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Yet the consequences of this genocide, enormous as they are for Rwandans, do not stop at the border of that one small country but spill onto the people of neighboring countries and far beyond. Those living in the region have suffered from subsequent wars of unimaginable cruelty and from the consequences of millions of people in flight, both refugees and killers.

Those further from Rwanda pay the price of their failure to protect others, both in guilty consciences and in the material costs of humanitarian aid and assistance in rebuilding shattered societies. The Rwandan genocide forced us to confront the massive killing of civilians in a way we had not done for fifty years. Throughout the second half of the twentieth century, we had seen ordinary people deliberately slain in many conflicts, but not since the Holocaust had we seen civilians massacred so rapidly, so systematically, and with such a blatantly genocidal objective.

And yet national governments and international institutions refused to intervene, backing away from a crisis that was politically complex but morally simple. As the extent of the catastrophe became increasingly clear, the international community was forced to reconsider its ideas and practices in the realm of international justice and in the protection of civilians in times of conflict.

Through these changes international institutions may regain some of the credibility lost by their inaction during the genocide. In , the United Nations Security Council established the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to judge those who had once been permitted to kill without hindrance. By doing so, it sought to provide justice for the crimes of the immediate past and also spurred the development of judicial precedents for the prosecuting genocides of the future, no longer unimaginable as they had been a year before.

Eight years later, the International Criminal Court was created to sanction and hopefully to deter genocide as well as other grave violations of international humanitarian law. In addition, several governments adopted laws permitting prosecution of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity in their own courts.

Belgium and Switzerland prosecuted and convicted persons accused of genocide and war crimes in Rwanda in and at least two other countries are investigating such crimes and may prosecute them. Conscious of their own culpability for not halting the genocide, many national and international leaders apologized to the Rwandan people. The UN and the Organization of African Unity as well as the French National Assembly and the Belgian Senate held inquiries about the events, hoping that understanding the past would make it easier to prevent such tragedies in the future.

Unwilling to confront its own responsibility, the United States did not investigate its past record but instead funded social scientists to develop models to predict when and where genocides might occur in the future. But foreseeing catastrophe does no good without the will to act and a strategy for action. The Security Council too has focused on the protection of civilians, particularly women and children, in conflict situations, increasingly acknowledging that such protection is central to its responsibility for the management of peace and security around the world.

At a meeting in Sweden in where delegates of various states renewed their pledges to prevent and halt genocide, the UN Secretary General proposed establishing a post of special rapporteur to bring information on possible genocides to the Security Council. Recommendations from such a special rapporteur could serve as the mechanism to trigger UN intervention. More promising than all the reports and pronouncements have been the cases where international actors intervened to stop the killing of civilians. In UN peacekeepers in Ituri, in the northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, proved unable to prevent ethnically-based killing of civilians.

As in Rwanda in , the UN troops were too few and their mandate too restricted to permit effective action. But rather than turn away from the situation as they had before, European nations sent in a European Union force under French leadership.

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These troops secured the main town, providing a safe haven for the threatened, until a stronger UN force with a more robust mandate arrived to replace them. If the Rwanda genocide had positive consequences elsewhere in spurring action to avert genocide, its impact in Rwanda and the surrounding region has been devastatingly negative. Since there has been widespread conflict in central Africa: a serious uprising in northwestern Rwanda, two major wars in the neighboring Congo and ten years of civil war in Burundi.

In all nearly four million civilians have likely died as a direct or indirect result of military activity in the region since The genocide has cast its shadow over all these conflicts, spinning actors in directions they would not otherwise have taken and coloring the analysis of events by the international community. Both local and international actors claim genocide or the need to prevent genocide to cover other political and economic objectives. In local Congolese conflicts, such as that in Ituri, contenders seeking foreign support charge each other with genocide, an accusation that would not have been made before Even after the RPF victory in July , the victors and losers could not behave like parties in any ordinary war: neither side could shake loose from the genocide.

The defeated officials and officers who had led the killing campaign had convinced themselves and those under their sway that the Tutsi were an enemy to fight to the death. They knew too that most of the world believed them guilty of genocide and they feared being punished for their crimes if they remained in Rwanda. The RPF well understood the threat posed by the former authorities and were equally determined to eliminate the rest of their forces.

