Genocide in Rwanda


This post has been written by Kabeer Kalwani, a first year law student from Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur.


Before 1944 the term “genocide” did not exist. The charter of United Nations had expressed the Desirability of promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.1

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 laid down a number of rights as a common standard of achievements of all peoples and for all nations..2

In 1948 the United Nations approved the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. This Convention establishes “genocide” as an international crime, which signatory nations “undertake to prevent and punish.”3


 Genocide is the intentional action to destroy a people (usually defined as an ethnic, national, racial, or religious group) in whole or in part. The hybrid word is a combination of génos (“race, people”) and -cide (“to kill”).The United Nations Genocide Convention defines it as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethical, racial or religious group”.

The wholesale killing was done by Germany under the National Socialist regime during the Second World War and as a result of which it became necessary to enact rules so that such acts may not be repeated.


The General Assembly as early as in 1946, began the process of formulating a convention on genocide. It adopted a resolution in 1946 wherein it unanimously declared the genocide- the killing of a group of human beings – is crime under International Law. The Assembly on December 9, 1948 adopted the Convention on Prevention and Punishment of Genocide which came into force on January 12, 1951. As on February 3, 2016, the Convention had 147 state parties. The main purpose of convention was to prevent and punish the Genocide.


 Preamble of the convention stated that genocide is a crime under international law. It is contrary to the spirits and aims of UN and is condemned by civilised world.8

Article 3defines the crimes that can be punished under the convention:

  • Genocide;
  • Conspiracy to commit genocide;
  • Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;
  • Attempt to commit genocide
  • Complicity in

Article 4 – Persons committing genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in Article 3 shall be punished, whether they are constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials or private individuals.

Article 6 – Persons charged with genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in Article 3 shall be tried by a competent tribunal of the State in the territory of which the act was committed, or by such international penal tribunal as may have jurisdiction with respect to those Contracting Parties which shall have accepted its jurisdiction.

Article 9 – Disputes between the Contracting Parties relating to the interpretation, application or fulfilment of the present Convention, including those relating to the responsibility of a State for genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in Article 3, shall be submitted to the International Court of Justice at the request of any of the parties to the dispute.

Article 33 of International Criminal Court Superior orders and prescription of law

  1. The fact that a crime within the jurisdiction of the Court has been committed by a person pursuant to an order of a Government or of a superior, whether military or civilian, shall not relieve that person of criminal responsibility unless:
  • The person was under a legal obligation to obey orders of the Government or the superior in question;
  • The person did not know that the order was unlawful; and
  • The order was not manifestly
  1. For the purposes of this article, orders to commit genocide or crimes against humanity are manifestly. Genocide, shall not be regarded as political crimes for the purpose of extradition, and therefore States shall not refuse to extradite a person committing genocide on grounds of political crimes.

PENALTIES : penalties for a person guilty of genocide are not stated under the Convention. The Convention has provided that contracting parties shall enact necessary legislation to provide effective penalties. The expression effective penalties has not been elaborated. The parties undertake to enact, in accordance with their respecting constitutions.

CUSTOMARY LAW : The Genocide Convention over the years has developed into a norm of customary international law and it is universally recognized by the international community that the rule prohibiting genocide has attained the status of jus cognes. It therefore has peremptory status and applies to all members of international community.

ADVISORY OPINION : Prevention of genocide requires early warning and early action. In order to prevent acts of genocide, in July 2004, the Secretary – General appointed a Special Advisor, with a small but highly professional staff to assist him. The Special advisor has described his office as a focal point for early warning information coming from inside or outside the UN system. Early warning information is likely to prevent genocide more effectively.


 Rwanda, a central African country. Rwanda is composed of three main ethnic groups: Hutu, Tutsi and Twa. Nearly 85% of the population identified as Hutu, making it the majority group in Rwanda. Tutsi comprised 14% of the population and Twa made up 1%.

Part of German East Africa from 1897 to 1918, Rwanda became a Belgium trusteeship under a League of Nations mandate after World War I, along with neighboring Burundi.

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 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.

Ethnically motivated violence continued in the years following independence.  In 1973, a military group installed Major General Juvenal Habyarimana, a moderate Hutu, in power.

The sole leader of Rwandan government for the next two decades, Habyarimana founded a new political party, the National Revolutionary Movement for Development (NRMD). 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. 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.

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.


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. ( Some have blamed Hutu extremists, while others blamed leaders of the RPF.)

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.

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. 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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 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.


1.The effect that the genocide posed on the people of Rwanda is immeasurable 2.The people were tortured and terrorized as they saw those they love die and feared the loss of their own life.

  1. It is estimated that nearly 100,000 children were orphaned, abducted or abandoned.
  2. More than 67% women who were raped were infected with HIV/AIDS.
  3. 26% of the Rwandan population still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder today.


Rwanda went through a lot of hardships in the past twenty years but they have seemed to have come through and are starting to make changes that will rebuild the country in a better way. The schools are still not to the standard of what we have but they have a school with teachers and books in tents.One out of every five children dies before their fifth birthday. The Tutsi still think of themselves as superior to the Hutu clan but not to the extent of genocide. The people of Rwanda live on two dollars a day, plus Rwanda is ranked 158 out of 177 countries on a list of the best country for a mother to live in.


It is said that history repeats itself, and the Rwandan Genocide is just another example of how humanity tends to fall into a pattern of war and elucidation. After the genocide ended, government leaders visited multiple key areas in Rwanda and witnessed for themselves the pain and suffering that occured in the country. Only then did many of them realize that much more could have been done on their part to support and prevent the mass murder and traumatization of the people. Now, it is our duty to enlighten and educate others about the consequences of hostilities, so that one day the knowledge may be harnessed to further inspire and encourage future world leaders to prevent such a tragedy like the Rwandan Genocide from ever happening again.



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