From the Field

Rwandan genocide: Facts, FAQs, and how to help

In April 1994, when Rwanda erupted into violence, neighbor turned on neighbor, family turned on family, and love turned to hate. The Rwandan genocide turned friends into enemies. The once beautiful country was as ruined as any spot on earth — 800,000 people were brutally slaughtered in 100 days. How could the people of Rwanda ever overcome such hatred and horror? It would take a miracle.

World Vision began relief and development work in war-ravaged Rwanda in 1994. In 1996, when thousands of families began to return to their villages in Rwanda, World Vision started a reconciliation and peacebuilding department. Hostility slowly yielded to faith and forgiveness, restoring communities and relationships.

Explore facts and FAQs about the 1994 Rwandan genocide, and learn how you can help the people of Rwanda today:

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. About 75% of the Tutsi population was killed.


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.


What led to the Rwandan genocide? Who are Hutus and Tutsis?

Under colonial rule, tensions had long simmered between ethnic Hutus, predominantly farmers, and Tutsis, who raise 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, Rwanda 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 Juvenal 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 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 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, the people 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.

Healing Hearts — Rwanda 20 Years Later: Hear the story of two childhood friends separated by genocide, who — with the help of World Vision — ultimately found forgiveness, love, and restoration. Their story is a powerful lens into the Rwandan crisis.


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 up more than half of the population of 11.9 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, 39% 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 empowerment and improvements in health, education, and spiritual growth.

From 2012 to 2017, World Vision brought water and sanitation services to more than 340,000 people in Rwanda. In 2017, we pledged to bring the same services to all World Vision program areas in Rwanda by the end of 2022, and to every person, everywhere we work, by 2030 — a total of 50 million people.


How can I help people in Rwanda?

  • Pray for survivors of the Rwandan genocide and for future generations of Rwandans.
    • Praise God for the reconciliation programs that have brought people back to faith and healed their broken hearts.
    • Pray for children, who are the majority of the population and have no memories of the genocide. Education and economic empowerment programs offer them ways to break the cycle of hostility.
    • Pray for leaders of churches, that these former scenes of slaughter can be redeemed as houses of worship for all Rwandans, united by the love of Christ.
  • Sponsor a child in Rwanda to show the love of Christ to a child in need.
  • Give to our water for Rwanda fund. In our program areas in Rwanda, there are 1 million people who still lack clean water. Together, we can close the gap and bring clean water to 2,000 communities by the end of 2022.


Additional resources on the Rwandan genocide

We recommend the following books for further reading on the Rwandan genocide:

Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust
By Immaculee Ilibagiza

Season of Blood: A Rwandan Journey
By Fergal Keane

A Sunday at the Poor in Kigali
By Gil Courtemanche

We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families: Stories from Rwanda
By Philip Gourevitch

Life Laid Bare: The Survivors in Rwanda Speak
By Jean Hatzfeld

Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak
By Jean Hatzfeld

The Antelope’s Strategy: Living in Rwanda After the Genocide
By Jean Hatzfeld

My Father, Maker of the Trees: How I Survived the Rwandan Genocide
By Eric Irivuzumagabe


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