In the early 1990s tensions were running high between the Hutu majority and Tutsi minority. A civil war broke out when the Rwandan exiles, mostly Tutsis, formed the group Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). The RPF blamed the government for not recognizing the Tutsi refugees. On April 6, 1994 President Juvenal Habyarimana was killed when his plane was shot down right outside Rwanda's capital, Kigali. Both the Hutus and Tutsis were blamed for it. Within hours after the crash the Hutu rebels took over Kigali and started slaughtering Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The violence spread throughout the country quickly and in a period of three months about 800,000 people were killed, which were mostly the Tutsi minority. By July 2004 the Tutsi RPF gained control of most of Rwanda and about 2 million people, mostly Hutus, fled to refugee camps in nearby countries.
The Rwandan genocide was organized through the use of government radio stations. The Hutus had specific lists of names, addresses, and license plates and used those to kill whoever matched their lists. The radio was also used to tell stories of discrimination against the Hutus by the Tutsis to influence them to take violent action. Around 250,000 - 500,000 women were also raped and often killed afterwards.
United to End Genocide
Survivors from the Rwandan genocide recount their experiences trying to survive. Some hid their children under the papyrus in the marshes while the adults covered themselves in mud. They remember killings would go on all day long and sometimes the small children would cry when they couldn't stand the mud anymore so the Hutus would find them. One also recalls the Hutus sounding cheerful to be killing; they would announce their arrival with songs and whistles.
A Rwandan genocide survivor recalls homes being looted and the Hutus coming with machetes and spears. But not all the Hutus were after the Tutsis and some refused to take part in the killings. Their Hutu neighbors saved two nine-year-old and twelve year old boys. The Hutus hid them in their homes and lied to the attackers when they came and asked if anyone was in the house. One woman would cook and bring food to the boys in their hiding spot. They risked their own lives for a few months until the RPF came and the war ended.
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One girl was twelve years old when her parents and all seven of her siblings were killed in the genocide. She tried to escape but was caught by the militia and was raped by several men. She became pregnant but a neighbor who took her in told her not to have an abortion so she didn't. Many of the women who were raped and became pregnant during the genocide abandoned their children and some of them ended up in orphanages. The owner of one of the orphanages saved hundred of babies by hiding them there.
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In September 1998 an international court known as the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda convicted Jean-Paul Akayesu for genocide and crimes against humanity. He was the mayor of Taba and it was the world's first conviction for genocide before an international tribunal. When the Rwandan genocide first started he kept Taba out of it, but not too long after he changed his mind and actively joined in with other governmental leaders and encouraged others to act violently. Once the war was over Akayesu fled to Zaire, then Zambia where he was arrested in 1995. He is serving his life sentence in Mali.
Few of the RPF members have been held accountable for the crimes they committed during the genocide. Human Rights Watch believes that it has to do with the impunity protecting most RPF members. The RPF admitted to the killings but claimed the reasoning was for justice. Most of the RPF members that were convicted received lenient sentences. The families of the victims of the RPF killings have struggled with justice for the crimes due to the restrictions on free speech in Rwanda. Even talking about the crimes can lead to charges of genocide denial, genocide ideology or divisionism.
During the Rwandan genocide the French government and military assisted the perpetrators by supplying weapons. They also used the French embassy in Kigali as a safe haven for the genocide suspects. There are reports with details of the French government and officials involvement before, during, and after the genocide. The French officials say there is nothing to hide and claim the evidence will show they did no wrong, but the evidence needs to be declassified for the full truth to be revealed.
In March 2017 Pope Francis begged for forgiveness of the "sins and failings of the Church and its members" in the Rwanda genocide. He acknowledged that the church including some Catholic priests and nuns participated in the violence of the genocide, going against their evangelical mission. Some of the churches became killing centers; many who went there to seek refuge died at the hands of the clergy.