Genocide relating to the theme of human rights: A case of 1994 Rwandan Genocide




Genocide relating to the theme of human rights: A case of 1994 Rwandan Genocide

  • Introduction
    • Background information

After the World War I, Germany suffered massive economic challenges characterized by huge debts and inflation. In the chaos that erupted as a result of socio-economic problems, Adolf Hitler preached hatred against Jews portraying them as the major reason behind Germany’s downturn. Consequently, the Nazi Holocaust (a well-calculated massacre) saw approximately 6 million Jews killed by 1945 (Heller 110). Prosecution began after World War II. International law did not have an explicit provision detailing how the international judicial system would prosecute the perpetrators of crimes against the minority European Jews whose human rights had been violated. To a greater extent, it was a well-executed scheme to start an illegitimate war – the factor that made the extermination scheme an international issue. Nevertheless, it proved difficult to prosecute the Nazis because genocide had a very narrow definition. Was this acceptable? This was definitely unacceptable because international law ought to be strong enough and clear to hold sovereign nations liable for violation of human rights related to people from all racial, religious, national, political, and ethnic groups.  Eventually, crimes against humanity (and not genocide) were the basis for applying international law to prosecute the crimes committed by the “Nazi government against European Jews” (Schabas 45). Under international law, genocide had a skewed definition. Were political groups covered in the definition? Differences in political beliefs may lead to mass massacre. Moreover, massive killings without explicit intent to exterminate a specific group were not treated as acts of genocide. Apart from its limited definition, genocide and crimes against humanity were two criminal acts without an explicit distinction (Schabas 46).

Therefore, it was necessary to come up with a clear difference and relationship between genocide, war, and crimes against humanity. This distinction would make it possible to avoid associating war with genocide. Keeping genocide separate was critical to avoiding confusion. Third world countries (notably China, India, Egypt, Lebanon, Venezuela and Brazil) played an integral role in giving the world the current convention regarding genocide. For example, during the 6th Committee of the General Assembly in late 1948, France prepared a draft convention that defined genocide as one of the crimes against humanity. To counter this convention, Brazil proposed that genocide should be treated as a separate criminal activity from crimes against humanity to avoid potential confusion. Finally, the UN General Assembly adopted the fundamental Genocide Convention in December 1948. Today, “genocide” is a crime or concept of war which is widely recognised by international law without reference to “crimes against humanity”. As a result, this is crucial to comprehensive and fair prosecution of perpetrators based on international human rights law because genocide focuses on mass extermination of a specific group of people. On the other hand, crimes against humanity focus on systematic mass execution of a large number of people (Schabas 52).

The 1994 Rwandan Genocide (hereafter interchangeably referred to as the Rwandan Genocide or the Genocide) remains one of the worst atrocities that faced the human race in the 20th century (“United Human Rights Council” 1). A number of major groups were involved in one way or the other in the Rwandan Genocide. First and foremost, Hutus (approximately 85%) and Tutsis (approximately 14%) were and still remain the major ethnic groups in Rwanda in terms of population. The two ethnic communities were directly involved in the Genocide. Interahamwe and Impuzamugambi (government-backed Hutu extremists) perpetrated genocide crimes against Tutsis and people who were considered moderate Hutus (Cohen 35). The Rwandan army and police officers also worked with Hutu militias and the Hutu people. Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) was a Tutsi-backed guerrilla militia which was fighting back the Hutu extremist government. RPF was fighting towards ending social discrimination and returning to Rwanda. Belgium (Rwandan colonist), the U.S. and the UN controversial took a lukewarm approach to preventing or limiting the Genocide. Finally, Paul Kagame (the current president) was the leader of RPF army. The army’s offensive invasion of the country is widely recognized as the fundamental factor which stopped the Genocide (Cohen 37).

