GEOG 128
Geography of International Affairs

Rwandan Genocide


To Watch: The Ghosts of Rwanda

The Ghosts of Rwanda Transcript

Clash – After Independence:

  • Still angry at being repressed and discriminated against for so many years, the Hutus fight the Tutsis.
  • Many Tutsis are massacred, and many flee Rwanda.
  • A well-known Hutu leader, Dr. Leon Mugesera appeals to the Hutus to send the Tutsis “back to Ethiopia” via the rivers (in 1992).
  • Other Hutus say that they needed to clean up the “filth” and kill the Tutsi “cockroaches.”

Negotiations – August 1993:

  • Following months of negotiations, President Habyarimana (a Hutu President) and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RFP) sign a peace accord that calls for a return of Tutsi refugees.
  • 2,500 United Nations troops are deployed to Kigali to oversee the peace accord.
  • Despite a peace accord, the Rwandan president stalls in creating a unified government in which the power is shared.
  • At the same time, training of militias and violence intensifies.
  • An extremist radio station, Radio Mille Collines, begins to warn: “it is almost time for us to cut down the tall trees.” This was code for, “it is almost time to kill all of the Tutsis.”

The Role of the Media in the Genocide:

  • Rwanda news media, radio, newspapers play a crucial role in the genocide, encouraging killings in the local towns and villages.
  • Radio is the most effective way for the government to deliver messages to the public.
  • Radio stations Radio Rwanda and Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) are key in inciting violence before and during the genocide acts of killing.
  • International media ignore events until the genocide killing activity is well underway.
  • March 1992, Radio Rwanda is used to directly create hysteria and promote the killing of Tutsi in Bugesera, south of the national capital Kigali.

Warnings from Human Rights Organizations:

  • Human rights groups warn the international community of an impending genocide.
  • In March of 1994, the human rights groups are forced to flee Rwanda due to the impending calamity. Only the Red Cross stays behind.

The United Nations Leaves:

  • The U.N. is forced to leave for a variety of reasons, including increased violence in Rwanda and world tensions following a crisis that occurred in Somalia.

The United States of America is apprehensive about getting involved because of the failed intervention in Somalia.

From the very start, the United States resisted intervention in Rwanda because of national interests, higher priorities and domestic and bureaucratic politics. Moreover, during the three months of killing, the U.S. blocked several opportunities, short of intervention, that could have diminished the slaughter. Here are excerpts from interviews with Samantha Power, author of A Problem from Hell; John Shattuck, assistant secretary of state for human rights; Alison des Forges, Human Rights Watch; George Moose, assistant secretary of state for Africa; Madeleine Albright, U.N. ambassador; General Romeo Dallaire, U.N. force commander in Rwanda; Michael Sheehan, peacekeeping adviser to Madeleine Albright; and Mark Doyle, BBC World Service. These excerpts are drawn from the extended FRONTLINE interviews. - PBS, Ghosts of Rwanda

"Ambush in Mogadishu"

This tells the story of the most violent U.S. combat fire fight since Vietnam.

On October 3, 1993 elite units of the U.S. Army's Rangers and Delta Force were ambushed by Somali men, women and children armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades.

The Rangers were pinned down in the most dangerous part of Mogadishu, Somalia and taking casualties. What had started out as an operation to capture warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid-turned into a tragic fire fight that lasted seventeen hours, left eighteen Americans dead, eighty-four wounded and continues to haunt the U.S. military and American foreign policy.

The report tracks what led up to the crisis. US officials and Somalis describe the famine, civil war, and the escalating hostilities between UN/U.S. peacekeeping forces and Aidid. "Ambush in Mogadishu" also probes the muddled U.S. military and diplomatic policy on Somalia, and Washington's failure to coordinate with U.S. military on the ground.

But the most gripping part of the tale is the harrowing descriptions of the fire fight that trapped the US Rangers as they moved into a maze of alleys in Mogadishu to save a downed Blackhawk. The Rangers - some in their late teens or early twenties at the time - paint extraordinarily vivid word pictures of the intense and bloody battle which also killed 350 to 1,000 Somalis. And US military commanders describe the rescue operation which also came under intense gunfire.

The 'battle of Mogadishu'- a planned 90-minute mission which turned into a deadly 17 hours – is generally forgotten by most Americans. But five years later, it continues to cast a long shadow on US military thinking and decision making about humanitarian/peacekeeping operations. Its legacy, say many experts, was a continuing U.S. reluctance to be drawn into other trouble spots such as Bosnia, Rwanda and Haiti during the 1990s.

Above passage from:

The Genocide Begins:

  • April 6, 1994 – President Habyarimana and the president of Burundi, Cyprien Ntaryamira, are shot down in a plane and killed.
  • No one knows who shot down the president’s plane. There are theories that the Hutus did this and there are theories that the Tutsis did this.
  • That night… the genocide begins.

Targets of the genocide included Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

man's head covered in scars
Figure 10.2. Gitarama, Rwanda, 1994. A man who had just been liberated from a Hutu concentration camp.
Credit: James Nachtwey
  • The Hutu militia, at one point 30,000 people strong, slaughter any Tutsi that come in their path.
  • They encourage regular Hutu civilians to do the same.
  • In some cases, Hutus are forced to kill their Tutsi neighbors.
human skulls with the caption the triumph of evil
Figure 10.3. The Triumph of Evil

Between April and June of 1994 an estimated 800,000 Rwandans, predominantly from the group known as Tutsis, are killed in the span of 100 days. Of the victims, 100,000 are children.

The End of the Genocide:

  • By July, the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) captures the city of Kigali. The government collapses and the RPF declares a cease-fire.
  • As soon as it becomes apparent to the Hutus that the Tutsis are victorious, close to 2 million flee to Zaire (now the Republic of Congo).

A New Government was Formed:

  • On July 19, a new multi-ethnic government is formed, promising all refugees a safe return to Rwanda.
  • Pasteur Bizimungu, a Hutu, is inaugurated as president, while the majority of cabinet posts are assigned to Tutsis.

Facts Pertaining to the Killings:

  • Most of the killings occur during the first month. After this, the large scale killings die down. Large-scale massacres happen in churches and some massacres of tens of thousands in football stadiums.
  • Many are killed in smaller groups at roadblocks, in the bush/marshes or simply in their homes.
  • Number of dead: Estimates vary between 500,000 to 1 million. 800,000 is the figure most often quoted.
  • Number of killers: Estimates vary from tens of thousands into the millions. Estimate of 200,000 by Scott Straus but methodology may be questionable.