April 11th 1994

The plane carrying the President of Rwanda Jeve’nal Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira the president of Burundi was shot down as it approached Kigali airport in Rwanda to land. This marked the beginning of one hundred days of bloodshed as 1,150,000 Tutsi and some moderate Hutu lives were destroyed.

The popular radio RTLM immediately blamed the shooting down of the president’s plane as a Tutsi plot and the signal for the commencement of killing was broadcast. “The hour of the Tutsi’s doom has come”


Roadblocks were set up in every street of the capital within hours of the downing of the presidents plane and prevented any Tutsi leaving the capital, Kigali. On the first night key Tutsi and moderate Hutu individuals were assassinated including the Prime Minister Mrs. Agathe Uwilingiyimana. It was en route to protect her that ten Belgian peacekeepers were murdered. Her body was found in the front garden of her house with arms cut off by machete and her body desecrated in unspeakable ways. The President of the Constitutional Court and the Minister of Information were early victims because of their influence and ability to control information flow.

For the first two days most killing was carried out by the Presidential Guard targeting Hutu politicians, businessmen with ties to opposition parties senior civil servants, critical journalists and human rights activists.

Then the Hutu militia and armed forces began systematically killing Tutsis, going from house to house, street to street, killing men, women and children, sparing none.

The Militia

Direct control

Rwanda had long been accustomed to being a highly regulated society. The president had a virtual direct line of contact with all citizens through a system of village organization which was set up to carry out communal works such as road mending, reafforestation and other community enhancing activities. These work parties met regularly, had co-ordinators and participation was compulsory.

President Habyarimana used this structure to spread propaganda enhancing his own standing and his Government’s merits singing praiseworthy songs and having speakers who not only promoted the Government and President, but denounced the Tutsi and conditioned the Hutu populace to devalue Tutsi lives and prepare them for the final solution, the genocide.

Killing teams

These communal work units became the killing teams in all the villages to augment the activities of the militia and army in the larger population centres.

Joint culpability

The genocide was planned in a way to involve all Hutu civilians throughout the country. The intention was through collective involvement, to have a totally implicated society. Militia forced people to kill Tutsis, sometimes their own family members by marriage or be killed themselves.

Sadistic excesses

One of the most distressing factors for survivors was the sadistic means of killing. Tutsis were initially immobilised by cutting of the achilles tendon so that they could be dealt with in less haste. Machete cuts were then usually made at the joints inside the elbow and behind the knee and in several locations on the back and neck which cut the muscle but did not inflict death. The result was a very long and painful death often lasting up to three days and often in the company of whole families or Tutsi victims who sheltered together.

Official killing traps

There were many mass killings, many Tutsis sought shelter in churches, schools and hospitals, they were encouraged to do so as it made the task of the killers easier. In a number of instances groups of between 20,000 to 35.000 Tutsis who had sheltered within Parishes they believed to be safe were systematically killed. One of the most notable mass killings took place at St……. in Kigali where some 2000 Tutsis were gathered. With the complicity of the priest, the doors were locked and the building set on fire and all those lives were lost.

U.N. hamstrung

Similarly a mass killing which was alluded to in the film ‘Hotel Rwanda’ over a thousand Tutsis were sheltering at the Technical College in Kigali where the United Nations Peacekeepers were present. Despite the Hutu militia attempting to get access to the gathered Tutsis, the United Nations forces were ordered to withdraw and again, there was total annihilation of the sheltering Tutsis.

There were many deaths which were far too brutal to be described, where victims were identities in their communities or had for example, deceived the killing parties in a way which enabled the at least temporary escape of their families.

Rape and torture

Females were particularly vulnerable to the combination of power and sadism which appears to have free reign during mass killings with rape being commonplace and often with the use of foreign objects.

Rape was so common that Mediciene Sans Frontiere report that 67% of genocide survivor widows are infected with HIV through rape by knowingly HIV positive militia during the genocide. The background adult HIV infection rate in Rwanda is 13%.

Friends turned killers

Another equally distressing factor was that in many cases Tutsis were killed by life long friends. The tragic irony of a best friend offering to use shooting rather than machete to kill in return for the life savings of the individual to be murdered was a reality.

Killers sometimes apologised to their victims by claiming that the Devil was responsible not themselves.

With us or against us

Hutus were in an unenviable position. If they did not join in killing parties then they were seen to be Tutsi sympathisers and their own lives could be at risk or ostracism from their communities probably a certainty. Many Hutus lived a double existence during the genocide, sheltering Tutsi friends or advising them of where killing parties were going to search each night so that the Tutsi friend could move to safer hiding in the bush. At the same time these very same Hutus would be a part of killing parties of victims who had less personal relationship with the killer.

Heroic exceptions

There were some Hutus however who refused to be a part of killing parties and who did not become victims themselves.

Many if not most Tutsi survivors readily acknowledge that they owe their lives to Hutus who saved their lives by claiming them to be relatives or by hiding them or keeping them informed of killing parties movements.

Twenty days to one hundred

The duration of the genocide varied depending upon location within Rwanda. Whilst the strongest anti Tutsi sentiment is in the north of the country, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, the rebel army which overthrew the militia and armed forces had its home in the Congo also on the Northern border of Rwanda.

At the inception of the genocide the RPF began its offensive against the government and militia and moved progressively southward. Some northern survivors speak of twenty days of genocide. In the south it lasted one hundred days.

The R.P.F. forces were located only a short distance from the capital Kigali as well as having a contingent of 600 troops centred in Kigali who were intended to be a stabilising force and protection to Tutsis involved in the Arusha Accord power sharing procedure which was never in fact initiated.