Home » The 1994 genocide in Rwanda

The 1994 genocide in Rwanda

The genocide that took place in Rwanda in April – July 1994 was one of the most intense killing campaigns in human history. It was orchestrated by extremist Hutus in the Rwandan government, and launched right after the assassination of the comparatively moderate Rwandan President Habyarimana who was Hutu but had recently agreed to a peace-accord that angered the Hutu extremists. Exactly which side in the conflict that ordered the murder of the president remains unknown, and both sides immediately accused the other of being the culprit.

This genocide had a strong gendercide-component, as the targets where overwhelmingly male. The main target for the killers were Tutsi males and older boys, but moderate Hutu males (i.e. non-extremists who had supported the peace-accord) were also sought out and killed. Women, both Tutsis and moderate Hutus, were also killed, but to a much lesser extent. Instead, targeted women were more likely to be punished through sexual violence and mutilations.

In early 1994, the Tutsi minority constituted an estimated 8-14% of the total population of Rwanda. How many of them that were killed during the genocide is difficult to determine with any certainty.

“Because of the chaotic nature of the genocide, the total number of people killed has never been systematically assessed, but most experts believe the total was around 800,000 people. This includes about 750,000 Tutsis and approximately 50,000 politically moderate Hutus who did not support the genocide. (…) Only about 130,000 Tutsis survived the massacres.” (Source: Gérard Prunier, “The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide”, Columbia University Press, 1995, p. 261.)

According to Alan J. Kuperman, the number of killed Tutsis were lower than this. He alleges that the number of Tutsis actually living in Rwanda at the outbreak of the genocide was lower than generally assumed, and that is why some researchers gets the death estimate wrong. According to Kuperman, “(…) an estimated 500,000 Rwandan Tutsi were killed, or more than three-quarters of their population. (…) The number of Hutu killed during the genocide and civil war is even less certain, with estimates ranging from 10,000 to well over 100,000.” (Source: Alan J. Kuperman, “Genocide in Rwanda and the Limits of Humanitarian Military Intervention,” unpublished paper, 2000; see also Kuperman, “Rwanda in Retrospect,” Foreign Affairs, January/February 2000.)

When the Rwandan government released the results of a major census in February 2002, they said that 1,074,017 people were killed in the the genocide and during its prelude, i.e. in 1990-1994. They also said that Tutsis accounted for 94% of the murder victims. (Source: “More Than One Million Rwandans Killed in 1990’s,” Associated Press dispatch, February 14, 2002.)

Gender-selective practises were also evident in the avenge killings carried out by Tutsi-led RPF guerrilla groups in response to the attacks on Tutsis.


The division between Hutu and Tutsi

The Republic of Rwanda is a landlocked country situated a few degrees south of the equator in Africa´s Great Rift Valley. In the 15th century CE, clans living here began organizing into kingdoms. By 1700 there were eight kingdoms here, including the Kingdom of Rwanda headed by the Tutsi Nyiginya clan. Tutsis were primarily cattle-raisers, while the other main ethnic group in the region – the Hutus – were primarily farmers.

In the mid-1800s, the Kingdom of Rwanda became increasingly dominant, and it reached its greatest extent during the reign of King Kigeli IV Rwabugiri. This king, who reigned in 1853-1895, conquered several smaller states and enforced two traditional system named ubuhake and uburetwa. Based around cattle distribution, ubuhake had several similarities to European feudalism. Uburetwa was a corvée system in which Hutu individuals were forced to work for Tutsi chiefs. Uburetwa affected a much larger segment of the population than ubuhake, and the Tutsi monarchy used uburetwa to centralize control of the land in a system called igikingi.

Unsurprisingly, Tutsi domination and the enforcement of ubuhake, uburetwa and igikingi contributed to a rift between the Hutu and Tutsi peoples. Still, the ethnic divisions were not rigid and the two populations were not different tribes in a very strict sense of the word. It was for instance possible for a Hutu to become a honorary Tutsi.

It is often remarked that the violence between Hutus and Tutsis goes back to time immemorial and can never be averted, but Belgian records show that in fact there was a strong sense among Rwandans (…) of belonging to a Rwandan nation, and that before around 1960, violence [along] ethnic lines was uncommon and mass murder of the sort seen in 1994 was unheard of.” (Source: Stephen D. Wrage, “Genocide in Rwanda: Draft Case Study for Teaching Ethics and International Affairs,” unpublished paper, 2000.)

European colonization

During European colonization of Africa, the territory we today know as Rwanda became a part of German East Africa, in accordance with the Berlin Conference of 1884.

German colonization of Rwanda began in earnest in 1894, but did not interfere much with the social structure of Rwanda, as the Germans supported the local king and the existing hierarchy. In 1916 (during World War I), Belgian forces took control of Rwanda and nearby Burundi and governed “Ruanda-Urundi” as a League of Nations mandate.

