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The Land of a

Thousand Hills

When people think of Africa, some think of Safari's wild animals or of poor and starving people, but the reality of it all is that throughout the continent's history there has been conflict. The conflicts have been a result of countries fighting over substances of value. In 1994 between the months of April and July an estimated 800,000 men, women and children were killed in Rwanda, Africa. The Tutsis suffered the most casualties, by the Hutus. Rwanda had always been a country of disorder, but these numbers are still reeling, especially given the time frame.

The genocide was a set in motion by the death of Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana, who was a Hutu. Habyarimana's plane was shot down on April 6, 1994 by an unknown gunman, resulting in Habyarimana's death. When the natives heard of the attack, rebellion spread throughout the country lasting three months. To say that all of this was started because of Habyarimana's death would be inaccurate, since the country was turbulent for quite some time.

There are two groups of people living in Rwanda, the Tutsi minority and the Hutu majority. There had been ethnic tension between these two groups stemming from the age of imperialism. Ironically, although there is ethnic tension between the group, they are quite similar. They speak the same language, live in the same areas and have many similar customs.

As Belgian colonists began to come to Rwanda in the year 1916, they saw that there was a great degree of separation between the Hutus and the Tutsis. Thus, when they created identification cards for each citizen, one thing indicated on each card was the person's ethnicity. President Habyarimana signed a peace treaty with the RPF in August of 1993, but tensions continued to mount. In April of the following year, he was killed when his plane was shot down by an unknown gunman. Traveling with him were the president of Burundi and several staff members from both administrations. This event would spark the atrocities to come.

As soon as news of the president's death reached the capital, the guard began to retaliate against the Tutsis, believing that whoever had initiated the attack must have been a Tutsi. Also targeted by the attacks were Hutus who were moderate and not adamantly against the Tutsis. The presidential guard also began to distribute propaganda via radio, prompting hoards of Hutus to form the Interahamwe, a militia group whose name means "those who attack together." Over the course of the conflict, the militia group recruited up to 30,000 members.

Military personnel often forced Hutus to kill Tutsis, often bribing them with food, money, or land to persuade them to commit the terrible act. Despite the conflict, Rwanda was mostly left alone by outside forces. The UN troops stationed there even withdrew after ten of their members were killed by rebels.

It was not until July that the RPF was able to capture the capital city of Kigali. Immediately upon doing so, RPF officials declared a ceasefire. At the same time, approximately two million Hutus sought refuge in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to escape punishment for their crimes. A great number of refugees have been declared criminals in the genocide. Soon after the capture of Kigali, UN troops returned to Rwanda. In the same month, a new government was formed, and it promised a safe return to anyone who had fled during the genocide. The government is multi-ethnic, with Pasteur Bizimungu as its president. President Bizimungu is a Hutu, and most of the cabinet members appointed were members of the RPF. Approximately five hundred people have been given a death sentence for participating in the genocide. An additional ten thousand are still in jail, awaiting a sentence. The impact of the genocide in Rwanda lives on today in those whose loved ones were killed, and the killers who still have not been captured.

US Response to Rwanda Genocide

            It is important to note that the US did have a good knowledge of what was going on in Rwanda. Beginning on April 8 th , the massacres of Rwanda were reported daily on the front pages of major newspapers, on the radio, and even on television broadcasts. This information was available to the decision-makers and they knew exactly what was happening when it was happening, they were not told a cleaned-up story of the events. The Clinton Administration, after the reality of Rwanda was publicly accepted, continuously repeated in the media that they did not realize how "serious the genocide" was, and they did not appreciate the intensity and depth of the massacres for the families living there; however, the decision against the US intervening was not based on a lack of knowledge, it was based on what Clinton felt would be the best interest of our nation. Clinton decided not to intervene because it was an internal war, and the US troops should not be wasted trying to solve civil conflicts when they had their own wars to tend to. Basically Clinton felt that what was going on in Rwanda did not directly affect him or anyone else in his nation, so he did not want to waste the money or risk his troops in a place where their presence would not benefit the US. The Clinton Administration never accepted that the events in Rwanda was genocide because accepting it as such would mean that the US would need to act on it, along with the others in the UN, and Clinton would not agree to fight. There were people who begged Clinton to do something, anything, for the Tutsis in Rwanda, but he never agreed. A Rwandan human rights activist, Monique Mujawamariya, whom Clinton had welcomed to the White House in December 1993, begged him to act against the "campaign of genocide against the Tutsis", telling him that the US has a responsibility to act against and prevent genocide. Even Clinton's own House subcommittee on Africa wrote to President Clinton, condemning him, saying that not acting shows a lack of "leadership" and "swift and sound decision-making is needed", yet he stubbornly did not comply.

