SEATTLE — A timeline of Rwandan ethnic conflict, including the “100 Days of Slaughter” reveals a winding and dramatic path for a small, yet densely populated African country.
The Rwandan ethnic conflict between the Hutus and Tutsis has defined Rwanda’s recent history and continues to impact its politics and governance. When were the seeds of conflict sown? How does a country move beyond mass genocide? Where is Rwanda headed now?
The following timeline outlines pivotal events relating to the Rwandan Genocide and Hutu/Tutsi conflict over the past hundred years.
1918- Following World War I, the colony of Rwanda-Urundi changed hands from German control to Belgian governance. This transition defined Rwanda’s boundaries and populace including groups identified as Hutu, Tutsi, and the minority Twa group.
According to a report by Alison Desforges for Human Rights Watch, when Europeans arrived the term “Tutsi” indicated someone with elite status, typically based on wealth as defined by cattle. In turn, “Hutu” indicated a subordinate member of society or follower of those in power. Desforges describes a pastoral hierarchy similar to feudalism.
The 1920s – Hutu and Tutsi were not considered fixed ethnic identities until the Belgian administration began registering the population and issued identity cards distinguishing the groups. Despite periods of Tutsi dominance, including during Belgian rule, Hutus account for the majority of the population. At this time, 14% of the population declared themselves at Tutsi, 85% as Hutu, and 1% as Twa.
November 1959 – After an ethnic-related incident, the “Hutu Peasant Uprising” began with the Hutus lashing out against the Tutsis in power. Many Tutsis were killed and more displaced. Social upheaval continued for two more years.
July 1962 – Rwanda gained its independence but continued to face internal conflict. A history compiled by the United Nations describes that “a new cycle of Rwandan ethnic conflict and violence continued after independence.” As the Hutus increasingly gained power they oppressed the Tutsis under the same system that had oppressed them.
October 1990 – The Rwandan Patriotic Force, a military led by exiled Tutsis, invaded Rwanda. The Rwandan government responded by filling the airwaves with anti-Tutsi propaganda. Any Tutsis or Hutus in opposition were deemed traitors as the conflict escalated.
October 1993 – The UN Security Council established the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) to ensure the implementation of a peace agreement signed by the Tutsi-led RPF and Rwandan President Habyarimana, a Hutu.
The peacekeeping mission was considered unsuccessful and later evidence collected by the UN demonstrated “that extremist elements of the Hutu majority while talking peace were, in fact, planning a campaign to exterminate Tutsis and moderate Hutus.”
April 1994 – A plane carrying the President of Burundi and President Habyarimana of Rwanda is shot down, killing all aboard. The incident ignited “100 Days of Slaughter” during which extreme Hutus committed acts of genocide against moderate Hutus and Tutsis.
Leaders throughout the country were assassinated and 10 Belgian peacekeepers were killed causing Belgium and other nations to withdraw the majority of peacekeeping forces. The United Nations estimates 800,000 to one million people were killed and 150,000 to 250,000 women were also raped.
July 1994 – The RPF military led by Paul Kagame took control of Rwanda ending the “100 Days of Slaughter.” However, the UN reports retribution killings continued. The RPF declared a ceasefire and established military control of the country, effectively ending the civil Rwandan ethnic conflict and genocide.
November 1994 – The UN Security Council established the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). The ICTR, along with the national court system and the traditional community Gacaca system, began the extensive and highly anticipated process of investigating, prosecuting, and convicting organizers and participants in the Rwandan ethnic conflict that led to genocide.
2000 – Paul Kagame, the former leader of the RPF and Vice President of Rwanda assumes the presidency after President Bizimungu resigned.
December 2015 – Over 90 percent of Rwandan voters approve a referendum to modify the constitution and remove the two-term limit on the presidency. The modification allows Kagame to run for additional terms when his current term ends in 2017.
Several foreign governments, including the United States, have criticized the referendum and questioned Kagame’s intentions following the Rwandan ethnic conflict. The referendum raised awareness about Rwanda’s complicated past, present, and future.
In an article about the referendum, NPR notes Kagame’s “tenure has been marked by stability and relative prosperity” but at the same time the country “has no civic freedom, no free press or political opposition.”
The referendum coincides with the formal closure of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda on December 31st. The ICTR has been praised for upholding international criminal justice but also criticized, especially for its avoidance of crimes committed by the RPF.
During its 11-year tenure, the tribunal indicted 93 people including several high profile convictions such as that of Rwanda’s former Prime Minister Jean Kambanda. Human Rights Watch closely followed the ICTR’s proceedings including the closing ceremony and reported on the remaining loose ends. Human Rights Watch’s International Justice Advocacy Director Geraldine Mattioli-Zeltner said, “The Rwandan genocide does not end with the closure of the ICTR.”