This week, I’ve been reading a number of articles posted by world news organizations, marking the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. It’s still difficult to wrap my mind around the fact of between 500,000 to 1,000,000 Rwandans were slaughtered within the first 100 days, while the world stood by.
The Rwandan Genocide was a genocidal mass slaughter of Tutsi and moderate Hutu in Rwanda by members of the Hutu majority. During the approximate 100-day period from April 7, 1994 to mid-July, an estimated 500,000–1,000,000 Rwandans were killed, constituting as much as 20% of the country’s total population and 70% of the Tutsi then living in Rwanda. The genocide was planned by members of the core political elite known as the akazu, many of whom occupied positions at top levels of the national government. Perpetrators came from the ranks of the Rwandan army, the National Police (gendarmerie), government-backed militias including the Interahamwe and Impuzamugambi, and the Hutu civilian population.
The genocide took place in the context of the Rwandan Civil War, an ongoing conflict beginning in 1990 between the Hutu-led government and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which was largely composed of Tutsi refugees whose families had fled to Uganda following earlier waves of Hutu violence against the Tutsi. International pressure on the Hutu-led government of Juvénal Habyarimana resulted in a cease-fire in 1993 with a roadmap to implement the Arusha Accords that would create a power-sharing government with the RPF. This agreement displeased many conservative Hutu, including members of the Akazu, who viewed it as conceding to enemy demands. Among the broader Hutu populace, the RPF military campaign had also intensified support for the so-called “Hutu Power” ideology, which portrayed the RPF as an alien force intent on reinstating the Tutsi monarchy and enslaving the Hutus, a prospect met with extreme opposition.
On April 6, 1994, an airplane carrying Habyarimana and Burundian president Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down on its descent into Kigali, killing all on board. Genocidal killings began the following day: soldiers, police and militia quickly executed key Tutsi and moderate Hutu leaders, then erected checkpoints and barricades and used Rwandans’ national identity cards to systematically verify their ethnicity and kill Tutsi. These forces recruited or pressured Hutu civilians to arm themselves with machetes, clubs, blunt objects and other weapons to rape, maim and kill their Tutsi neighbors and destroy or steal their property. The breach of the peace agreement led the RPF to restart their offensive and rapidly seize control of the northern part of the country before capturing Kigali in mid-July, bringing an end to the genocide. During these events and in their aftermath, the United Nations (UN) and countries including the United States, Great Britain and Belgium were criticized for their inaction, including failure to strengthen the force and mandate of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) peacekeepers, while observers criticized the government of France for alleged support of the genocidal regime after the genocide had begun.
The genocide had a lasting and profound impact on Rwanda and its neighboring countries. The pervasive use of war rape caused a spike in HIV infection, including babies born of rape to newly infected mothers; many households were headed by orphaned children or widows… (source)
There was a time I would have believed this impossible, that as the world “grew smaller”, at least in theory, (military and political alliances, economically united, etc) that something like the type of genocide which took place late in the 20th century, could have never occurred: that those nations known as the “world powers” would have stepped in immediately. But that was then….today, I know better. Sometimes I wish I didn’t–know better. Gaining knowledge, even the truth, does not always make one happier. The bible hints at this,
The greater the wisdom, the greater the grief. To increase knowledge only increases sorrow [Eccl. 1:18]
Guess that’s the basis for the old saying. ‘Ignorance is bliss’. Looked that phrase up and it is suppose to mean “Not knowing is better than knowing and worrying”. I get that. Not being aware of the evil lurking in this world and in the heart of man, can be blissful. For once you are made aware of both, there is no going back to a time of ignorant bliss–another old saying: “you can’t un-see what you’ve seen” or you can’t “un-know what you’ve learned”.
Today, I know man is capable of anything: even ignoring a mass genocide. Something else I’ve learned is mankind is quick to forget which means rarely, if ever, do we learn from the past. Being aware of this I honestly don’t know how people can live in this world without Jesus. I mean that. Just the thought of not having my Lord and Savior’s Holy Spirit with me every moment of every day, is too unbearable to even consider.
Enough musing. Sometimes I forget someone may read things I write, and as a result I just start writing down my personal thoughts, like I’m sitting here in my living-room talking to one of my friends…
What I really wanted to share was one of the articles I read about Rwanda: Twenty Years Later.
This is one such article from The Washington Post.
KIGALI, Rwanda — Inside two adjacent houses in an upscale area of Rwanda’s capital, the unfinished business of the country’s 1994 genocide unfolds. Members of the Genocide Fugitive Tracking Unit work from here to bring to trial dozens of key perpetrators who fled abroad after the killings, some of them to the United States — and 20 years later, there’s still no end in sight.
“In our lifetime we shall continue to pursue them, and those who come after us will continue to pursue them,” said Jean Bosco Mutangana, a Rwandan prosecutor who oversees the endeavor as head of the government’s international crimes unit. “You cannot have reconciliation without real, true justice being done.”
