In April 1994, extremist leaders of Rwanda's Hutu majority launched a campaign of extermination against the country's Tutsi minority. In 100 days, at least 500,000 Tutsi were murdered and hundreds of thousands of women were raped. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's Committee on Conscience continues to highlight the Rwandan genocide because of the: profound nature and scope of the violence; continued impact of the genocide on the entire Central African region; lessons Rwanda offers for responding to contemporary genocide.
The genocide ended in July 1994, when the Rwandan Patriotic Front, a Tutsi-led rebel force, pushed the extremists and their genocidal interim government out of the country. The consequences of the genocide continue to be felt. It left Rwanda devastated, hundreds of thousands of survivors traumatized, the country's infrastructure in ruins, and over 100,000 accused perpetrators imprisoned. Justice and accountability, unity and reconciliation remain elusive.
The entire central African region remains destabilized as a result of the genocide. Beginning in 1996, neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo turned into the battleground for continuing armed conflict between Rwanda's post-genocidal government and genocidaires who fled there following the genocide.
The legacy of genocide touches almost every sector of Rwandan society: survivors, the government, perpetrators and refugees who returned to Rwanda after 1994. In addition to recurring trauma suffered by many from their experiences, survivors of the genocide face multiple difficulties. Many are impoverished and face complex health problems, such as HIV/AIDS, as a direct result of the violence perpetrated against them during the genocide. Some survivors are threatened with violence, attacked or killed by former perpetrators, and for many in the Tutsi minority a climate of fear persists. Rebuilding their lives alongside individuals responsible for murder and rape is a difficult reality faced by all survivors in Rwanda.
The post-genocide government, which has pursued a policy of “unity and reconciliation,” has made considerable advances. Among these is Gacaca, a form of local justice inspired by tradition, established to handle the hundreds of thousands of those accused of crimes during the genocide. The government has also empowered women through legal reforms and by promoting participation in government, increased economic growth and stability, and adopted a new constitution. But power remains concentrated in the hands of former leaders of the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), and freedom of speech is restricted. The first post-genocide elections occurred in August 2003, resulting in a seven-year presidential term for former RPF general Paul Kagame. The government has been accused of human rights abuses against potential political rivals and of misusing the fight against ‘divisionism’ (rhetoric or action that promotes social separation along ethnic lines) for political reasons.
INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL TRIBUNAL FOR RWANDA
To bring those accused of high-level crimes to justice – the planners, leaders and organizers of the genocide – the international community established the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) based in Arusha, Tanzania. The ICTR oversaw the world’s first conviction of genocide when the judgment was announced for Jean-Paul Akayesu on September 2nd, 1998. Despite this and many other convictions, including a landmark case trying media leaders for their role in inciting genocide, the court has come under fire from the Rwandan government and others for its high cost, slow pace and physical distance from Rwanda. In June 2006, Human Rights Watch and the International Federation of Human Rights urged the ICTR to address war crimes and crimes against humanity alleged to have been committed by the Rwandan Patriotic Army during reprisals following the genocide. This suggestion has been vigorously countered by the government of Rwanda.
Explore the related links on this page to learn more about the current situation in Rwanda.
Confront Genocide »
Rwanda: Current Situation »
Eyewitness Testimonies from Rwanda »
Photo Gallery: Reconciliation and Reconstruction in Rwanda »
Related Podcast—Gregory S. Gordon »
Voices on Genocide Prevention podcast series »