Rwandan Genocide

Skulls of genocide victims at the Nyamata Memorial Site in Rwanda
Skulls of genocide victims at the Nyamata Memorial Site in Rwanda

Historical Context

Over a period of 100 days in 1994, in the small but densely populated East African country of Rwanda, one of the worst and most brutal genocides in modern history occurred. More than 800,000 Tutsi people, Twa and moderate Hutu were murdered but Hutu extremists. The genocide came at the climax of the Rwandan Civil War, which had been raging since 1990, but followed a long history of tension between the groups.

Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana had signed peace accords with the rebels in 1993, since neither side was able to gain an advantage in the conflict. His assassination on April 6, 1994, created an immediate power vacuum in the country and ended the accords. The Rwandan crisis committee that took power following his death, led by Théoneste Bagosora, immediately began issuing orders to kill Tutsi. The killings were large-scale and highly organized, perpetrated primarily through the Interahamwe, originally a far-right Hutu paramilitary group. Many believe the genocide had been planned for over a year.

Road blocks were set up throughout Rwanda and any person showing Tutsi identification was killed immediately. Hutu extremists went from house to house slaughtering Tutsi, regardless of age. Churches were burned with people in them, such as at Ntarama were killed by guns, grenades, fire or machete.

The international community has long been criticized for its failure to intervene. The genocide caused worldwide revulsion and shock, but the killings only stopped when the Rwandan Patriotic Front led by Paul Kagame (still the President of Rwanda as of 2020) enacted a swift military victory over the Rwandan government and ended the civil war.

Many responsible for the genocide were never punished given the vast number of participants, though some of the main organizers were imprisoned by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

Photo Info


Photographer: Fanny Schertzer
Location taken: Rwanda

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Related Events

  • 1994-04-06 Plane carrying Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira is shot down by surface-to-air missiles, abruptly ending peace negotiations and sparking the Rwandan Genocide. Those responsible have never been identified.
  • 1994-04-07 Beginning of the Rwandan Genocide; the Presidential Guard begins killing moderate politicians and public figures in Kigali, including Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana
  • 1994-07-15 Hundreds of thousands of Hutus flee to Zaire in the Congo near the end of the Rwandan Genocide

Historical Photos