What is genocide? A definition…
Genocide is an effort to destroy an entire group of people based on their race, religion or ethnicity. The term was invented in 1943 by the Jewish-Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin. He put together the Greek word “genos” (race or tribe) with the Latin word “cide” (to kill).
Dr Lemkin saw first hand the horrors of the Holocaust during World War II. His entire family, except his brother, was killed. In all, six million Jews were murdered between 1939 and 1945, by the Nazi regime.
After the war, Dr Lemkin campaigned to have genocide recognised as a crime under international law. His efforts led to the adoption of the UN Convention on Genocide in December 1948, coming into effect in January 1951.
Less than fifty years later, the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda reminded the world that genocide is still a risk. Preventing it remains a challenge. Studying the risk factors, warning signs and triggers of past genocides is key to understanding how to prevent future ones.
To honour the memory of those who died in the Genocide against Tutsi, and comfort those who survived, we must tell the truth about what happened. Truth is key to understanding the events of 1994. Understanding the genocide will help prevent another, similar atrocity – in Rwanda or elsewhere.
This page was designed to help people learn how and why the 1994 genocide happened. By telling people about the causes and consequences of genocide, we can help prevent it happening again.
We hope to help the world understand its responsibility to protect innocent people at risk. We also hope to help build political will among world leaders to respond when genocide threatens.
Four key facts about the 1994 genocide
The genocide was a carefully planned attempt to wipe out Tutsis in Rwanda. Between 7 April and 4 July 1994, more than one million Rwandans were killed.
By the end of the genocide, more than 80% of the Tutsi population was dead.
Genocide never just happens. It is not spontaneous. The genocide in 1994 was planned and carried out by government and military leaders. It was supported by high-level members of civil society. It was also supported by the Catholic Church, which had promoted Hutu Power beliefs over decades. These groups were against Tutsi refugees returning to Rwanda. The refugees had left Rwanda during previous attacks of mass persecution, beginning in 1959.
The United Nations ignored warnings about the planned genocide. The warnings were repeated and detailed. Still, they failed to act. At this time, the UN Security Council (UNSC) included a Rwandan member of the genocidal government.
The UNSC kept their peacekeeping presence in Rwanda (UNAMIR) to a minimum. UNAMIR asked to be able to seize arms from militia groups, but were denied. They also asked to be able to actively protect the population, but were again denied.
As the genocide ended, the French military led a UN-approved humanitarian campaign. It provided a safe path into neighbouring Zaire (now DRC) for up to two million innocent people.
However, it also allowed government officials and army officers who had planned the genocide to escape. Thousands of ex-soldiers and militia went with them. These people were guilty of mass murder.
Hidden in refugee camps, these groups came together to attack Rwanda. They also plotted to topple the post-genocide government. The instability and violence that still affects the region began here.
Many Hutus who opposed the genocide were also killed. These include politicians and civil leaders, as well as ordinary people. Their sacrifice is honoured on 13 April as part of the annual commemoration.
What is Kwibuka?
Kwibuka means ‘remember’ in Kinyarwanda, Rwanda’s language. It describes the annual commemoration of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
More than one million Rwandans died in the hundred days of the genocide. It was one of human history’s darkest times. Twenty years later we, Rwanda, ask the world to unite to remember the lives that were lost.
We ask the world to come together to support the survivors of the genocide, and to ensure that such an atrocity can never happen again – in Rwanda or elsewhere.
Kwibuka is a series of events taking place in Rwanda and around the world. These events lead up to the national commemoration of the genocide in Rwanda, which begins on 7 April every year. The genocide began on 7 April 1994.
Kwibuka is also a time to learn about Rwanda’s story of reconciliation and nation building.
Taking Kwibuka to the world
Rwanda is looking forward to the next twenty years. We have a vision of hope, dignity and prosperity for our country. The people of Rwanda are working together for the brighter future they deserve. Come together with them to learn about, and commemorate, the Genocide against the Tutsi.
Kwibuka calls on the world to stand against genocide in three key ways:
– To remember: Honouring the memory of those who died. Offering support to those who survived.
– To unite: Rwanda shows that reconciliation through shared human values is possible. We ask the world to do the same.
– To renew: As we build Rwanda anew, we are humbled to share our experiences and learn from others. Let’s create a better world together.
You can join the global conversation about Kwibuka on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.