During the 1994 Rwandan genocide, also known as the genocide against the Tutsi, members of the Hutu ethnic majority in the east-central African nation of Rwanda murdered as many as 800,000 people, mostly of the Tutsi minority.
Refugees who fled the ethnic bloodbath in neighboring Rwanda carry water containers back to their huts at the Benaco refugee camp in Tanzania, near the border with Rwanda on May 17, 1994. With a population surpassing 300,000, aid agencies are having difficulty feeding, treating and sheltering them.
Started by Hutu nationalists in the capital of Kigali, the genocide spread throughout the country with shocking speed and brutality, as ordinary citizens were incited by local officials and the Hutu Power government to take up arms against their neighbors.
An amputee moves past three Tutsi refugees huddled together to protect themselves against the cold and damp in this camp in southern Rwanda, May 20 1994.
By the time the Tutsi-led Rwandese Patriotic Front gained control of the country through a military offensive in early July, hundreds of thousands of Rwandans were dead and 2 million refugees (mainly Hutus) fled Rwanda, exacerbating what had already become a full-blown humanitarian crisis.
Many of those killed were tossed into the Kigera River at Rusumo Falls.
Rwandan Ethnic Tensions
By the early 1990s, Rwanda, a small country with an overwhelmingly agricultural economy, had one of the highest population densities in Africa. About 85 percent of its population was Hutu; the rest were Tutsi, along with a small number of Twa, a Pygmy group who were the original inhabitants of Rwanda.
The bodies of a woman and her child lie by a church in Nyarubuye parish, which was the site of an April 14 massacre that survivors say was perpetrated by a militia assisted by government gendarmes, about 95 miles east of the capital Kigali, in Rwanda on May 31, 1994.
A Hutu woman and her children take a rest as they flee on the edge of the French security zone for the Zairean border August 16, 1994.
Part of German East Africa from 1897 to 1918, Rwanda became a Belgian trusteeship under a League of Nations mandate after World War I, along with neighboring Burundi.
A Rwandan woman collapses with her baby on her back alongside the road connecting Kibumba refugee camp and Goma, July 28, 1994.
Rwanda’s colonial period, during which the ruling Belgians favored the minority Tutsis over the Hutus, exacerbated the tendency of the few to oppress the many, creating a legacy of tension that exploded into violence even before Rwanda gained its independence.
A group of grave diggers worked at dusk to catch up on the many graves that were needed to bury those who died in the Benaco camp.
A Hutu revolution in 1959 forced as many as 330,000 Tutsis to flee the country, making them an even smaller minority. By early 1961, victorious Hutus had forced Rwanda’s Tutsi monarch into exile and declared the country a republic. After a United Nations referendum that same year, Belgium officially granted independence to Rwanda in July 1962.
Nyabimana, 26, who was evacuated after being found by the Red Cross wandering in Kabgayi, 15 miles southwest of the capital Kigali, shows machete wounds at an International Committee of the Red Cross hospital in Nyanza, some 35 miles southwest of Kigali, in Rwanda on June 4, 1994.
Ethnically motivated violence continued in the years following independence. In 1973, a military group installed Major General Juvenal Habyarimana, a moderate Hutu, in power.
Reverien Rurangua, who was wounded in a machete attack and evacuated by the Red Cross from Kabgayi, near Kigali, sits on a bed with no mattress at a hospital in Nyanza, some 35 miles south of the capital Kigali, in Rwanda, on June 4, 1994.
The sole leader of Rwandan government for the next two decades, Habyarimana founded a new political party, the National Revolutionary Movement for Development (NRMD).
Refugees made makeshift crosses to honor those who died in the Benaco Refugee Camp.
He was elected president under a new constitution ratified in 1978 and reelected in 1983 and 1988, when he was the sole candidate. In 1990, forces of the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF), consisting mostly of Tutsi refugees, invaded Rwanda from Uganda.
Rather than kill this young boy, his father said that a Hutu gang cut his Achilles heels so that he couldn't walk.
Habyarimana accused Tutsi residents of being RPF accomplices and arrested hundreds of them. Between 1990 and 1993, government officials directed massacres of the Tutsi, killing hundreds. A ceasefire in these hostilities led to negotiations between the government and the RPF in 1992.
