KIGALI – As the 25th anniversary of the assassination of Rwanda’s second president approaches, the East African nation commemorates what followed after the president’s death in 1994; one of the worst genocides of modern times.
The killing of Juvenal Habyarimana, the East African country’s longest-serving president, preceded a spate of mass killings in Rwanda in which 800,000 to 1,000,000 people – mostly minority ethnic Tutsi at the hands of the biggest ethnic group, the Hutu – died over the course of roughly 100 days.
According to a United Nations report, in 1994, Hutsu made up around 85 percent of the Rwandan population, while the Tutsi represented only 14 percent; the other remaining one percent belonged to the third ethnic group, the Twa.
The ethnic rivalries between the Hutu and Tutsi date back to before the colonial era when Rwanda was dominated by the Tutsi minority.
When the country became a colony of Germany in 1894 the Tutsis continued to dominate positions of economic and governmental import.
The Germans lost control of Rwanda in the First World War and the Belgians became the new colonial rulers of the East African country, yet the favoritism shown first by Berlin and later by Brussels to the Tutsi minority remained unchanged.
With the rise of post-colonial movements across Africa and Asia in the late 1940s and 1950s, new divisions and ethnic tensions in Rwanda came to surface between Hutus and Tutsis; the conflict between the two ethnic groups boiling over into violence in November 1959 resulting in hundreds of Tutsis killed and thousands of Tutsis fleeing their homes to neighboring countries.
Rwanda won its independence from Belgium in 1962 and Hutu majority rule was established in the country.
The following 32 years saw Tutsis become Rwanda’s new lower class while some Tutsi leaders, who had fled their home, led insurgencies against the Hutu-dominated Rwandan government.
In 1973, the Hutus’ position was further strengthened when Habyarimana, a Hutu, became president of the country.
After an escalation of ethnic violence in the early 1990s, on the night of April 6, 1994, a plane carrying Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira, another Hutu and the President of the neighboring country Burundi, was hit by two missiles when it was landing at Kigali International Airport in Rwanda.
The resulting plane crash killed both presidents.
The sudden death of both Hutu leaders ignited the genocide and ethnic strife of an almost unprecedented scale on the African continent.
According to UN figures, at least 250,000 Rwandan women, especially Tutsi women, were raped.
The genocide lasted from April 7 until mid-July 1994, when a National Unity Government was formed with a Hutu president, Pasteur Bizimungu, and a Tutsi vice president, Paul Kagame.
On Nov. 8, 1994, the UN Security Council approved the establishment of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) to investigate “persons responsible for genocide and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in the territory of Rwanda and neighboring States.”
The ICTR was set up in the Tanzanian city of Arusha and began its work in 1995.
On Sept. 2, 1998, the ICTR declared Jean-Paul Akayesu guilty of instigating the murder of 2,000 Tutsis in Taba commune located in Gitarama Prefecture of Rwanda, where he was mayor, and sentenced him to life imprisonment, the first sentence of this kind.
In 21 years of proceedings, the ICTR, which finished its work in December 2015, issued 93 individual convictions to military officials, political figures and other religious, military and media leaders.
Two more courts joined ICTR in Rwanda; one sponsored by the government and the other, a people’s community justice court, known as the Gacaca court.
Nearly 5,000 convicted by these courts have appealed to the country’s ordinary courts between 2013-2017, claiming they had suffered unfair trials.