Frontline World

RWANDA - After the Genocide, December 2003
a FRONTLINE/World Fellows project
7/3/03 7/7/03 7/11/03 7/15/03 7/19/03 7/19/03 7/20/03 7/23/03
context portraits pacifique mukeshimana Domina Nyirandayambaje Aloys Habimana
Rwanda, a tiny East African nation, is one of the world's poorest countries. Colonized by Belgium 80 years ago, Rwanda's recent history has been marked by political violence between its Hutu and Tutsi ethnicities.

Rwanda's Neighborhood
Africa's Great Lakes region -- which includes Rwanda, Congo, Burundi, Uganda and Tanzania -- is one of the world's most intense conflict zones. A flare-up in one country often spreads. After the 1994 genocide, many of the perpetrators fled to Zaire (now Congo) and took refuge in camps run by international organizations. In 1996, Rwanda invaded to flush them out, setting off an African war that eventually led to the downfall of Zaire's government and a continuing war that has taken more than 4 million lives.

Gacaca courts, translated literally as "grass" courts, were established to try more than 100,000 people held in prison in Rwanda on charges of participating in the 1994 genocide. Prisoners who confess receive reduced sentences. The government plans 9,000 of these local courts.

United Nations Involvement
It is the responsibility of the United Nation's International Tribunal for Rwanda, which operates in Tanzania, to try the leaders of the genocide. The tribunal has so far completed only 15 cases.

Hutus make up about 85 percent of the Rwandan population. Traditionally farmers, they suffered under German and later Belgian colonial rule, during which time the Tutsi served as proxy rulers. In 1959, the Belgians switched their support to the Hutu, factions of which ruled for the next three decades.

Tutsis make up about 15 percent of Rwanda's population. They were livestock keepers traditionally. A Tutsi king ruled Rwanda before colonization. When Rwanda was colonized 100 years ago, German and later Belgian colonizers chose to rule the country through a Tutsi administrative structure. A Hutu revolution in 1959 overthrew the Tutsi hierarchy.

Root of Hutu/Tutsi Tension
Traditionally there were relatively loose distinctions between the ethnic groups. But these lines hardened into institutionalized identities when Belgian colonists chose to rule through the Tutsis. Ethnicity then became a key to advancement in the society. Far from being rooted deep in history, Rwanda's first ethnic violence broke out only four decades ago, as a result of this kind of political jockeying.

Rwanda's Civil War, 1990-1994
In 1990, the Rwandan Patriotic Army -- composed of a group of exiled Rwandan Tutsis -- invaded the country from Uganda. The ensuing civil war raged intermittently for four years. In 1994, peace accords signed in Tanzania established the basis for a power-sharing government in Kigali. But the Rwandan president's plane was shot down while returning from the accords -- no one knows by whom -- and genocidal killing broke out immediately afterward.

Rwanda's 1994 Genocide
An estimated 800,000 people, in a population of 7 million, were wiped out in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. It was one of the worst slaughters in human history. The aim of the Rwanda government officials who encouraged it was to eliminate all Tutsis from the country. Neither the U.S. government nor governments in Europe did anything to stop the genocide. Only the triumph of an invading Tutsi army three months after the genocide's beginning in April 1994 put a halt to the killing.

Rwandan Patriotic Front
The Rwandan Patriotic Front, the political party formed by the invading rebel Tutsi army that triumphed in the civil war of 1994, has controlled the country for the last nine years.

Paul Kagame
General Paul Kagame, of the Rwandan Patriotic Army, led the invasion in 1994 and now serves as president of the country. In August 2003, amid charges of human rights abuses and harassment of political opponents, Kagame received 95 percent of the votes in Rwanda's first presidential election since the genocide.