A boy, who survived a massacre in the village of Karubamba in April and whose leg was injured by a machete, rests at a hospital near Gahini, in Rwanda, May 13, 1994.
In August 1993, Habyarimana signed an agreement at Arusha, Tanzania, calling for the creation of a transition government that would include the RPF. This power-sharing agreement angered Hutu extremists, who would soon take swift and horrible action to prevent it.
A six-month-old Rwandan baby girl weighing only two and a half kilograms (5.5 pounds) is fed through her nose while she rests in a cardboard box and is attended to by an Israeli doctor at the Israel Defense Forces field hospital in Goma, Zaire, now known as Congo, on July 29, 1994.
Rwandan Genocide Begins
On April 6, 1994, a plane carrying Habyarimana and Burundi’s president Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down over the capital city of Kigali, leaving no survivors. (It has never been conclusively determined who the culprits were. Some have blamed Hutu extremists, while others blamed leaders of the RPF.)
A man offered to use his hoe to dig a grave and bury the 2-week-old daughter of a friend who'd made it to the refugee camp only to lose the baby to illness shortly after arriving.
Within an hour of the plane crash, the Presidential Guard, together with members of the Rwandan armed forces (FAR) and Hutu militia groups known as the Interahamwe (“Those Who Attack Together”) and Impuzamugambi (“Those Who Have the Same Goal”), set up roadblocks and barricades and began slaughtering Tutsis and moderate Hutus with impunity.
A young orphan, his legs amputated below the knee, rests on a foam cushion near his artificial limbs at an orphanage in Nyanza, near the capital Kigali, Rwanda, June 9, 1994.
Among the first victims of the genocide were the moderate Hutu Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana and 10 Belgian peacekeepers, killed on April 7. This violence created a political vacuum, into which an interim government of extremist Hutu Power leaders from the military high command stepped on April 9.
Men who volunteered to help bury the dead scan a field for a place to dig a grave for a 41-year-old woman in the Benaco refugee camp just inside Tanzania at the Kigera River border crossing with Rwanda.
The killing of the Belgian peacekeepers, meanwhile, provoked the withdrawal of Belgian troops. And the U.N. directed that peacekeepers only defend themselves thereafter.
A brother and sister of the Bicamumpaca family grimace in pain after being hit by a car which never slowed down on the road halfway between Goma, Zaire, and Kigali, Rwanda, Aug. 5, 1994. The single mother of the children stands by in background. The family was returning to Rwanda from the refugee camps in Zaire when the accident occurred. The children were later taken to a hospital in Kigali and reported in stable condition.
Slaughter Spreads Across Rwanda
The mass killings in Kigali quickly spread from that city to the rest of Rwanda. In the first two weeks, local administrators in central and southern Rwanda, where most Tutsi lived, resisted the genocide. After April 18, national officials removed the resisters and killed several of them.
A young boy suffering from a cold was photographed just as he'd awakened after cold night in the Benaco camp.
Other opponents then fell silent or actively led the killing. Officials rewarded killers with food, drink, drugs and money. Government-sponsored radio stations started calling on ordinary Rwandan civilians to murder their neighbors. Within three months, some 800,000 people had been slaughtered.
Prisons were overcrowded in the wake of the genocide.
Meanwhile, the RPF resumed fighting, and civil war raged alongside the genocide. By early July, RPF forces had gained control over most of country, including Kigali.
A young Rwandan Hutu refugee holds an IV bag for his mother who lies ill with cholera in a refugee camp.
In response, more than 2 million people, nearly all Hutus, fled Rwanda, crowding into refugee camps in the Congo (then called Zaire) and other neighboring countries.
Refugees near a large grave that was later used to bury several people who'd died in the camp.
After its victory, the RPF established a coalition government similar to that agreed upon at Arusha, with Pasteur Bizimungu, a Hutu, as president and Paul Kagame, a Tutsi, as vice president and defense minister.
Rwandan government soldiers atop a tank equipped with a 90mm gun flee civilians in front of advancing RPF forces with civilians, July 17, 1994.