Sure of their moral high ground, the RPF would also continue to refuse dealings with opposition movements abroad, grouping them all with the authorities responsible for the genocide. The Rwandan genocide influenced significantly the nature and intensity of two subsequent wars in the Congo. One of these wars ousted Sese Seko Mobuto, one of the longest-reigning dictators in Africa, and opened the way for Rwanda to establish its influence over Congolese politics, an influence that continues today, welcomed by some but unwelcome to most Congolese.


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In mid officials of the former government, soldiers, and militia fled to the Congo, leading more than a million Rwandans into exile. They carried with them their ideology of Hutu supremacy and many of their weapons. They sought the support of local Congolese people as well as of the government, hoping to broaden their base for continued resistance against the RPF.

This "Bantu" ideology — and the RPF determination to counter it — formed the framework for much of the military conflict in the region for the next ten years. Rwanda wanted to eliminate any possible threat from the former Rwandan army and militia who were re-organizing and re-arming in refugee camps in eastern Congo.

Uganda sought greater political influence and control over resources in the region. Together with their Congolese allies, the Rwandan and Ugandan troops moved rapidly westward, at first hunting down the remnants of the Rwandan Hutu from the refugee camps — combatants and civilians alike — but then setting another objective, that of overturning Mobuto and his government.

They succeeded, but in the new Congolese government, led by Laurent Desire Kabila, turned against its former supporters. Kabila told the Rwandan and Ugandan troops to go home, thus provoking a new war. This second Congo war at one point involved seven African nations and a host of rebel movements and other local armed groups, all fighting to control the territory and vast wealth of the Congo.

Casualties among civilians were enormous, from lack of food, medical care, and clean water as well as from direct attack by the various forces. The real nature of this war, like that of the first, was for a long time disguised by the references to the genocide. In demanding a return to national sovereignty Congolese officials spoke in anti-Tutsi language and crowds in Kinshasa killed Tutsi on the streets. Rwanda sought to justify making war by claiming the need to eliminate perpetrators of the genocide who were operating in eastern Congo with the support of the Congolese government.

Rwandan authorities continued to stress this supposed security threat from the other side of the border long after the numbers and resources of the former Rwandan army and militia had diminished and their members were widely scattered. In and , in the hiatus between the two Congo wars, soldiers and militia of the genocidal government, supported by thousands of new recruits, crossed from the Congo and led an insurrection in northwestern Rwanda.

The RPF forces suppressed the rebellion at the cost of tens of thousands of lives, many of them civilians who happened to live in the area. A substantial number of the rebel combatants had not taken part in the genocide and seemed more focused on overturning the government than on hunting down Tutsi civilians, but others continued to harbor genocidal intentions and singled out Tutsi to be attacked and killed. Events in Burundi, a virtual twin to Rwanda in demographic terms, first influenced and then were influenced by the Rwandan genocide. Burundi was already immersed in its own crisis with widespread ethnic slaughter in late These killings, as well as international indifference to them, spurred genocidal planning in Rwanda.

After April Burundians viewed with horror the massacres of others of their own ethnic group in Rwanda, Tutsi identifying with victims of the genocide and Hutu identifying with those killed by RPF forces. Burundian Tutsi and Hutu feared and distrusted each other more because of the slaughter in Rwanda and each group vowed that its members would not be the next victims. Former Rwandan soldiers and militia at times joined Burundian Hutu rebel forces, bringing them military expertise and reinforcing their anti-Tutsi ideas.

RPF soldiers on occasion came south to help the Burundian army prevent a victory by Hutu rebels. Within Rwanda the RPF used the pretext of preventing a recurrence of genocide to suppress the political opposition, refusing to allow dissidents to organize new political parties and eliminating an existing party that could potentially have challenged the RPF in national elections.

In presidential and legislative elections, the RPF came close to asserting that a vote for others was a vote for genocide — past or future. With such a campaign theme and with a combination of intimidation and fraud, the RPF re-affirmed its dominance of political life. In the years just after the end of the genocide, many international leaders supported the RPF as if hoping thus to compensate for their failure to protect Tutsi during the genocide.

