Today marks 29 years since the start of the Rwandan genocide that lasted for a hundred days.
In just 100 days, about 800,000 people were killed in Rwanda by Hutu extremists. They targeted members of the minority Tutsi tribe.
The genesis of the genocide began when the Hutus overthrew the Tutsi monarchy in 1959 and thousands of Tutsis fled to neighboring countries.
The Tutsis despite being the minority were the ruling class until 1959. After being overthrown, a group of Tutsi exiles formed a rebel group , the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), in 1990 they invaded Rwanda and began fighting until a peace agreement was reached in 1993.
On the night of 6 April 1994, a plane carrying the president at the time Juvenal Habyarimana, and president of Burundi Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi- both members of the Hutu tribe was shot down killing everyone on board.
The Hutu extremists blamed the attack on RPF and started a campaign against them. The RPF on the other hand said the Hutus shot down the plane as an excuse to start the genocide.
A list of government opponents were handed out to militias who went and killed them, along with their families.
And so it began, neighbors killed neighbors,some husbands killed their Tutsi wives, their reason being they would be killed if they didnʼt.
Militias set up roadblocks where peopleʼs ID cards- which bore their ethnic groups —were searched and killed if found to be Tutsi. Thousands of Tutsi women were turned into sex slaves.
The genocide was so vicious because it was meticulously planned. The governing party, MRND had a youth wing called the Interahamwe, which was turned into a militia to carry out the killings.
Weapons and hit lists were handed out to local groupswho knew exactly where to find their targets.
Even priests and nuns have been convicted of killing people, some of whom had run to the church for shelter.
The Hutu extremists had set up a radio station RTLM, and newspapers pushing anti Tutsi propaganda encouraging people to “weed out the cockroaches” meaning slaughter the Tutsis. Names of prominent people to be killed were mentioned on radio.
The UN and Belgium had forces in Rwanda but the UN mission was not given a mandate to stop the killing. The US did not want to get involved because the year before US troops had been killed in Somalia and they were determined not to get involved in another African conflict. The Belgians pulled out after 10 Belgian soldiers were killed.
The French, who were allies of the Hutu government, evacuated their citizens and set up a supposedly safe zone but were accused of not doing enough to stop the killings in that area.
After months of fighting, RPF backed by the Ugandan army, gradually seized more territory until July 4 1994 when its forces marched into Kigali the nationʼs capital. Over two million Hutus, both civilians and those involved in the genocide fled across the border into the Democratic Republic of
Congo, former Zaire, fearing reprisal attacks. Others went to Tanzania and Burundi. Human rights groups say RPF fighters killed thousands of Hutu civilians as they took power and more when they went into DR Congo to pursue the Interahamwe. They deny this.
In 2002, the International Criminal Court was set up to hold those responsible accountable. Instead, the UN Security Council created the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in the Tanzanian town of Arusha to prosecute the masterminds. 93 people were indicted and many senior officials in the former regime were convicted of genocide, all of them Hutus.
Within Rwanda, community courts known as gacaca were created to speed up the prosecution and gave community members a chance to face the accused. Reports say up to 10,000 people died in prison before they could be brought to Justice.
For a decade, 12,000 gacaca courts met once a week in villages across the country to try more than a million cases.They sought to achieve truth, Justice and reconciliation among Rwandans.
Today Rwanda is ruled by President Paul Kagame, praised for trying to transform the country into a technological hub and pushing rapid economic growth.
However his critics say he does not tolerate opposition and several opponents have met unexplained deaths in and out of the country.
The genocide is a sensitive topic and it is illegal to talk about ethnicity. This is a move by the government to prevent history repeating itself but some say it prevents true reconciliation.