On Monday, Rwanda launched a week of official mourning to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the massacres in which more than 800,000 people, mostly ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus, died at the hands of Hutu extremists. The events, marked by displays of intense grief, began with a wreath-laying ceremony at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Center. Later, at Kigali’s main stadium, a flame was lighted that will burn for 100 days — the period covered by the killing sprees.
In the years since the genocide, this tiny East African nation has rebounded: Its economy is surging, poverty has declined, life expectancy has soared and it has been commended for its ongoing effort to achieve social reconciliation. But it has failed to bring to justice all those who led the massacres..
“Justice hasn’t been adequate, especially at the international level,” said Honoré Gatera, manager of the memorial center. “It’s been really a huge failure, mainly for the survivors’ community in Rwanda, to see that after 20 years there are still génocidaires around the world when the court is there for the last 19 years.”
Monday’s ceremonies were full of reminders of this perception that the international community has failed Rwanda. A French representative was noticeably absent after Rwandan President Paul Kagame accused France of involvement in the genocide in an interview with Jeune Afrique, a French-language magazine, last week. France, which was a close ally of the Hutu-led government that was in place before the genocide, in turn accused Kagame of distorting history.
In an address to visiting dignitaries and thousands of Rwandans, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon reiterated the United Nations’ remorse that its peacekeepers had failed to stop the genocide. “In Rwanda, troops were withdrawn when they were most needed,” Ban said.
The killings were triggered on April 7, 1994, when a plane carrying Rwanda’s Hutu president, Juvenal Habyarimana, and Burundi’s Hutu president, Cyprien Ntaryamira, was shot down near Kigali’s airport. Within hours, Hutu militias began targeting Tutsis with machetes, clubs and guns. They ordered the country’s Hutu majority via radio programs to exterminate the Tutsi “cockroaches.”
Neighbors attacked neighbors. Teachers killed students. In mixed-ethnicity marriages, husbands handed over wives to be killed. Even churches were not sanctuaries, as several Catholic nuns and priests ordered killings.
Meanwhile, Western nations shied from intervention, as Bill Clinton, president at the time, acknowledged years later in a public apology for American inaction. On Monday, the U.S. delegation to the ceremonies was headed by U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her book on U.S. failures to respond to genocides.
In the two decades since the massacres, Rwanda has drawn both praise and criticism. On the one hand, it can point to its record of economic and social progress. On the other, Kagame has been accused of ruling like a strongman and curbing freedoms. Opponents of the government have been jailed or assassinated, and the United States and other Western powers have slashed development aid over Rwanda’s backing of rebels in neighboring Congo, a charge Kagame has denied.
On the reconciliation of Hutus and Tutsis, the record is mixed. The government has outlawed any speech that creates ethnic tensions; citizens are now encouraged to not refer to themselves as Hutu or Tutsis, but as Rwandans, to emphasize national identity over tribe. Local tribunals known as gacaca — a meld of judicial court and truth and reconciliation commission — have overseen the release of many killers from jail after they confessed their crimes. Today, there are countless examples of offenders living peacefully next to the relatives of those they murdered.
Still, on a deeper level, tensions linger.
“We still have some barriers,” said Edouard Bamporiki, a poet and filmmaker who is also a member of Rwanda’s parliament. “Many Hutu families are still in the process of removing the shame. And there is pain and anger in the families of Tutsis. It’s not easy to forgive.”
Take Egide Nkuranga. His Hutu neighbors slaughtered his mother, elder brother, six nieces and many other relatives, mostly after U.N. peacekeepers left their area. Some of their killers returned a few years ago to his neighborhood after going through a gacaca court. But whenever he sees them, he avoids them. And they, too, walk away when they see him.
“I cannot sit down and share a Coke with my family’s killers,” said Nkuranga, 48, who is the vice president of Ibuka, a genocide survivors association that is seeking reparations from the United Nations. “Maybe it will happen, but not now.”
“Reconciliation for me comes after justice,” he added. “And we still need justice.”
In a report late last month, Human Rights Watch declared efforts by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) a relative success. The court has tried and convicted several senior figures who orchestrated the genocide, including former prime minister Jean Kambanda, former army chief of staff Gen. Augustin Bizimungu and former Defense Ministry chief of staff Col. Théoneste Bagosora.
Where the court has failed, the watchdog group said, is in relation to the Rwandan Patriotic Front, the mostly Tutsi rebel force led by Kagame that quelled the massacres. In doing so, rebels committed some crimes against humanity, the group noted, but not a single case has been prosecuted by the court.
As for the gacaca, where nearly 2 million low-level offenders were tried before the courts ended their work in 2012, Human Rights Watch described the system as having a “mixed legacy.” They were speedy, and attracted immense participation from Rwandans. But many of the trials were unfair, “marred by intimidation, corruption, and flawed decision-making. (full article at link)