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I think many times when people speak about the Holocaust, Darfur or the Cambodian genocide, we lose the magnitude in the numbers. While the Rwandan massacres of 1994 were horrible in scope and number, (over 500,000 people murdered in just over three months, and possibly 1 million total) we tend to forget that in losing those human beings, Rwanda also lost all that they would ever contribute to their society. Doctors, lawyers, judges, engineers, and others with professional skills were lost forever, as were all the children who would become professionals later, or priests, or social workers.
It also left a massive scar on Rwandan society, in that there is still deep distrust between Hutus and Tutsis, tens of thousands of Hutus still in prison awaiting trial for genocide, as there is a shortage of judges and courts, and the economy is very unstable.
The tensions between the Hutus and the Tutsis characterized life in Rwanda throughout the twentieth century, but flared up in a civil war in April 1994 when Hutu President Juvénal Habyarimana was assassinated. This marked the beginning of the genocide in the country which went on for three mopnths. Although this was the immediate reason for the war, the deeper motifs of the conflict are in Rwanda’s colonial past. Belgian Colonial rulers inculcated a sense of diversification and disparity between the Hutus and Tutsis. They thought that the minority of Tutsi should manage the Hutu majority. The same policy was applied in the neighboring state of Burundi, which formed a unique colony with Rwanda. Not surprisingly, Burundi too has gone through a civil war fought along racial lines. The racial tensions between Hutus and Tutsis are the result of an abstract hierarchy set up by the colonizers to divide the native population. It is estimated that 800.000 people were killed during the three-month conflict mostly amidst the indifference of the international community.
Within hours of Habyarimana's assassination, the Hutu Presidential Guard began a wave of mass slaughter and ecouraged the formation of the Interahamwe, an informal militia group with the mission to kill Tutsis. On their part, the Tutsis formed the Rwanda Patriotic Front and began to fight back. In July 1994, the RPF captured the capital Kigali, declaring a cease-fire and causing two million refugees escaping to Congo.
I think that the previous thoughts were really strong. I would also pose that part of what makes the magnitude of the Rwandan Genocide so bad is that there was little public outcry at the time. We understood it was going on, but only afterwards did we fully grasp the implications of state sanctioned murder and the brutal impact of ethnic cleansing when one group commits to wiping out another. The slaughters that were perpetrated never really faced justice, while the slaughterers who commissioned these acts never faced tribunal or some type of legal justice. I think there are massive implications when we see that thousands of deaths of men, women, and children never faced some type of human sanction or legal adjudication. For me, this is something that causes the Genocide to be lingering forever.
About 500,000-1.7 million
I would like to pick up on #4 and discuss the haunting facts about the genocide and how so many of the perpetrators of the violence have never been brought to justice for what they have done. Interestingly, some allege that many of those involved in the genocide have no claimed asylum status in Western countries and thus have escaped any form of accountability whatsoever. This was certainly a very dark chapter in the history of humanity, especially in terms of our inability to deal with it and bring justice to this troubled area.
The magnitude of the genocide will be felt for years as it didn't just lose highly skilled people from its country but it also lost its identity as a nation for positive growth and change in Africa. It is simply the country with war, bloodshed, and genocide. It will only be known for that for years to come.
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