An Educator's Guide to Rwandan Genocide

Genocide in Rwanda

In the mid-1990s, Rwanda's citizens were classified as one of three main ethnicities: Twa (1 percent), Tutsi (14 percent), and Hutu (85 percent). During this time, Rwanda was experiencing significant political, economic, and social problems. Hutu extremists blamed the Tutsis for these problems. They also accused the Tutsis of supporting the Rwandan Patriotic Front, a group of rebels. The president of Rwanda, Habyarimana, used politics and propaganda to worsen the divide between the Tutsis and Hutus. Many of the Hutus remembered times in the past when they were ruled by oppressive Tutsis, and they feared and resented the group.

In April of 1994, Hutu President Habyarimana's plane was shot down. Violence began immediately following the tragedy. Hutu extremists fought with the goal of destroying the entire population of Tutsis. Hutus killed the political leaders that may have been able to stop the genocide. Anyone suspected of being a Tutsi was killed in his or her home. The Tutsis tried to flee, but the Hutus made roadblocks all over the country to stop them.

The Hutu extremists murdered entire families and raped women brutally. Approximately 200,000 people were involved in implementing the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda. In the weeks following the President's plane crash, 800,000 women, men, and children died in the genocide. It is estimated that this was almost 75 percent of the entire Tutsi population. Thousands of Hutus who opposed the genocide were also murdered during this time.

The genocide in Rwanda was the result of the elite's choice to foster fear and hatred in order to remain in power. The small group of privileged individuals created a divide between the minority and majority in order to divert attention away from other issues in the nation. When the Tutsi rebel group was successful in its negotiations, the aim of the powerful turned to genocide instead of just division. The elite believed that exterminating the Tutsis would unify the Hutus. These extremists used the country's governmental power to implement a massacre. The massacre finally ended when the Tutsi's rebel group was successful in the defeat of the regime leading the attacks. The Rwandan Hutu extremists are responsible for perpetrating this genocide, but people and governments in other countries are ashamed of the atrocity as well because they did not prevent it.

Leaders in the United Nations, the United States, Belgium, and France knew that the Hutu extremists were planning the genocide, but they took no actions to prevent it. They knew that the Tutsis were the targets of the planned massacre, but they did not acknowledge the threat. They also chose not to use moral or political pressure to challenge the validity of the government perpetrating the genocide. Leaders of other countries would not offer international assistance or condemn the government for its actions. They did not try to stop the television commercials or radio propaganda that called for the extermination of the Tutsis. Even after there was no way to ignore that the actions of the Rwandan government were genocidal, U.S. officials would not call it a "genocide" because they did not want to be forced to intervene. When leaders from other countries finally became vocal about their disapproval, Rwandan leaders changed the way they were implementing the genocide, but they did not dissolve their ultimate plan.

This reaction from Rwandan leaders showed officials around the world that they had the power to stop the genocide. Rwandan Hutus were willing to alter their tactics because of pressure from the outside world, as such, imagine how many lives could have been saved if leaders from the United Nations or other countries had had the courage to put pressure on the extremists in Rwanda sooner.

To learn more about the tragedy of the Rwandan genocide and the political and cultural issues surrounding it, consult the following links: