Twenty years ago today on 6th April 1994 an aircraft belonging to the despotic leader of Rwanda, Juvenal Habyarimana was shot down close to Kigali International Airport in Rwanda. Also on board was the President of Burundi, Cyprien Ntaryamira. Both men died in the crash. The murder of these two political leaders acted as a catalyst for a genocide that in 100 days saw approximately one million Tutsis and Hutus murdered in Rwanda. These deaths followed decades of tension between Hutus and Tutsis, and persecution and discrimination against Tutsis. Extremist Hutu leaders accused Tutsis of killing the President, and Hutu civilians were told by radio and word of mouth that it was their duty to wipe out the Tutsis.
Despite its colossal scale, this genocide was carried out almost entirely by hand, usually using machetes and clubs. The men who had been trained to massacre were members of civilian death squads. The State provided support and organisation – politicians, officials, intellectuals and professional soldiers incited the killers to do their work. Local officials assisted in rounding up victims and making suitable places available for slaughter. Tutsi men, women, children and babies were killed in their thousands in schools and churches. Frequently the killers were people they knew – neighbours, workmates, former friends, sometimes even relatives through marriage. More information is available from this website.
It is hard for us to understand how evil can be allowed to manifest itself so acutely as it did 40 years ago, and it is easy to think of other cases of men behaving inhumanely to their fellow citizens in our history. It is clear that external interference in Rwanda, would not have on its own resolved the issues that led to this appalling bloodlust. The causes went far too deep into the people concerned. The cost of sending troops to places of conflict is always significant, but the cost of working with all nations to strengthen the peacemakers within may actually be harder to understand where the outsider and stranger is deemed to be someone elses concern. As we approach the elections for the European Parliament over the next 6 weeks, the language and tone of the debate is bound to give space for some xenophobic arguments. Let us hope these arguments are defeated in a manner that leaves the dignity of all involved intact.