  • Research problem

There are universal, equal, inalienable or basic human rights that are meant to inherently apply to every human being regardless of status or orientation, for example, national, ethnic origin, sex, language, religion, cultural, socio-economic, political affiliation, or color. Human rights related to persons and groups are guaranteed by international law (Crowe 56). However, the principle of guaranteed human rights appears to be a mere “dream” owing to considerable number of violations that exist across the world (Crowe 57). For example, in Rwanda, the Hutus and Tutsis ethnic groups coexisted peaceful without a significant delineation between them. When Belgium and Germany invaded Rwanda, the two groups became notably delineated primarily based on economic status. This culminated into Tutsis being perceived as wealthier than Hutus, and the earlier being the elite class in the country. In some cases, the Tutsis were allegedly enforcing their rule on Hutus. Amid severe tensions, a violent revolt emerged in April 1994 pitting Hutus and Tutsis. In the Genocide, thousands of people (approximately 800, 000 – mostly Tutsis) were killed, mutilated, tortured, and raped (“United Human Rights Council” 1). To make matters worse, the global community did not tangibly challenge the inhuman criminal activity in Rwanda. Apart from this, the world has continuously seen human rights violation cases associated with armed conflicts, internal displacement, torture, and restricted freedom of expression among others. For example, a 2011 report by Amnesty International showed that approximately 450, 000 people have been killed in Sudan since 2003.  Afghanistan also saw approximately 7, 000 people massacred in 2007. The 1992-1995 Bosnian Genocide is another notable genocidal act which killed approximately 200,000 people (Hoare 196). The fight against genocide is on the right trend. For example, moreover, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) has also brought to justice a number of key persons who were behind the Rwandan Genocide as well as other international law violations. Generally, acts of genocide have led to violation of two of the most fundamental human rights stipulated by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)  – the “right to life, liberty and security of person” and the right to be free from being subjected to “torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” (Cohen 75).

  • Research Question

It is evident that acts of genocide violate fundamental human rights across the world, attracting the attention of the international community especially after the Second World War.  Nevertheless, genocide has erupted in only a few number of countries in the 20th century, for example, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Rwanda, Germany, Sudan and Turkey among others (Crowe 64). This begs the question: why is genocide prevalent in those areas/parts of the world?

  • Thesis statement

Genocide has been prevalent in only a couple of parts of the world because of the following major factors: government structure; poverty; countries’ inabilities to deal with militia groups; and power vacuum. Ultimately, human rights are significantly violated during acts of genocide.

  • Why genocide is prevalent in some areas/parts of the world
    • Government structure

Owing to increasingly growing pressure from RPF, Juvenal Habyarimana, the then President of Rwanda used political maneuvering and propaganda to widen the division between Hutus and Tutsis (Twagilimana 36). Therefore, there was a conscious move masterminded by the elite class to preach hatred so as to remain in power. The move was aimed at setting the majority (Hutus) against the minority (Tutsis) as a countermeasure against increasing political opposition in the country. RPF was also achieving success at the two fronts – battlefields and negotiations (Cohen 78). The ethnic divisions that were promoted by the government and a few high profile figures bred potential genocide eruption. Extermination strategy was perceived to be a viable strategy to weaken the opposition (mainly the RPF), and possible defeat it. Moreover, extermination would potentially force RPF to sign a peace and power sharing agreement favorable to the government (Twagilimana 41). Therefore, the government misused state power and resources to create the foundation for the Genocide.

The government was genocidal, and the world was aware of potential human rights violations that would hit the citizens of Rwanda. Key perpetrators were mainly top government officials, the army and national policy, government-backed Hutu militias, and civilian population from the Hutu community. The armed forces and Hutu militias urged Hutu civilians to mutilate, rape, and kill Tutsis and steal of damage their property. Radio stations openly called for mass extermination targeting Tutsis. The international community could have declared the Habyarimana’s government illegitimate for it was planning to violate one of the fundamental human rights championed by UDHR – the “right to life, liberty and security of person” (Crowe 101). May be a strong voice from the entire international community could have helped prevent the Genocide (“United Human Rights Council” 1).

