The current state of affairs in Rwanda constitutes a catastrophe that never should have happened. Unfortunately, it has happened, but do the circumstances and outcomes warrant using the term “genocide”? Based on facts about the ethnic make up of Rwanda, there is abundant proof that this is actually a case of violent, ongoing civil wars, and the use of the term “genocide” is not justified.
The major crime problem in Rwanda since 1994 has been mass murder, officially know as genocide, which has been prevalent in this country in the mist of years of civil war.
Genocide is defined as the methodically planned eradication of a racial, political, or cultural group. The United Nations (1998) has declared in the Convention on the Punishment and Prevention of the Crime of Genocide of 1946, that “genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group…” (p. 1). Genocide represents a horror so special that the term has previously been used to described only two events in the twentieth century: the massacre of Armenians by Turks in 1915, and the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews.
The United Nations (1998) stated that any “persons committing genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in article III shall be punished…”(2). The Convention on the Punishment and Prevention of the Crime of Genocide hammered out the statutes concerning genocide, which went into force January 12, 1951. These are still considered law. How or what the specific punishment is or should be is not defined in these articles. Since most members of the United Nations do not practice the death penalty, the most common punishment for genocide is life in prison without parole.
The population of Rwanda is estimated at 8,154,933 (Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), 1999, p.2). Rwanda is one of the most densely populated countries in Africa, with the approximate population density of 302 persons per square kilometer (Rwanda, 2000 p.1). A majority of Rwandans live in a rural setting. There are three main ethnic groups that make up the population: the Hutu (approximately 80 percent), the Tutsi (around 19 percent), noted as primarily farmers and cattle herders, and the Twa (1 percent), a pygmoid people thought to be the original inhabitants of the region (CIA, 1999, p.3).
The religions of Rwanda include Catholicism, Protestant, Islam, and other indigenous beliefs (Rwanda, 2000 p 1). “Most Rwandans live in round grass huts in farms scattered over the country’s many hills. Family life is central to society” (Rwanda, 2000 p 1).
Rwanda is a landlocked, mountainous country in east central Africa. The neighboring countries include Uganda to the north, Tanzania to the east, Burundi to the south, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which borders Rwanda to the west (Rwanda, 2000 p.1). Rwanda is one of Africa’s smallest countries, covering an area of only 10,169 square miles (Rwanda, 2000 p.1). The government of Rwanda is a multiparty democracy with a limited presidential term.
Agriculture, manufacturing, and trade compose the majority of the economy. Close to one half of the land is used for farming coffee, tea, beans, potatoes, sorghum, bananas, and livestock. The natural resources of Rwanda are reserves of gold, beryl, cassiterite (tin ore), wolframite (tungsten ore) and methane (natural gas). Due to the dense population with terrible poverty and tense ethnic composition, there have been pressures to boost exports to make up for the amounts of imported products need to survive. This puts a strain on the laborers of Rwanda to increase the amount of goods produced for export in order to pay for all the imports. According to the CIA (1999), 1998 records list the country of Rwanda debt was $1.2 billion (p. 7). The economic strain places the Tutsi and the Hutu at even greater level of hostility. This strain is due in part to the fact that the Hutu are the majority and are predominantly agriculturist. The Tutsi, on the other hand, are primarily cattle herders. In this society owning cattle is a symbol of superior status.
During their control, the Germans and then Belgians intensified inequality in order to more strictly control the colonies called Rwanda and Burundi. They made the Tutsi their surrogate through a system of indirect rule, and issued ethnic identity cards to solidify the differences. The Hutus on the other hand were denied any authoritative positions, which led to resentment that has contributed to the problems of today. After Rwanda gained independence from Belgium in 1962, the Hutu majority seized power, reversed the roles, and oppressed the Tutsis through well-organized discrimination and acts of injustice. A major conflict originated from a wave of violence from 1956 to 1966 when the Hutu overthrew the Tutsi monarchy, which had ruled for centuries (Goose , 1994, p.2). “The Tutsi king died, and the Hutu used the occasion to rise and kill thousands of Tutsi” (Feil, 1998, p. 43). The violence drove approximately 200,000 Tutsi out of Rwanda and into neighboring countries. As a result, the rebel guerilla army, known as the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), was formed to counter violence against the Tutsi. In 1990, this rebel army invaded Rwanda and forced Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana into signing an accord that mandated that the Hutus and Tutsis would share power. From 1990 to 1994, the RPF threatened war and political resistance with the Hutus (African Rights, 1998 p. 13). Amid ever-increasing prospects of violence, Rwandan President Habyarimana and Burundi’s President Cyprien Ntaryamira held several peace meetings with Tutsi rebels.
