding financial and democratic accountability.  Following the La Baule Summit organised by Francois Mitterrand and pressure from the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) in 1990, Habyarimana declared the establishment of a multi-party system.

Among the new political parties formed was the opposition party Mouvement Democratique Republicai (MDR).  It had both extremist and moderate Hutu members, some of whom were later singled out for extreme violence.  The Coalition pour la Defense de la Republique (CDR), was formed by Hutu radicals who linked with the death squads that had began to carry out massacres of Tutsi civilians.  The Parti Social Democratique (PSD) was a moderate opposition party.  During this demonstration, the placard reads: “P.S.D. Death or Life.  We will triumph.”

Development aid from the West came in for ten years.  Then, in 1986, coffee prices collapsed.  As the economy deteriorated, the ruling Hutu elite – the ‘Akazu’ – tightened its grip on available wealth and political power.

Over 700,000 Tutsis were exiled from our country between 1959-1973 as a result of the ethnic cleansing encouraged by the Belgian colonialists.

The refugees were prevented from returning, despite many peaceful efforts to do so.  Some then joined the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) who, on 1 October 1990, invaded Rwanda.

Civil war followed, which resulted in the internal displacement of Rwandans, many of whom were held in internal refugees camps by the Government of Rwanda.

Times were tense.

“We… say to the Inyenzi [cockroaches] that if they lift up their heads again, it will no longer be necessary to go fight the enemy in the bush.  We will… start by eliminating the internal enemy… They will disappear.”  – Hassan Ngeze, Kangura, janvier 1994

The RPF were intent on re-establishing equal rights and the rule of law, as well as the opportunity for refugees to return.  Habyarimana used the tension to exploit divisions in the population, launching campaigns of persecution and fueling fear among the people.  The war on the Tutsi minority was going largely unnoticed, even though many Tutsi and Hutu opponents of the divisive ideology were in prison, tortured or murdered.

Despite knowing about these atrocities, the French Government continued to support President Habyarimana’s regime.

Genocide was being rehearsed.

Multiple massacres of Tutsi were carried out from October 1990 up to February 1994, notably in Bugesera.

As intense propaganda campaign began, to persuade and compel the majority of the population as to why they should see their compatriots, their neighbours, even their own families, as enemies, and distrust them.

When the genocide was underway, Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines was used to incite hatred, to given instructions and justify the killings.

The population were being conditioned to accept and to join the plan to act before it was too late.

The Hutu Ten Commandments (published in Kangura in 1990)

  1. All Hutus must know that the Tutsi woman, wherever she may be, is serving the Tutsi ethnic group. In consequence, any Hutu who does the following is a traitor:

– Acquires a Tutsi wife

– Acquires a Tutsi mistress

– Acquires a Tutsi secretary or dependent

  1. All Hutus must know that our Hutu daughters are more worthy and more conscientious in their role of woman, spouse and mother. Are they not more beautiful, good secretaries and more sincere!
  2. Hutu women, be vigilant and bid your husbands, brothers and sons to come to their senses.
  3. All Hutus must know that the Tutsi is dishonest in business. His only goal is ethnic superiority.


In consequence, any Hutu who does the following is a traitor:

– whoever makes alliance with a Tutsi in business

– whoever invests his money or state money in a Tutsi company

– whoever lends money or borrows it from a Tutsi

– whoever grants favours to Tutsi in business (granting of import license, bank loans, building parcel, public tender offers…)

  1. The strategic political, administrative, economical, military and security positions must be reserved for Hutu.
  2. The education sector (students, teachers) must be of the Hutu majority.
  3. The Rwandan Armed Forces must be exclusively Hutu. The war experience in 1990 teaches us this lesson. No military man should marry a Tutsi woman.
  4. Hutu must stop taking pity on Tutsi.
  5. – Hutu, wherever they are, must be united, interdependent and worried about their Hutu brothers’ fate.

– Hutu from the inside and outside of Rwanda must constantly look for friends and allies for the Hutu Cause, beginning by their Bantu brothers.

– They must constantly oppose Tutsi propaganda.

– Hutu must be strong and vigilant against their common Tutsi enemy.

  1. The Social Revolution of 1959, the 1961 referendum and Hutu ideology must be taught to all Hutu and at all levels. All you Hutu must widely spread this message. Any Hutu who persecutes his Hutu brother for having read, spread and taught this ideology is a traitor.

Tutsi in Rwanda began to suffer ever more intense waves of persecution from 1990.  Tutsi mean and women were jailed and tortured.  Waves of massacres acted as a precursor to the genocide.

The persecution was so extreme that some Tutsi and Hutu moderates began to leave their homes and became refugees in neighbouring countries.

