The UK Conservative government courted controversy (let’s be honest, when haven’t they?) in April 2022 when a deal was revealed for the deportation of asylum-seeking refugees to Rwanda. Rwanda is probably a name that strikes fear into the hearts of readers although I doubt many people know much at all about the nation. The chances are, if you know one thing about Rwanda, it was the events as shockingly recent as 1994 and that was the Rwandan Genocide – one of the deadliest genocides since the deposition of Nazi Germany in which at least 500,000 people were slaughtered over 100 days.
It is fair to say that a Rwandan inner conflict was inevitable, with the seeds for war being planted seemingly since time immemorial.
For hundreds of years, Rwanda had largely been split between two tribes: the Hutu and the Tutsi tribes.
Racial superiority reigned supreme as the German-controlled Rwanda favoured Tutsis over the Hutu, believing them ethnically greater. Even when Belgium took over the nation, members were forced to label themselves in their respective tribe only further alienating the groups.
By the 1930s, there 84% of the populace were Hutu with 15% Tutsi.
The chaos continued, especially with the assaulting of Hutu sub-chief Dominique Mbonyumutwa. In 1962, the country gained independence by which time 300,000 Tutsis had fled waiting to plot their revenge. Now named the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the group were prepared to take drastic action against the racist Hutu Power movement simmering in Rwanda.
Walking Into War
In 1990, militias grew as deadly weaponry such as machetes were distributed to civilians.
Another huge instigator in the genocide was the radio station Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines, which consistently aired anti-Tutsi propaganda.
The single most cited source is understandably the murder of Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana when shot down from his plane on April 6th 1994. The next day Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana was killed. This was further followed by a number of high-profile political figures.
The UN’s involvement was a peace-keeping mandate meaning they had no offensive orders. They could do nothing to stop the violence.
Bill Clinton said about his lack of intervention: “If we’d gone in sooner, I believe we could have saved at least a third of the lives that were lost.” He has gone on record to claim: “I do feel a lifetime responsibility.”
Genocide In Action
In cities, militias set up checkpoints where Tutsis were killed immediately, dragged into roadside ditches. The capital city Kigali saw the most of the brutality.
Militias continued to blame Tutsis for the President’s death, going on to kill high-profile Tutsis and their family. In areas of few military figures, the duties to kill your rival tribesman were gifted to local people, those who refused were killed.
This propaganda was only exacerbated by new President Theodore Sindikubwabo who ridiculed those not killing Tutsis, demanding “get out of the way and let us work” in a radio broadcast. Prime Minister Jean Kambanda is the only head of government to plead guilty to genocide, forced to do so in 1997. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for: Genocide, and Agreement to commit genocide, incitement to genocide, aiding and abetting genocide, failing in his duty to prevent the genocide, and two counts of crimes against humanity.
After 100 days, in which ceasefires were rejected, the RPF liberated the nation as the government fled.
Genocide Through Statistics and Quotes
Deaths occurred in the hundreds or thousands per day. In the 100 days span at least 250,000 were raped. HIV-positive prisoners had escaped to form rap gangs. These caused over 2/3 of rape victims becoming infected with AIDS.
Figures of deaths in this short 100 days period range as high as 1.1 million. The subsequent government recorded well over a million. ¾ of Tutsis were killed, making up 94% of the deaths – the latter according to the succeeding RPF government. Various figures estimate 800,000 deaths.
300,000 children were killed and only a little under 100,000 left orphaned.
TRT World notes that “during this period, six people were murdered every minute.” This equates to 8,500 death a day.
Tutsi and survivor Antionette said to LADbible TV recalls at the age of twelve being told by her father about the incident “If you hide, don’t hide together [with her brother]…because if you hide together, they will kill you all.” Horrifically, she recalled a lady: “Just had her head cut off” and “seeing this woman being killed and seeing the child sucking from its mother when she’s dead.” She adds dogs ate the bodies of rotting humans and she was terrified to be discovered and was beaten when she was found. Those with money were shot, those without money were beheaded.
Families of victims and instigators now even live together as neighbours. VICE News interviewed both a survivor and perpetrator in the same room, with the man present having killed the children and husband of the neighbour. He said “We would consider every Tutsi, with no exception for women or children. It was all about massacring.” He recalled throwing alive kids into the pits.