RPF and the Coalition for the Defense of the Republic (CDR) political party wanted an inclusive government which would see Tutsis secure some positions in the government. Following the successful 1992 ceasefire negotiations and a series of attempts to include Tutsis in the government, Hutu extremists and hardliners felt insecure. The president was also for inclusiveness in the government, and he removed some hardliners from the army leadership to reduce internal opposition. The extremists and hardliners started localized massacres targeting Tutsis, and also trained Hutu militias. Therefore, the president’s move to deal with extremists and hardliners remained greatly unsuccessful (Cohen 56). The crisis committee which was formed after the death of Habyarimana failed to recognize the authority of the prime minister who was supposed to assume presidential powers. The issue was further complicated by the power sharing agreement mandated by the Arusha Accords, which extremists and hardliners were opposed to. The power wrangles that arose challenged governance efforts. Moreover, prominent people who were perceived to be moderate politicians were killed along with Tutsi civilians. RPF resumed civil war because it had become apparent that the government-backed perpetrators were continuously killing Tutsis. RPF (pro-peace) and the government could not reestablish peace because the latter was led by extremists and hardliners (Crowe 64).

  • Poverty

In 1957, the majority Hutus started a social movement to end the oppressive Tutsi monarchy. The monarchy was eventually abolished in 1961, when parliamentary elections and a referendum were conducted and Hutu-led MDR-Parmehutu won most of the seats and the referendum. Over 20, 0000 Tutsis were killed while over 200,000 others fled from Rwanda to Uganda. Those who remained were socially discriminated against. The onset of Rwandan Genocide took a similar twist just like the Holocaust, especially due to the fact that Adolf Hitler preached hatred against Jews portraying them as the major reason behind the country’s downturn (Heller 68). In 1985, RPF was formed to champion for Tutsis’ return to Rwanda. In addition, RPF was aimed at ending social injustices targeted at Tutsis. The early 1990s RPF invasion from the North to agitate for Tutsis return to Rwanda and enjoy social benefits just like other citizens reignited longstanding hatred against the minority. At the same time RPF had intensified its pressures, Hutu rebels within the political leadership and “Hutu Power” government blamed the minority Tutsis for the nation’s increasingly growing socio-economic and political problems. The political elite also claimed that the entire Tutsi community was supporting the Tutsi-dominated RPF (“United Human Rights Council” 1). Therefore, both Hutus and Tutsis accused each other of historical social discrimination. While Hutus felt that they had been enslaved during the Tutsis Monarchy, the latter accused Hutus of forced displacement and social injustices after independence. This groomed ethnic tensions between the two communities.

  • Countries’ inabilities to deal with militia groups

The efforts of the international community and individual states to bring genocide criminals to due justice have faced significant challenges due to increasingly growing militia groups. These groups have been able to take advantage of civil wars, and execute acts of genocide.  The evils instigated by criminal gangs and government-sponsored groups have greatly hit the human race. The Rwandan Genocide is a good example of a country where Interahamwe and Impuzamugambi (Hutu militias) and Hutu community members perpetrated genocide crimes against Tutsis and people who were considered moderate Hutus. Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) was another militia which was Tutsi-backed guerrilla group, and was fighting back the Hutu extremist government. While these evils are human-perpetrated and often branded as “moral evils”, they inhibit efforts to uphold universal human rights. These evils cause devastation, disease, or even death. Perpetrators of the Genocide took cover under the then prevailing Rwandan Civil War – a conflict between the government (led by a Hutu) and the opposing RPF (a militia comprised of Tutsi refugees living in Uganda after earlier violence pitting them and Hutus) (Twagilimana 78).

The post-1945 era saw efforts aimed at defining and outlawing genocide and associated human rights violations perpetrated by militia groups. In addition, international criminal court systems were established to bring criminals associated with genocide and war crimes to justice. Nevertheless, the proposition that delayed establishment of international law and judicial systems to prosecute cases of genocide greatly contributed to prevalence of militia groups can be faulted. First, the Rwandan Genocide is a good proof that the creation of international law and judicial systems regarding genocide has not prevented the vice. In addition, African and Asian countries such as Sudan, Congo, Rwanda, and Afghanistan have suffered serious acts of genocide in the post-1946 era. Most strikingly, the acts of genocide have occurred in a world where there is the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that was established in 1946 to settle legal disputes forwarded by states. ICJ also works under international law to provide advisory services on legal matters (Heller 74).

