In 1994, Rwanda's population of seven million was composed of three ethnic groups. Hutu were dominant group in the society with 85% of the general population, while Tutsi fell to 14% and Twa remained at 1%. When President Habyarimana's plane was shot down by ground-fired missiles as it approached Rwanda's airport at Kigali at the beginning of April, it was the final spark which ignited the genocide.
Exactly who killed the President of Rwanda together with the President of Burundi and numerous chief members of staff has not been established to this day. The killing had instantaneous and catastrophic effects in the society of Rwanda.
In Kigali, the presidential guard immediately initiated a campaign of retribution against the leaders of the political opposition. They were murdered along with their families, starting the slaughter of Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Within hours, recruits were dispatched all over the country to carry out a wave of slaughter.
The killings then spread throughout the countryside as Hutu militia, armed with machetes, clubs, guns and grenades, began indiscriminately killing Tutsi civilians. Because of the fact that all individuals in Rwanda carried identification cards specifying their ethnic background, a practice left over from Belgian colonial days, the "wrong" kind was easy to spot for the angered mob. Tribal cards suddenly meant the difference between life and death.
A massacre takes place
Tutsi and people suspected of being Tutsi were killed in their homes and in their attempts to flee at roadblocks set up across the country during the genocide. Entire families were killed at a time, women being systematically and brutally raped. Some estimates say that over 200,000 people participated in the perpetration of the Rwandan genocide.
After April 6, 1994, for the next hundred days, up to 800,000 Tutsis were killed by Hutu extremists using clubs and machetes, with as many as 10,000 killed each day. Unofficial militia group called itself the Interahamwe , meaning those who attack together. At its peak, this group was counting 30,000 members, including soldiers and police officers. Ordinary citizens were encouraged to take part in the genocide and in some cases even forced to murder their Tutsi neighbors. Those who chose to participate were often given incentives, such as money or food, or offered the land of the Tutsis they killed.
Lack of international response
During the genocide, the small United Nations peacekeeping force was overwhelmed as terrified Tutsi families and moderate Hutu politicians sought protection. Ten soldiers from Belgium were captured by the Hutus, tortured and murdered. United Nations troops withdrew after the murders and the United States, France, Belgium, and Italy all began evacuating their own personnel from Rwanda. Still, no effort was made to evacuate Tutsi civilians or moderate Hutu, who were left behind at the mercy of the avenging Hutu.
Policymakers in France, Belgium, and the United States and at the United Nations were aware of the preparations for massive slaughter and failed to take the steps needed to prevent it. The extremist Hutu leaders believed that the Tutsi extermination campaign would reinstate the solidarity of the Hutu under their leadership and help them win the war, or at least improve their chances of negotiating a favorable peace. They seized control of the state and used its resources to carry out the massacre.
The civil war and genocide finally ended when the Tutsi dominated rebel group, the Rwandan Patriotic Front captured Kigali. The government collapsed and a ceasefire was declared. As soon as it became apparent that the Rwandan Patriotic Front was victorious, an estimated two million Hutus fled to Democratic Republic of Congo. President Paul Kagame took control and brought some stability to the troubled country.
Although the killing in Rwanda was over, the presence of Hutu militias in Congo has led to years of conflict there, causing up to five million deaths.The week following Genocide Memorial Day on 7 April is designated an official week of mourning in order to keep the memory of this terrible tragedy vivid for the generations to come.