Even when confronted with evidence of widespread and systematic killing of civilians by RPF soldiers in Rwanda and in the Congo, most hesitated to criticize these abuses. Not only did they see the RPF as the force that had ended the genocide but they also saw all opponents of the RPF as likely to be perpetrators of genocide, an assessment that was not accurate either in or later. So long as the parties were defined this way, international leaders acquiesced in — or even actively supported — the RPF activities in the Congo.

Similarly international actors frequently tolerated RPF limits on civil and political freedom inside Rwanda, readily conceding the RPF argument that the post-genocidal context justified restrictions on the usual liberties. As the ten years after the genocide drew to a close, the international community moderated its support of the current Rwandan government and exerted considerable pressure to obtain withdrawal of its troops from the Congo. Some international leaders began to question the tight RPF control within Rwanda; diplomats and election observers from the European Union and the United States noted abuses of human rights that marred the elections.

Despite these signs of growing international concern, the RPF-led government appeared firmly seated for the near future.

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Whether it will be able to assure long-term stability and genuine reconciliation may depend on its ability to distinguish between legitimate dissent and the warning signs of another genocide. Human Rights Watch reissues this book — substantially the same as the original printing — to ensure that a detailed history of the genocide remains available to readers. Since its first publication in English and French, the book has appeared in German and will shortly be published in Kinyarwanda, the language of Rwanda. The horrors recorded here must remain alive in our heads and hearts; only in that way can we hope to resist the next wave of evil.

The sweetly sickening odor of decomposing bodies hung over many parts of Rwanda in July on Nyanza ridge, overlooking the capital, Kigali, where skulls and bones, torn clothing, and scraps of paper were scattered among the bushes; at Nyamata, where bodies lay twisted and heaped on benches and the floor of a church; at Nyarubuye in eastern Rwanda, where the cadaver of a little girl, otherwise intact, had been flattened by passing vehicles to the thinness of cardboard in front of the church steps; on the shores of idyllic Lake Kivu in western Rwanda, where pieces of human bodies had been thrown down the steep hillside; and at Nyakizu in southern Rwanda, where the sun bleached fragments of bone in the sand of the schoolyard and, on a nearby hill, a small red sweater held together the ribcage of a decapitated child.

In the thirteen weeks after April 6, , at least half a million people perished in the Rwandan genocide, perhaps as many as three quarters of the Tutsi population. At the same time, thousands of Hutu were slain because they opposed the killing campaign and the forces directing it. The killers struck with a speed and devastation that suggested an aberrant force of nature, "a people gone mad," said some observers. The nation of some seven million people encompassed three ethnic groups.

The Twa, were so few as to play no political role, leaving only Hutu and Tutsi to face each other without intermediaries.

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The Hutu, vastly superior in number, remembered past years of oppressive Tutsi rule, and many of them not only resented but feared the minority. In addition, Rwanda was one of the poorest nations in the world and growing poorer, with too little land for its many people and falling prices for its products on the world market. Food production had diminished because of drought and the disruptions of war: it was estimated that , people would need food aid to survive in But this genocide was not an uncontrollable outburst of rage by a people consumed by "ancient tribal hatreds.

This genocide resulted from the deliberate choice of a modern elite to foster hatred and fear to keep itself in power. This small, privileged group first set the majority against the minority to counter a growing political opposition within Rwanda.

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Then, faced with RPF success on the battlefield and at the negotiatingtable, these few powerholders transformed the strategy of ethnic division into genocide. They believed that the extermination campaign would restore the solidarity of the Hutu under their leadership and help them win the war, or at least improve their chances of negotiating a favorable peace.

They seized control of the state and used its machinery and itsauthority to carry out the slaughter. Like the organizers, the killers who executed the genocide were not demons nor automatons responding to ineluctable forces.

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They were people who chose to do evil. Tens of thousands, swayed by fear, hatred, or hope of profit, made the choice quickly and easily. They were the first to kill, rape, rob and destroy. They attacked Tutsi frequently and until the very end, without doubt or remorse. Many made their victims suffer horribly and enjoyed doing so.