Habyarimana’s NRMD party, which had played a key role in organizing the genocide, was outlawed, and a new constitution adopted in 2003 eliminated reference to ethnicity.
Babies lay on the floor of a makeshift orphanage in the Kibumba camp near Goma, Zaire, Aug. 3, 1994.
The new constitution was followed by Kagame’s election to a 10-year term as Rwanda’s president and the country’s first-ever legislative elections.
Refugees wait behind barbed wire as they watch aid workers unload a new batch of supplies and food, at a refugee camp at the Kigera River border crossing with Rwanda.
As in the case of atrocities committed in the former Yugoslavia around the same time, the international community largely remained on the sidelines during the Rwandan genocide. A United Nations Security Council vote in April 1994 led to the withdrawal of most of a U.N. peacekeeping operation (UNAMIR), created the previous fall to aid with governmental transition under the Arusha accord.
Three Rwandan orphans in medical treatment, waiting to be washed by relief worker at Ndoshu orphanage, Aug. 16, 1994.
As reports of the genocide spread, the Security Council voted in mid-May to supply a more robust force, including more than 5,000 troops. By the time that force arrived in full, however, the genocide had been over for months. In a separate French intervention approved by the U.N., French troops entered Rwanda from Zaire in late June.
A group of hungry boys pick up pieces of grain that fell from a relief truck at the Benaco refugee camp.
In the face of the RPF’s rapid advance, they limited their intervention to a “humanitarian zone” set up in southwestern Rwanda, saving tens of thousands of Tutsi lives but also helping some of the genocide’s plotters - allies of the French during the Habyarimana administration - to escape.
Rwandan refugee children plead with Zairean soldiers to allow them across a bridge separating Rwanda and Zaire where their mothers had crossed moments earlier before the soldiers closed the border, in Zaire, now known as Congo on Aug. 20, 1994.
In the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide, many prominent figures in the international community lamented the outside world’s general obliviousness to the situation and its failure to act in order to prevent the atrocities from taking place.
Refugees carry water from a small lake that was contaminated from the runoff from a nearby area that was being used as an outdoor latrine.
As former U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali told the PBS news program Frontline: “The failure of Rwanda is 10 times greater than the failure of Yugoslavia. Because in Yugoslavia the international community was interested, was involved. In Rwanda nobody was interested.”
A man lies starving at a makeshift health clinic in Ruhango, about 30 miles southwest of Kigali, Rwanda, Monday, June 6, 1994.
Attempts were later made to rectify this passivity. After the RFP victory, the UNAMIR operation was brought back up to strength; it remained in Rwanda until March 1996, as one of the largest humanitarian relief efforts in history.
In October 1994, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), located in Tanzania, was established as an extension of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at The Hague, the first international tribunal since the Nuremburg Trials of 1945-46, and the first with the mandate to prosecute the crime of genocide.
Some of the 334 inmates in a prison who are accused of committing war crimes and participating in the genocide, sit in the prison in Kibungo, Rwanda on Aug. 17, 1994.
In 1995, the ICTR began indicting and trying a number of higher-ranking people for their role in the Rwandan genocide; the process was made more difficult because the whereabouts of many suspects were unknown. The trials continued over the next decade and a half, including the 2008 conviction of three former senior Rwandan defense and military officials for organizing the genocide.
What is Rwanda like now?
President Kagame has been hailed for transforming the tiny, devastated country he took over through policies which encouraged rapid economic growth. He has also tried to turn Rwanda into a technological hub.
Paul Kagame won a landslide victory in 2017
The government says this is to prevent hate speech and more bloodshed but some say it prevents true reconciliation. Charges of stirring up ethnic hatred have been levelled against some of Mr Kagame's critics, which they say is a way of sidelining them. He won a third term in office in the most recent election in 2017 with 98.63% of the vote.
How was the genocide carried out?
With meticulous organisation. Lists of government opponents were handed out to militias who went and killed them, along with all of their families.
Neighbours killed neighbours and some husbands even killed their Tutsi wives, saying they would be killed if they refused. At the time, ID cards had people's ethnic group on them, so militias set up roadblocks where Tutsis were slaughtered, often with machetes which most Rwandans kept around the house. Thousands of Tutsi women were taken away and kept as sex slaves.