The persecution, though barely recognized by the outside world, was an early indication of what was to come.

A cease-fire was negotiated and signed between Habyarimana and the RPF in July 1992, from which came an agreement in August 1993, the Rwandan Government and RPF signed an agreement known as the Arusha Peace Accords.

Rwanda was to have a transitional government leading to a democratically elected government.

A neutral force was to be deployed.  French troops were to leave and make way for UNAMIR.  The RPF and Rwandan army were intended to integrate, demobilize and disarm.  Refugees were to be allowed home and an RPF battalion was to be stationed in Kigali.

Habyarimana and his political allies did not want the Arusha Accords to work.  The transitional government was not established.  Habyarimana and his extremist allies saw it as surrender to the RPF.

Meanwhile, Habyarimana’s regime entered the largest-ever Rwandan arms deal with a French company for $12 million, with a loan guaranteed by the French government.

On January 1994, The Times newspaper reported: “France has secretly helped arm and train government forces in Rwanda, fuelling the chances of a civil war “catastrophe”, according to a human rights group.  Credit Lyonnais, a nationalised bank, is also believed to have underwritten a 4 million pound weapons deal between Egypt and the Rwandan government, according to the New York-based Human Rights Watch.”


  • Jean Pierre described a plan to kill Belgian peacekeepers to force the UN to withdraw.
  • Jean-Pierre was willing to provide the location of the secret weapon caches in exchange for UN protection

On 10 January 1994 an informant, code-named ‘Jean-Pierre’, who was a former member of the president’s security guard, came forward with information.

He told Colonel Luc Marchal of the UN that 1,700 Interahamwe had been trained in Rwandan army camps and training was taking place at about 300 people per week.  He informed Marchal that his political superior was Matheu Ngirumpatse, who was president of MRND, President Habyrimana’s party.

He reported that the Interahamwe was registering all Tutsi in Kigali for an extermination plan, which would kill up to 1,000 people every 20 minutes.

Jean-Pierre believed that the President had lost control of the extremists.

He was willing to warm about the dangers of Hutu Power and to go the press in exchange for his security.  UNAMIR was not able to secure his protection.

Jean-Pierre disappeared.

His fate remains unknown.

Head of UNAMIR, Lt. General Romeo Dallaire, had expected the peacekeeping in Rwanda to be a relatively straightforward operation.

On 11 January 1994, Dallaire wrote a code-cable to New York to inform the Secretary-General’s military adviser and members of the Peacekeeping Office of the presence of the information and the information that he had.

The cable caused alarm, but mostly due to the arms seizure that Dallaire had proposed.

No action was taken in response to the fax.

“No reconnaissance or other action, including response to request for protection, should be taken by UNAMIR until clear guidance is received from HQ.” –Kofi Annan.

Hassan Ngeze (CDR) wrote two articles in Kangura, both predicting that President Habyarimana would die in March 1994.

There was a lot of talk about “something very big” happening in both the intelligence community and in the national press and RTLM.

Then on 6 April 1994, President Juvenal Habyarimana and President Cyrien Ntaryamira of Burundi were flying into Kigali, when at 20:23 the plane was shot down on its approach to Kigali airport.

By 21:15 roadblocks had been constructed throughout Kigali and houses were being searched.

Shooting began to be heard within an hour.

…the death lists had been pre-prepared in advance…

Genocide was instant.

Roadblocks sprang up right across the city with militia armed with one intent – to identify and kill Tutsis.

At the same time, Interahamwe began house-to-house searches.  The people on the death lists were the first to be visited and slaughtered in their own homes.

The perpetrators had promised an apocalypse and the operation which emerged was a devastating frenzy of violence, bloodshed and merciless killing.

The murderers used machetes, clubs, guns and any blunt tool they could find to inflict as much pain on their victims as possible.

It was genocide from the first day.

No Tutsi was exempt.

Women were beaten, raped, humiliated, abused and ultimately murdered, often in sight of their own families.

Children watched as their parents were tortured, beaten and killed in front of their eyes, before their small bodies were sliced, smashed, abused, pulverised and discarded.

The elderly, the pride of Rwandan society, were despised, and mercilessly murdered in cold blood.

Neighbours turned on neighbours, friends on friends… even family on their own family members.

Rwanda had turned into a nation of brutal, sadistic merciless killers and of innocent victims, overnight.

Women and Children

Women and children were a direct target of the genocidaires for murder, rape and mutilation.  The killers were determined to ensure that a new generation of Tutsis would never emerge.

Tutsi women were systematically raped and sexually mutilated as a weapon of genocide.  This was often by known HIV-infected males.  They were then either killed or spared to suffer on another occasion.

