Remembering Rwanda

This week marks the twenty year anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide. The start of a one hundred day slaughter of a Tutsi and Hutu minority by the Hutu majority. During this period approximately eight hundred thousand Rwandans were killed. That was twenty percent of the country’s population, and seventy per cent of the Rwandan Tutsis. The rate of killing was five times that of the Holocaust in Nazi Germany. Please take a moment to try and imagine eight hundred thousand people – the population of Cardiff is only three hundred and twenty five thousand people.

Originally the terms Hutu and Tutsi referred to the class differences of Rwanda. The Hutu primarily worked on the land and the Tutsi primarily worked with cattle. It was possible for a Hutu to become a Tutsi by owning ten or more cattle. It was not until the 1800’s when Dr. John Hanning Speke stated that the Hutu were of a “primitive race”, “flab-nosed, pouched-mouthed Negros” whereas the Tutsi were “descended from the best blood of Abyssinia [Ethiopia]” and therefore were considered superior.

After World War One, Rwanda-Burundi [today Rwanda and Burundi] was given to Belgium, and in 1933 they issued identification cards. This empirically told you your race. During Belgium rule, the Tutsi were favoured and the Hutu discriminated against.

In 1957, the Hutu Manifesto was published, calling for Hutu rule and blaming all problems on the Tutsi elite. A bloody struggle for power began where thousands of Tutsis (including the king) died. During this time the UN commented saying there was “racism that bordered on Nazism against Tutsi minorities.”

Rwanda became independent in 1962 and Gregoire Kayibanda (a Hutu) became president. Kayibanda encouraged violence against Tutsis. An estimated fourteen thousand Tutsis died. In 1973, Juvenal Habyarimana (also a Hutu) ousted Kayibanda. Habyarimana was initially welcomed by both the Hutu and the Tutsi but soon became a powerful and controlling dictator. In 1990, a small army of Tutsi refugees in Uganda attacked the Rwandan border. Habyarimana responded by attacking the capital to provoke Hutu’s against their Tutsi neighbours.

On April 6th 1994, Habyarimana’s plane was shot down, killing him. Within hours, massacres against the Tutsi began. There are many theories and some evidence to suggest that Habyarimana’s plane was shot down by Hutus deliberately to trigger the genocide.

The West’s response to the genocide was cowardly and most of the world stood on the sidelines during it’s course. By the time sufficient troops were deployed, the genocide was over. The few UN peacekeeping troops in Rwanda during the genocide said “it was not our mandate [to intervene]”. Desmond Tutu once said “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

The genocide was not seen as sufficient to warrant preventative resources. However it was sufficient enough for China, France and UK arms company Mil-Tec to train and arm the Hutu oppressors. The US refused to publicly use the word genocide, to justify their lack on any action. No Genocide, no problem.

There are few stories of any redeeming hope for this travesty. Many of you may know the story of Hotel des Mille, made known by the film Hotel Rwanda. The film is the true account of the actions of Paul Rusesabagina during the genocide. Rusesabagina hid and protected one thousand two hundred and sixty eight Hutus and Tutsis refugees; but by his own admission only “saved about 4 hours worth of people”. Unfortunately these brave and hopeful stories are few in number.

We often look upon the Nazi Holocaust as an international lesson; against state-sanctioned incitement to hate, the dangers of silence and complicity, and the need to protect the vulnerable. Yet, within our lifetimes we have seen these lessons ignored or forgotten. Today is a day to remember those lessons and how important they are to the human race. Please take a moment to remember those eight hundred thousand who died, maybe not for you, maybe not for any cause but who are now the martyrs to the principles we aim to live by.


Geraint Harries