Why was it so vicious?
Rwanda has always been a tightly controlled society, organised like a pyramid from each district up to the top of government. The then-governing party, MRND, had a youth wing called the Interahamwe, which was turned into a militia to carry out the slaughter.
Weapons and hit-lists were handed out to local groups, who knew exactly where to find their targets. The Hutu extremists set up a radio station, RTLM, and newspapers which circulated hate propaganda, urging people to "weed out the cockroaches" meaning kill the Tutsis. The names of prominent people to be killed were read out on radio. Even priests and nuns have been convicted of killing people, including some who sought shelter in churches.
By the end of the 100-day killing spree, around 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus had been killed.
Did anyone try to stop it?
The UN and Belgium had forces in Rwanda but the UN mission was not given a mandate to stop the killing.
A Rwandan Hutu refugee child desperately tries to waken his mother from a diseased sleep in the Munigi camp outside Goma, in Zaire, now known as Congo on July 27, 1994.
A year after US troops were killed in Somalia, the US was determined not to get involved in another African conflict. The Belgians and most UN peacekeepers pulled out after 10 Belgian soldiers were killed.
Displaced Hutu civilians in Cyanika, about 50 miles southwest of Kigali, jump in the air as part of government training of new Hutu militias in Rwanda, June 17, 1994.
The French, who were allies of the Hutu government, sent a special force to evacuate their citizens and later set up a supposedly safe zone but were accused of not doing enough to stop the slaughter in that area.
French forces in Rwanda were accused of not doing enough to stop the killing.
Paul Kagame, Rwanda's current president, has accused France of backing those who carried out the massacres - a charge denied by Paris.
A Rwandan child too weak to stand in line to receive a vaccination, rests his head at the SOS village orphanage in Ndosho near Goma, in Zaire, now known as Congo, July 28, 1994.
How did it end?
The well-organised RPF, backed by Uganda's army, gradually seized more territory, until 4 July 1994, when its forces marched into the capital, Kigali.
Some two million Hutus - both civilians and some of those involved in the genocide - then fled across the border into the Democratic Republic of Congo, at the time called Zaire, fearing revenge attacks. Others went to neighbouring Tanzania and Burundi. Human rights groups say RPF fighters killed thousands of Hutu civilians as they took power - and more after they went into DR Congo to pursue the Interahamwe. The RPF denies this.
In DR Congo, thousands died from cholera, while aid groups were accused of letting much of their assistance fall into the hands of the Hutu militias.
What happened in DR Congo?
The RPF, now in power in Rwanda, embraced militias fighting both the Hutu militias and the Congolese army, which was aligned with the Hutus. The Rwanda-backed rebel groups eventually marched on DR Congo's capital, Kinshasa, and overthrew the government of Mobutu Sese Seko, installing Laurent Kabila as president.
But the new president's reluctance to tackle Hutu militias led to a new war that dragged in six countries and led to the creation of numerous armed groups fighting for control of this mineral-rich country.
Eastern DR Congo has suffered decades of unrest as a consequence of Rwanda's genocide.
An estimated five million people died as a result of the conflict which lasted until 2003, with some armed groups active until now in the areas near Rwanda's border.
Has anyone faced justice?
The International Criminal Court was set up in 2002, long after the Rwandan genocide so could not put on trial those responsible. Instead, the UN Security Council established the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in the Tanzanian town of Arusha to prosecute the ringleaders.
A Rwandan Patriotic Front rebel observes a nail-spiked club found near a militia checkpoint which was abandoned after the rebel victory in Kigali, Rwanda July 7, 1994.
A total of 93 people were indicted and after lengthy and expensive trials, dozens of 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 of hundreds of thousands of genocide suspects awaiting trial. Correspondents say up to 10,000 people died in prison before they could be brought to justice.
The gacaca hearings gave communities a chance to face the accused.
For a decade until 2012, 12,000 gacaca courts met once a week in villages across the country, often outdoors in a marketplace or under a tree, trying more than 1.2 million cases. Their aim was to achieve truth, justice and reconciliation among Rwandans as "gacaca" means to sit down and discuss an issue.