  • Power vacuum

Violence broke out almost instantly after President Habyarimana (from Hutu ethnicity) was assassinated on April 6, 1994. Army and police officers, Hutu extremists and community members found the violence as the perfect opportunity to exterminate the entire Tutsis. The extremist group immediately killed key political and high profile persons who were perceived to have the ability to successfully take charge of the country and end the violence (Cohen 54). This meant that the Genocide was successfully executed because of the power vacuum that was created when Habyarimana was assassinated. The vacuum was further complicated by the fact that potential leaders who could have salvaged the situation were also killed immediately. Basically, there was no formal government to prevent perpetrators from killing Tutsis. As a result, the perpetrators killed the Tutsis and other people suspected to be from the rival ethnic group in their homes. In addition, perpetrators exploited the power vacuum to set up roadblocks across the nation and execute raping, killing, and mutilation and property destruction.

When RPF led by the current President of Rwanda Paul Kagame defeated the army and police officers as well as Hutu extremists, the Genocide as well as the prevailing civil war came to an end (Cohen 74). This validates the claim that power vacuum was a recipe for the Rwandan Genocide.

Nevertheless, where were people, governments and global organizations such as the UN doing during the Rwandan Genocide? Could their intervention have filled the power vacuum, and potentially prevent or stop the Genocide? Apparently, the world, especially policymakers drawn from the UN, U.S., Belgium and France knew about the Genocide preparations (Cohen 62). As responsible policymakers guided by the Genocide Convention and international law, they could have taken necessary steps to avert the Rwandan Genocide.

  • Conclusion

When prosecution of the Nazi government was initiated after began after World War II, international law did not have an explicit provision detailing how the international judicial system would prosecute perpetrators of crimes against the minority European Jews whose human rights had been violated during the Holocaust Genocide. This inhibited prosecution despite the fact that Holocaust was a well-executed scheme to start an illegitimate war – the factor that made the extermination program an international issue. Keeping genocide separate from crimes against humanity was critical to avoiding confusion in international law, and third world countries played an integral role in giving the world the Genocide Convention.

Genocide may be specifically defined as the extermination or massacre of a specific ethnic, religious, national, political, or racial group. Therefore, acts of genocide violates a number of universal or basic human rights that are meant to inherently apply to every human being regardless of an individual’s status or orientation, for example, national, ethnic origin, sex, language, religion, cultural, socio-economic, political affiliation, or color. Genocide is a criminal activity which has been there since the ancient times, but the 20th century has seen a proliferation of this time of crime. However, why did the international community take too long to strike a clear distinction between genocide and war crimes?

It is evident that government structure, poverty, countries’ inabilities to deal with militia groups, and power vacuum are the major factors that have made genocide prevalent in some parts of the world. The Rwandan Genocide is a case study of one of the worst human rights violations that faced the human race in the 20th century. During the Genocide, the government structure was genocide as it planned mass extermination of the minority Tutsis. Moreover, there was a poor power transition structure, which culminated to the Genocide due to power vacuum after Habyarimana’s assassination. The “Hutu Power” government blamed the minority Tutsis for the nation’s increasingly growing socio-economic and political problems – a sign of poverty which groomed ethnic tensions between the two communities. Rwanda also failed to deal with militia groups such as Interahamwe and Impuzamugambi (Hutu militias) and RFP, which were directly involved in the Genocide.














  • References

Heller, Agnes. “Radical Evil in Modernity: On Genocide, Totalitarian Terror and the Holocaust.” Thesis Eleven 101.1 (2010): 106-117. Web. 3 April 2016.

Twagilimana, Aimable. The Debris of Ham: Ethnicity, Regionalism, and the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. University Press of America, 2003. Print. Web. 3 April 2016.

Crowe, David M. Crimes of state past and present: government-sponsored atrocities and international legal responses. Routledge, 2013. Print.

Cohen, Jared. One-hundred Days of Silence: America and the Rwanda Genocide. Rowman & Littlefield, 2007. Print.

Hoare, Marko A. “Bosnia-Herzegovina and International Justice Past Failures and Future Solutions.” East European Politics & Societies 24.2 (2010): 191-205. Web. 3 April 2016.

Schabas, William A. “Origins of the Genocide Convention: from Nuremberg to Paris.” Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law 40.1(2008): 35-55. Web. 3 April 2016.

United Human Rights Council. Genocide in Rwanda.  United Human Rights Council, 2016. Web. 3 April 2016.






Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s