After 4 days in Kigali, I can officially say that I love it. Everyone has been incredibly welcoming, my internship (more on that later) is going smoothly, and the scenery is absolutely beautiful. If someone were to visit the city for a few days, she or he might never even guess that, just 18 years ago, genocide had just taken place.
Trying to summarize the causes and events of a genocide could take hundreds of pages (if not more!). Nevertheless, before explaining my study, my internship, and showing you pictures of different memorial sites and sites of major massacres that I’ll visit around the country (as well as some more cheerful pictures of weddings and maybe even gorillas), some more background information is necessary.
On April 6, 1994, a plane carrying the President of Rwanda and the President of neighboring Burundi was shot down as it was preparing to land in the capital of Rwanda. At the time, Rwanda, a land-locked country in Central Africa that is roughly the size of Maryland, had experienced decades of violence and war, political unrest, and economic hardship. Members of the government had deliberately engendered animosity between the two main ethnic groups at the time—Hutu and Tutsi—and strife between Hutu and Tutsi in Burundi had further exacerbated inter-ethnic group relations.
The plane crash killed the occupants of the plane immediately, and that same night, targeted killing of Tutsi and those associated with them began. Over the next 100 days, between 500,000 to 1 million people (estimates of those killed vary widely; the official government figure is slightly over 1 million) were killed in one of the worst genocides of the twentieth century. In addition, over 2 million people fled the country, creating the greatest refugee crisis in history.
It’s important to note that this genocide was not tribal warfare, as much of the Western media portrayed at the time. Rather, decades of colonial history, economic inequalities, and many, many other factors were at play—far too many for me to get into, but I’d be happy to provide some resources for anyone interested.
While the international community was slow to react to the genocide, several post hoc mechanisms were enacted to hold those who planned and participated in the genocide criminally responsible. In late 1994, the United Nations Security Council created an ad-hoc international tribunal, known as the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), to prosecute individuals who were responsible for the genocide and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in Rwanda during 1994.
As the ICTR was created to prosecute those most responsible for the genocide, the Rwandan government sought additional measures for justice and reconciliation within Rwanda. In 2001, the Rwandan Government created Gacaca courts, which were semi-local courts specifically designed to prosecute individuals involved in the genocide. The Gacaca courts were established at all administrative levels and, after several pilot phases, were in operation until their official closure on June 18, 2012.