Beginning April 6, 1994 and for the next hundred days, up to 800,000 Tutsis were killed by Hutu militia using clubs and machetes, with as many as 10,000 killed each day. “In the summer of 1994 television screens across America and the world conveyed images from Rwanda of violence and cruelty: victims macheted across the head and face, villagers burned alive in huts and churches, bodies lying by the side of the road or floating in congested rivers” (Eller, 1999, p.195). The event that started this bloody battle was the downing of an airplane that was carrying the president of Rwanda and Burundi. Unknown persons shot the plane down near the capital of Rwanda; however, the Tutsi, along with many other groups, have been blamed for the attack.
Within days of the plane crash, Rwanda was in the midst of a bloody civil war between its two main ethnic groups, the Tutsi and the Hutu. Thousands were slaughtered in a frenzy of violence between the Hutus and Tutsis that followed the assassination of Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana. “As soon as the President’s plane crashed, militia roadblocks appeared all over…. …militiamen and Presidential Guards had started a house-to-house search for ‘enemies’ and were killing them…some FAR (Rwandan Armed Forces) elements were trying to stop the slaughter” (Prunier, 1995, p. 229). “… U.N. peacekeeping forces (UNAMIR-United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda) stand by while the slaughter goes on. They are forbidden to intervene, as this would breach their ‘monitoring’ mandate” (Public Broadcasting System Online, 1999, p.1). For the next three months thousands of innocent Rwandans were killed.
There have been several arrests and convictions related to the “genocide” in Rwanda. The trials are held in Rwandan courts, which may or may not follow United Nations regulations regarding genocide. Reports from a February 29, 2000 newspaper article in Kigali Rwanda:
…Rwanda has sentenced four people to death in a joint trail of 40 people charged with genocide…. Another 13 were sentenced to life imprisonment and still another 15 were given sentences of four to 20 years in prison…. Since the end of the genocide of more than 500,000 minority Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus… Rwandan courts have tried more than 1,500 people among 125,000 genocide suspects… (1).
There have been some speculations as to whether the people being charged are the ones truly responsible for the injustices. “Hutu extremists… have long been thought responsible for killing Habyarimana… in a bid to sabotage his efforts to implement a power-sharing deal with the Tutsis…” (Cohen, 2000, p.1). Are the Rwandans trying the right people for the crime committed?
There are several proposed solutions for the problems of the ethnic conflict in Rwanda. First, Rwandan and international authorities should deal more openly with ethnic issues. Secondly, Rwanda and the international community should accept a degree of voluntary social and/or ethnic segregation in some areas of Rwanda. Another solution would be for the United Nations and their allies to show a stronger presence in Rwanda to help settle disputes until Rwanda is able to establish a system that works for that country. An additional solution to Rwanda’s problems is to establish a more organized and monitored employment structure. A further resolution to Rwanda’s tribulations would be to set up a type of reeducation camp, held by the U.N. to help teach Rwandans about their humanitarian rights. The best solution would be, for the United Nations and its members, to relieve Rwanda of its debts and send as much relief support as possible to enable Rwanda to get on its feet and start over. This might not be feasible in application, but in theory it is what Rwanda needs, as well as better ethnic relations.
The notion that genocide was committed in Rwanda ultimately rests upon the argument that the 1994 massacres were pre-planned military operations. The kills were more accurately a retaliatory response to the killing of the president than premeditated genocidal killings. There is no proof of the deliberate plan to “wipe-out” the Tutsis or the Hutus. True enough there were unnecessary mass killings of different ethnic groups, and genocide was a part of the bloody civil war, but there are no findings that point to an all out genocidal killing of either ethnic group. Americans killed each other during our Civil War, but we do not look at it as “The ‘Genocide’ between the North and South.” It was just a war, as is this injustice.
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