How could the Rwandan genocide happen? - BBC Africa

25 years ago, over the course of just 100 days, about 800,000 people were slaughtered

in Rwanda by ethnic Hutu extremists.

My name is Victoria Uwonkunda.

I’m a journalist with BBC Africa and I want to explain how this genocide happened.

To understand how the genocide came about, we need to know a bit about the people.

There are two main ethnic groups in Rwanda: Hutus, who make up about 85% of the population

and the Tutsis, who are a minority but have long dominated the country.

Before European colonisers arrived in the late 19th Century, the Tutsis were mostly

aristocratic cattle herders; the Hutus were mainly peasant farmers.

The two groups share the same language and the both are majority Christian.

In 1959, the Hutus overthrew the Tutsi monarchy and tens of thousands of Tutsis fled to neighbouring

countries, including Uganda.

Decades later in the late 1980s, Tutsi refugees in Uganda - supported by some moderate Hutus

- formed the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), led by Paul Kagame, the current Rwandan president.

Their aim was to overthrow the Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana and secure the right to

return to their homeland.

The RPF invaded Rwanda in 1990.

But In August 1993, after several attacks and months of negotiation, a peace accord

was signed between President Habyarimana and the RPF,

but it did little to stop the continued unrest.

Then came the event that sparked the genocide.

On the night of 6 April 1994 a plane carrying President Habyarimana and his Burundian counterpart

Cyprien Ntaryamira - both Hutus - was shot down, killing everyone on board.

The mystery of who shot down the plane endures to this day.

Hutu extremists blamed the RPF and immediately started a well-organised campaign of slaughter.

The RPF said the plane had been shot down by Hutus to provide an excuse for the genocide.

Within hours, a campaign of violence spread from the capital Kigali throughout the country,

which would not stop for three months.

The genocide was carried out with meticulous organisation.

Lists of government opponents were handed out to militias who went and killed them,

along with all of their families.

Neighbours killed neighbours and some husbands even killed their Tutsi wives,

saying they would be killed if they refused.

At the time, ID cards had people's ethnic group on them, so militias set up roadblocks

where Tutsis were slaughtered, often with machetes.

Thousands of Tutsi women were taken away and kept as sex slaves.

This leads to another question: How could the international community allow

this to happen?

Let’s start with the UN.

The UN and Belgium actually had forces in Rwanda – but the UN mission was not given

a mandate to intervene and stop the killing.

The UN force commander in Rwanda sent a now infamous cable to the UN headquarters in New York.

In it he warned of intelligence about a Hutu plan to exterminate Tutsis.

A response came the same day, from the desk of Kofi Annan, head of U.N. peacekeeping at

the time, failing to act on the recommendations.

Three months later, all the warnings came true.

The French, who were allies of the Hutu government, sent a special force to evacuate their citizens

but were accused of not doing enough to stop the slaughter

Paul Kagame, Rwanda's current president, has accused France of backing those who carried

out the massacres - a charge denied by Paris.

Meanwhile the US didn’t want to get involved in another African conflict after The Battle

of Mogadishu, which lead to the death of 18 US soldiers in Somalia a year earlier.

So what made the killings so organised?

Rwanda has always been a tightly controlled society, organised like a pyramid from each

district up to the top of government.

The then governing party, MRND, had a youth wing called the Interahamwe, which was turned

into a militia to carry out the slaughter.

Weapons and hit lists were handed out to local groups, who knew exactly where to find their targets.

The Hutu extremists set up a radio stations and newspapers which broadcast hate propaganda,

urging people to "weed out the cockroaches" – meaning kill the Tutsis.

The well-organised RPF, backed by Uganda's army, gradually seized more territory, until

4 July, when its forces marched into the capital, Kigali.

Some two million Hutus - both civilians and some of those involved in the genocide - then

fled across the border into DR Congo, at that time called Zaire, fearing revenge attacks.

Many also fled to Tanzania and Burundi.

Two weeks later, on 18 July, the RPF announced that the war is over, declared a cease-fire

and named Pastor Bizimungu as president.

Human rights groups say the RPF killed thousands of Hutu civilians as they took power -

and more after they went into DR Congo to pursue the Interahamwe.

The RPF denies this.

What’s Rwanda like now?

RPF leader and current President Paul Kagame has been hailed for overseeing rapid economic

growth in the tiny country.

He has also tried to turn Rwanda into a technological hub.

But his critics say he does not tolerate dissent and several opponents have met unexplained deaths.

Have the guilty faced justice?

More than 1.2 million people were tried in local courts for their role in the genocide

and dozens of senior Hutu officials were convicted at a UN tribunal in neighbouring Tanzania.

It is now illegal to talk about ethnicity in Rwanda - the government says this is to

prevent more bloodshed but some say it prevents true reconciliation and is just putting a

lid on tensions, which might only boil over again in the future.