Hutu women in mixed marriages were raped as a punishment.

Women and children were not only victims of the genocide, but also perpetrators.  Children were frequently forced to participate, often by killing their friends or neighbours.

Victims were sometimes forced to kill their loved ones just before they themselves were killed.

Hutu and Tutsi women were forced to kill their own Tutsi children.


The genocidaires often mutilated their victims before killing them.

Victims had their tendons cut so they could not run away; they were tied and beaten.  They were made to wait helplessly to be clubbed, raped or cut by machete.

Family members were made to watch on as their parents or children were tortured, beaten or raped in front of their eyes.

On occasion, victims were thrown alive down deep latrines and rocks were thrown in one at a time until their screams subsided into silence.

On other occasions, large number of victims were thrown down pit latrines.  Victims trampled each other to death.  The piles were sometimes ten bodies deep.

Death was made a painful, agonising, frightening, humiliating end.

The genocide resulted in the deaths of over a million people.

But death was not its only outcome.

Tens of thousands of people had been tortured, mutilated and raped, tens of thousands more suffered machete cuts, bullet wounds, infection and starvation.

There was rampant lawlessness, looting and chaos.  The infrastructure had been destroyed, the ability to govern dismantled.  Homes had been demolished, belongings stolen.

There were over 300,000 orphans and over 85,000 children who were heads of their household, with younger siblings and/or relatives.

There were thousands of widows.  Many had been the victims of rape and sexual abuse or had seen their own children murdered.

Many families had been totally wipes out, with no one to remember or document their deaths.

The streets were littered with corpses.  Dogs were eating the rotting flesh of their owners.

The country smelt of the stench of death.

The genocidaires had been more successful in their evil aims than anyone would have dared to believe.

Rwanda was dead.

The genocidaires had control of the country.

As the RPF began to move in on Kigali and engage the Rwandan army in an attempt to gain control and stop the genocide, the crisis was described as ‘civil war’ or ‘ethnic strife’ by commentators.

There was no ethnic war.

There was a civil war.

But the genocide happened and it was something different.

On 21 April, the UN Security Council passed a Resolution station that it was “appalled at the ensuing large scale of violence in Rwanda”, which had resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians, including women and children.  The same meeting voted to reduce the UNAMIR force to 270 volunteer Ghanaian personnel and to limit its mandate.

UN commander General Dallaire estimated that as few as 5,000 troops with authority to enforce peace could stop the genocide.

Instead, the UN mission was recalled.

Dallaire cabled New York shortly after the President’s plane crashed and stated, “Give me the means and I can do more.”

International Response

Not one additional peacekeeper or armoured personnel carrier arrived in Rwanda before the RPF victory in July.  The world withdrew… and watched as a million people were slaughtered.

France had played an active role in arming and training the Rwandan armed forces.  They also trained Hutu militia who would play a key role during the genocide, and many saw the French as allies.  ‘Operation Turquoise’ resulted in providing a safe zone for genocidaires fleeing the advancing RPF troops and an escape route into Zaire.

The United Nations Secretary General and former Chief of UN Peace Operations Kofi Annan said he could and should have done more to stop the genocide in Rwanda.  “The international community failed Rwanda and that must leave us always with a sense of bitter regret.”

Most non-governmental organisations left the country; only a few stayed.  The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) both continued humanitarian operations.  Two weeks into the conflict, the ICRC wrote in a press release: “The human tragedy in Rwanda is on a scale that the International Committee of the Red Cross has rarely witnessed.”

The RPF Stops the Genocide

The RPF mobilized its troops with the commencement of the genocide, and by the end had saved tens of thousands of people.  They stopped the genocide, defeating the civil and military authorities orchestrating the killings.

As the genocide neared its end, chaos reigned across the country.

People were fleeing for different reasons.

Perpetrators were on the move to avoid capture by advancing RPF troops.

Victims were on the move towards RPF-liberated zones.  Large numbers of Hutus fled across Rwanda’s borders in fear of revenge killings which RTLM had consistently claimed would happen; either that or they were held hostages by the leaders of the genocide.  As the Hutu population fled, returnees from Uganda a generation were entering RPF zones.  Millions were internally displaced due to the genocide and widespread insecurity.

Refugee camps were set up in Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda and Zaire.  The number of refugees was over 2,000,000.

It was estimated that over two thirds of the population of Rwanda was displaced, fleeing out of guilt, fear or confusion, or held hostage.


A large number of victims had been torn apart from their families and did now know whether family members were alive or dead.  Some were the only survivors of their immediate family, and did not know if more distant relatives were still alive.