BBC journalist Fergal Keane – who was based in Africa at the time – called the events: “the defining experience of my adult life.” He has also gone on record to say, “I thought the dreams of Rwanda had gone away, but going back ten years after has brought them back to the surface again — different kinds of dreams. Just after the genocide, when I’d wake up in the night, this was a dream of being hidden under corpses, and a man with red eyes and a machete pulling the corpses away to get at me. And that was just born. I know where that came from. That came from the roadblocks, and the looks on people’s faces. But now it’s kind of waking up with a sense of failure as a human being. And I can’t really describe the dreams themselves, except that it’s just crowds of people, crowds of people and, then, waking up and just feeling a sense of failure. It sounds bizarre, but that’s what Rwanda has left me with as a human being.” He attributes his PTSD to events like this.
2,000,000 Rwandans, largely Hutu, became refugees as a result of the war’s end, feeding into an invasion of Zaire where 200,000 were killed in what became the First Congo War.
Simply put, the population was depleted with Stephen Kinzer’s 2008 book A Thousand Hills: Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It recording that 40% of the population has evaporated, either through killings of fleeing.
Role Of The Catholic Church
As one of the most Christian countries in the world and the most Christian in Africa, Rwanda was comprised of over 60% Catholics according to the BBC.
One of the worst sections of the massacre was the misleading of the Catholic Church who, according to the book Christianity and Genocide in Rwanda “exploited the historical concept of sanctuary to lure tens of thousands of Tutsi into church buildings with false pretenses of protection.” Author Timothy Longman adds that “The churches [had previously] remained silent even after ethnic massacres killed 200,000 in 1972”, in reference to the Ikiza killings in the associated nation of Burundi.
The late, great atheist writer Christopher Hitchens commented during his argument against the notion that the Catholic Church is a force for good stated that “Priests and nuns and bishops…incit[ed] from their pulpits and on the church’s radio stations and newspapers the massacres of their brothers and sisters. And the Papacy was silent on this appalling occasion and everyone in Rwanda knows it.”
One of the deadliest single events was the Nyarubuye killings. In this, 2,000 Tutsis were assured sanctuary in the Nyarubuye Roman Catholic Church by priest Athanase Seromba. He was convicted in 2006 of committing genocide and crimes against humanity. He had been directing a bulldozer driver who would go through the building to expose and slaughter the Tutsis; those who escaped were shot down with rifles or attacked with machetes.
Hundreds were killed in the Sainte-Famille Church in which the religious priest Father Wenceslas Munyeshyaka, passed over hundreds of Tutsis for slaughter. National Geographic wrote: “The church and its outbuildings have been left largely as they were the day he entered 20 years ago.”
Other convicted clergy include Sister Maria Kisito and her Mother Superior Gertrude Mukangango, who specifically provided gasoline to death squadrons to burn down Tutsis in their abbey, killing the hundreds of civilians inside. The trial had witness Seraphine Mukamana testify: “’The nuns are coming to help us. They are bringing gasoline,’ I heard [the militia leader] say. Looking through a hole that the militiamen meanwhile had made in the wall, I indeed saw Sister Gertrude and Sister Kisito. The latter was carrying a petrol can. Shortly upon that, the garage is set on fire.”
The Catholic Church would apologise…eventually. It would take until 2016 for a true written apology, 22 years after the genocide ended. Theoretically, had the killings continued at the same rate up until 2016, over 11.5 million more would have been massacred, which is about double the Rwandan population as of 1994.
The apology wrote: “Forgive us for the crime of hate in the country to the extent of also hating our colleagues because of their ethnicity. We didn’t show that we are one family but instead killed each other.” What kind of morality is that?
In the west, we would like to settle our minds and put ourselves at ease with the belief that the closing of the chapter of ethnic cleansing took place at the end of World War Two. This, shockingly recent event – and it bears repeating: less than 30 years ago – goes to prove that racial tensions are not out of sight or out of mind.
It is understandable that the Hutus would enter hostilities with the Tutsis having ruled for centuries despite minority numbers. What was totally heinous, inexcusable, treacherous, abhorrent, and every word to describe pure evil, is the mass church-condoned killings of selective people based on their racial origins. A truly vile 100 days of savagery and barbarity to which the world turned a blind eye with the UN’s incompetence on full show, reflecting just how out of their depth they were.
The first Tutsi president was appointed in 2000, Paul Kagame, who still holds that role – a surprising event considering the Hutu’s little power in Rwandan history.
As much as Rwanda’s past haunts them and will forever define their nation, the nation is taking steps to move forwards. We should not judge modern Rwanda by its past but I think this should be considered when decided as the go-to deportation location for refugees. Surely this should make anybody think twice. And that time to think and act is now.