FAQs: 20 years after the Rwandan genocide

In April 1994, an explosion of ethnic violence in a small East African country resulted in the killing of 800,000 people in 100 days. How could this country, Rwanda, ever overcome such hatred and horror? Read our FAQs for more background on one of the worst genocides in history and the recovery of this shattered nation.

By Kathryn Reid, World Vision U.S.
Published April 2, 2014 at 06:15am PDT

What happened during the 1994 Rwandan genocide?

From April through June 1994, the U.N. estimates that 800,000 Rwandans were brutally slaughtered by fellow citizens in a state-led genocide targeting the Tutsi ethnic group. Seventy-five percent of the Tutsi population (.pdf) was killed.

What led to the Rwandan genocide?

Under colonial rule, tensions had long simmered between ethnic Hutus, predominantly farmers, and Tutsis, who raised cattle. Hutus were in the majority, though Tutsis generally commanded greater wealth and social position.

  • A Hutu uprising in 1959 resulted in a civil war that ended Tutsi domination.
  • In 1962, when Rwanda gained independence from Belgium, 120,000 Rwandans — mostly Tutsis — fled the country. Hutu leaders gained control of Rwanda.
  • Starting in the late 1980s, Rwandan exile groups made political and military moves to repatriate.
  • Peacemaking attempts in 1993 by the United Nations and regional African governments were unsuccessful.
  • On April 6, 1994, Rwanda President Juvénal Habyarimana and Burundi President Cyprien Ntaryamira, both Hutus, were killed in a rocket attack on their airplane while returning from peace negotiations.
  • A 100-day spree of brutal violence immediately ensued, perpetrated mainly by Hutus against Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

What were the conditions in Rwanda after the killing stopped?

The country was devastated; survivors were physically and psychologically damaged. Families were decimated, their homes and communities destroyed.

Up to 2 million people fled the country, including many of the Hutu ethnic group perpetrators. A million people were displaced within the country. Of the survivors, 75,000 were children who lost one or both parents.

What was World Vision’s response to post-genocide humanitarian needs in Rwanda?

World Vision began working in Rwanda in 1994, providing life-giving emergency aid to displaced people and helping them to resettle.

The organization also cared for many children who had lost their parents.

World Vision’s peacebuilding and reconciliation programs laid the foundation on which many lives, families, and communities are being rebuilt today.

How did World Vision help facilitate peace and reconciliation?

World Vision started a reconciliation and peacebuilding program in which all staff were trained to become agents of healing.

The reconciliation process follows a specific model that endures today — a two-week program of sharing intensely personal memories of the genocide, learning new tools to manage deeply painful emotions, and considering a path to forgiveness.

The training had three components — bereavement, dealing with emotions, and forgiveness. Those who had participated in the genocide were brought face to face with, or wrote letters, to those who had been victims.

The approach was replicated all over the country and embraced by the new government. It was often resisted at first and sometimes took years to change hearts, but in case after case, it worked.

What issues are Rwandans facing now, and what is World Vision doing there to make life better for children?

Rwanda is the most densely populated country in continental Africa, and children make more than half of the population (.pdf) of 11.5 million.

HIV and AIDS, malnutrition, and poor maternal and child health are ongoing issues. World Vision helps families and communities to prevent as well as diagnose and treat health problems.

Since the dark days of civil war and genocide, Rwanda has made much progress in terms of its development. However, 45 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. World Vision programs that improve schools and instruction, from primary to secondary and vocational education, are helping build a sustainable future for young Rwandans.

In 21 districts, nearly 85,000 children are registered in World Vision child sponsorship programs that are helping transform communities through economic development and improvements in health, education, and spiritual growth.

Learn more

How you can respond

  • Praise God for the reconciliation that has taken place. See our prayer guide for more ways to pray.
  • Sponsor a child in Rwanda. Your love and support for a boy or girl in need will help deliver basics like nutritious food, clean water, access to education, medical care, and more as communities in this African nation continue to heal and pursue reconciliation two decades after the terrible genocide.

Highlights

What is genocide? Considered the worst crime against humanity, genocide is the planned mass killing of a racial, ethnic, or religious group. The term was first applied, retrospectively, to the Holocaust of World War II, when millions of European Jews were systematically killed.

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