Children lost their parents.

Parents separated from their children presumed they were dead, but hoped otherwise.

Most did not expect to find survivors.


Many parents had been separated from children.  Hundreds of thousands of children were orphaned.  Orphanages emerged quickly to cope with the huge number of vulnerable children who had just experienced the worst excesses of human behaviour.  Survivors formed organizations and created artificial families to care for one another, acting as parents for younger orphans.  The strong family bonds created between orphans continue today, supporting positive social values.

Thousands of women were brutally raped, often repeatedly, as weapon of genocide and dehumanisation.  Tutsi women were not only raped but mutilated, while some Hutu women were raped for their association with Tutsi men.  Rape by known HIV-positive men had devastating effects for many women who contracted the disease.  Before the Rwandan government’s roll-out of universal anti-retroviral medication, many women suffered and died from the effects of HIV/AIDS.

Women survivors of the genocide began gathering to share the loss and pain they experienced.  In 1995 they founded AVEGA, the Association of Genocide Widows and Widowers to address their psychological and socio-economic challenges.  The women of AVEGA have become a success story of post genocide rehabilitation.  They have improved their living conditions and advocated for resolution of their most critical challenges.

Children of all backgrounds were traumatized.  They will carry their trauma through the rest of their lives – and probably into the lives of their descendants.

A National Trauma Survey by UNICEF estimated that 80% of Rwandan children experienced a death in the family in 1994, 70% witnessed someone being killed or injured and 90% believed they would die.  Many children continue to suffer deeply from the traumatic effects of the genocide and need post-trauma support.

International Justice

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), based in Arusha, Tanzania, was established by the UN Security Council in its Resolution 955 of November 8, 1994 to prosecute high-level organizers of the genocide.  After nineteen years the Tribunal had completed 75 cases with 12 acquittals and 16 cases pending appeal.

In other countries, genocide suspects are being prosecuted under the principles of universal jurisdiction.  Some accused are being returned to Rwanda for trial.  Many suspected perpetrators, however, remain free in their host countries.

The Gacaca Courts

After the genocide, the challenge was to deliver justice and punish perpetrators while restoring the fabric of society.  After serious deliberation, the government initiated Gacaca [meaning ‘grass’], a community restorative justice system which evolved from a mix of traditional and modern approaches.  Officially launched in 2002, Gacaca brought together survivors, perpetrators and witnesses before locally-chosen judges to establish truth about what happened in the genocide and to determine consequences for perpetrators.

The Goals of Gacaca

At the time of Gacaca’s inception in 2002, there were 120,000 genocide suspects in overcrowded prisons.  This urgent problem was addressed by Gacaca’s widespread implementation.  Gacaca aimed to promote truth, peace, justice, healing, forgiveness and reconciliation.

Peacebuilding After Genocide

After stopping the genocide, the RPF formed a new government of national unity.  It provided security and urged people to rebuild their lives together, without seeking revenge.

Evaluating Gacaca

Over ten years, more than 1.9 million cases – including 1,200 alleged genocide organizers, instigators and supervisors – were tried in over 12,000 community-based courts.  Despite challenges Gacaca was yet the most comprehensive program of post-conflict justice in the world, providing important opportunities for truth-telling and justice.  Many survivors were able to learn the fate of their loved ones, to locate their bodies and to rebury them with dignity.  In fostering restitution between survivors and families of their perpetrators while creating a new climate of deterrence, Gacaca played a significant role in laying the foundations of peace and reconciliation in Rwanda.

Community Service

Under the statutes of Gacaca, perpetrators who confessed could choose to serve half their sentence in community service, known as TIG (Travaux d’Interets Generaux), building roads, making bricks or rebuilding houses for survivors.  Those not confessing serve their full sentence in prison.

Peace and Security

Much has been accomplished towards addressing the challenges to peace and security in Rwanda.  The re-integration of ex-combatants from the Democratic Republic of Congo is ongoing, while land and services are being extended to refugees repatriated from neighbouring countries.

Social and Economic Development

Rwanda has begun laying the foundations of a peaceful future, expanding access to education and healthcare for all, promoting women’s empowerment and cooperatives, and boosting economic growth through initiatives such as trade integration with East African Community, Economic Development for Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS), and Vision 2020, aiming empowering and developing Rwandans’ living conditions.

Peace Building and Education

The future of any society depends on its ability to understand and reconcile with its past.  Throughout Rwanda, youth are engaged in peace education programs and unity clubs.

The end.

We felt like Rwanda is now a model country for other African nations.  In spite of what the country has been through a mere 25 years ago, it is now a peaceful, modern and safe country with a growing economy.

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