UN Response to Rwanda Genocide

            Canadian General Romeo Dallaire was a leader of a UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda at the time of the genocide. It has been reported that as early as the month of January, three months prior to the killings, Dallaire faxed the UN headquarters informing them that there were preparations of mass killings. The UN refused him permission to disarm the forces of the Hutus, but they gave him the right to inform the ambassadors of the United States, of France, and of Belgium who resided in the Rwandan capital. Dellaire planned to inform all the ambassadors of the events and decide with them and their nations how to act on it. They would "interview any person having knowledge of the events in question and would enjoy full access to United Nations records, including internal document and cables." Dallaire even planned to set a certain date as to when the inquiry would be finished so it would be certain that these nations would acquire all this information without delay. However, before he began his inquiry he asked the Security Council to confirm that they supported his plans, and although the council president Qin said he expected a positive response (since it was doubtful that any of the other 15 nations would disagree with this serious problem), Boutros Boutros-Ghali, secretary-general, did not inform the council of the fax. Without taking this knowledge into consideration, the council voted to reduce the number of UN forces in Rwanda after hearing reports of the torture and murder of 10 Belgian UN peacekeepers and Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiwimana. They pulled out about 1,730 soldiers, bringing the number of soldiers from 2,000 to about 270. As the depth of the genocide in Rwanda became more and more clear, the UN voted to send out about 5,500 UN troops to Rwanda, but not enough arrived before the massacres ended to actually have an impact on the killings.

The Resolution

On April 7, 2004 former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan delivered a speech in Geneva commemorating the 10th anniversary of the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda. In his speech, Annan announced his future appointment of a Special Advisor on Genocide Prevention. He also launched a plan with five points to prevent genocide. The five point action plan includes:

1) preventing armed conflict genocide, which almost always occurs during times of conflict or war.

2) protection of civilians in armed conflict, which mandates that UN peacekeepers work to protect civilians.

3) ending impunity through judicial action in both national and international courts

4) information gathering and early warning through a UN Special Advisor for Genocide Prevention making recommendations to the UN Security Council on actions to prevent or halt genocide, and

5) swift and decisive action should similar events occur in the future. This can also include military action.

In addition, The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was established by the United Nations Security on November 8, 1994. Thus far, the ICTR has finished 21 trials resulting in the conviction of 28 accused persons.

Vjeko's Resilience

Father Vjeko had been living in Kivumu for ten years at the outset of the killings. When nearly all other immigrants in Rwanda chose to return to their home countries, Father Curic chose to remain in Kivumu, with his parishioners. His mind was made up, and he unwaveringly preached the values of peace and love continuously throughout the genocide. He was also able to provide medical aid to some refugees, in addition to helping many escape the terror.

When the genocide began, refugees rushed into the arms of Father Vjeko from all over Rwanda. Instead of being overwhelmed by this, he did the only thing he felt was possible. He took them in. He hired extra staff at his parish to help everyone, Hutu and Tutsi alike. He even allowed several orphans to live in his own home. He organized co-operative funds to help the especially poor refugees gain financial strength through their numbers.

He openly and adamantly spoke out against the acts of violence, and the Interahamwe threatened him often for preventing them from killing in higher numbers than they already were.

But Father Vjeko's love was universally shown. He was not merely an assistant to Tutsi refugees. He also reached out to Hutus. He helped to fund schools and communities for both Hutus and Tutsis, buildings that still stand in Kivumu today. He oversaw every refugee that came into his parish, and even those at a nearby presbytery, after other priests had fled to Burundi.

Eulade Mugwiza, who had known Vjeko since his arrival in Rwanda, said that Vjeko's efforts had begun as soon as he set foot in Kivumu. The priest strongly supported the construction of a medical center in Kivumu. He also says that people came to Vjeko because word of his kindness and charity had spread throughout the country.

Vjeko risked his own life on countless occasions in his attempts to save potential victims. He would often transport people to the nearby parish of Kabgayi. At one point, he was making the trip from Kivumu to Kabgayi daily. He also took bodies there to be buried, and took living victims to the hospital near the parish. Additional trips made frequently by Fra. Vjeko included trips to Cykaburi to negotiate with the Interahamwe, trips to Bujumbura to buy food for the ever-increasing number of refugees at his parish, and perhaps the most dangerous, his trips across the border to Burundi to smuggle refugees completely out of harm's way.