The genocide in Rwanda was one of the most ruthless and effective of all time. Ostensibly sparked by the assassination of the Rwandan President on April 6, 1994, the event was preceded by a complicated and bloody history between Tutsi and Hutu.
When Belgian colonialists arrived in Rwanda in 1916, they favoured the Tutsi minority over the Hutu majority. The Belgians viewed the Tutsi as more similar to Europeans and, therefore, deemed them to be more intelligent. Tutsi were awarded better jobs and had greater educational opportunities. In the early 1930s, to solidify the division, the Belgians produced identity cards classifying individuals according to their ethnic group. These identity cards, still in use in the 1990s, led many Tutsi to their death by readily identifying them to Hutu génocidaires.
Resentment among the Hutu about the special treatment of Tutsi festered over the years. It culminated in a series of killings of Tutsi, beginning in 1959 with the unexpected death of the ruling Tutsi king, and continuing through Rwandan independence from Belgium in 1962, after a popular uprising drove out the Tutsi elite and installed a Hutu-dominated government. Between 1959 and 1973, more than 700,000 Rwandan Tutsi were exiled to neighbouring countries and barred from returning.
Some joined the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a political and military movement formed by Tutsi refugees in Uganda to demand Rwandan unity. On October 1, 1990, the RPF invaded Rwanda from Uganda but were repelled by troops from France and Zaire sent to reinforce the Rwandan government. Tutsi living in Rwanda were blamed for the RPF attack, and the Rwandan government massacred about two thousand of them across the country in apparent retaliation.
On April 6, 1994, Rwanda’s President was killed when his plane was shot down and the event served as a pretext for Hutu extremists to launch their one hundred days of genocide. Previously prepared execution lists were circulated showing the names of Tutsi and moderate Hutu. The most influential, educated and wealthy among them were the first to be killed. Even influential Hutu were not spared if they posed a threat to the extremists.
Eradicating the Tutsi became the calling of Hutu extremists. Within hours of the President’s death, Hutu began killing and raping Tutsi, with the aim of complete annihilation. With the prospects for peace extinguished, the RPF invaded Rwanda. After ensuring that nationals of Western governments had safe access out of the country, the world stood by silently and watched one of the worst massacres in human history. The genocide ended only when the RPF overthrew the Hutu regime in July 1994.