Belgian colonization differed from the German one, as the Belgian´s imposed a period of more direct colonial rule. The Belgian´s simplified and centralized the power structure, and embarked on large-scale agricultural and educational projects to reduce famines and improve the economy.

Just like the Germans before them, the Belgians promoted Tutsi supremacy, and just like a long row of invaders throughout history they also believed strongly in the strategy of “divide and conquer”. Accordingly, the Belgians granted preferential status to the Tutsis (who were a minority in Rwanda).

Using physical characteristics as a guide — the Tutsi were generally tall, thin, and more ‘European’ in their appearance than the shorter, stockier Hutu — the colonizers decided that the Tutsi and the Hutu were two different races. According to the racial theories of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Tutsi, with their more ‘European’ appearance, were deemed the ‘master race’ (…) By 1930 Belgium’s Rwandan auxiliaries were almost entirely Tutsi, a status that earned them the durable hatred of the Hutu.” (Gérard Prunier, “Rwanda’s Struggle to Recover from Genocide,” Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 99.)

In the 1930s, new identification cards were introduced in Rwanda which labelled each holder as either Tutsi, Hutu, Twa, or Naturalised. This put an end to the old and more fluent system where it had been possible for a wealthy Hutu to become a honorary Tutsi.

Struggle for independence

After World War II, the struggle for independence and de-colonization of Rwanda was headed by the Tutsis, who were both wealthier and better educated than the Hutus. As a result of this, the Belgians switched their allegiance from the Tutsis to the Hutus. (The Twa were so few that they did not make much of a politically difference.) In 1959 and 1962, Hutus murdered circa 15,000 Tutsis and over 100,000 Tutsis fled to nearby countries, such as Uganda and Burundi.

Independence and subsequent tensions

Rwanda became independent from Belgium in 1962.

Under the regime of Juvénal Habyarimana, who in 1973 had become the young republic´s second president, the remaining Tutsis in Rwanda lost most of their wealth and status, and an estimated 1 million Tutsis left the country.

After 1986, Tutsis living in Uganda formed the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), with the aim of overthrowing the Habyarimana regime. In 1990 RPF occupied parts of north-eastern Rwanda, and in August 1993 President Habyarimana accepted an internationally-mediated peace treaty which granted the RPF some political power and a military presence in the capital Kigali. The United Nations launched the Assistance Mission to Rwanda and sent approximately 5,000 peacekeepers.

But Hutu extremists in [Habyarimana’s] government did not accept the peace agreement. Some of these extremists, who were high-level government officials and military personnel, had begun devising their own solution to the ‘Tutsi problem’ as early as 1992. Habyarimana’s controversial decision to make peace with the RPF won others over to their side, including opposition leaders. Many of those involved in planning the 1994 genocide saw themselves as patriots, defending their country against outside aggression. Moderate Hutus who supported peace with the RPF also became their targets.” (Source: Gérard Prunier, “Rwanda’s Struggle to Recover from Genocide,” Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 99.)

What was Hutu Power?

Hutu Power was a racist and ethno-supremacist ideology adhered to by the Hutu extremists that orchestrated the 1994 genocide. The group of political parties and movements that had strong ties to this ideology included Akazu, the Coalition for the Defence of the Republic and its Impuzamugambi paramilitary militia, and the governing National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development and its Interahamwe paramilitary militia.

The Hutu Ten Commandments, released by Hassan Ngeze in 1990, served as the backbone for the ideology. Among other things, the commandments called for exclusive Hutu leadership over Rwanda´s public institutions, complete segregation of Hutus from Tutsis, and complete exclusion of Tutsis from public life.

The assassination of President Habyarimana

On April 6, 1994, the private Falcon 50 jet plane in which President Habyarimana of Rwanda and President Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi were travelling was hit by a surface-to-air missile not far from Kigali International Airport. The plane crashed on the grounds of the presidential residence and none of the twelve people on board survived. One of the dead was the Chief of Staff of the Rwandan military.

Who was behind the attack has still not been unveiled. At the time, Hutu Power-controlled media reported that RPF leader Paul Kagame had ordered the missile attack. The RPF denied responsibility, and instead accused militant Hutus from Habyarimana´s own party of having killed their own president to provoke anti-Tutsi outrage in Rwanda and seize control of the country.

The Genocide of April-July 1994

It started in Kigali

The genocide commenced very quickly after the assassination of President Habyarimana and was carried out in a very efficient manner. Within 24 hours of the plane going down, roadblocks were in place around the capital Kigali, staffed by Hutu militia called interahamwe. Later reports have noted that this could indicate that Hutu extremist had already planned the genocide.

Tutsis were separated from Hutus, a process made easier by the fact that Rwandan identity cards still displayed that information. Still, many taller Hutus were killed by Hutus who believed they were Tutsis.

The most common method of killing was to hack people to death with machetes and leave them along the roads.

“Doing murder with a machete is exhausting, so the militias were organized to work in shifts. At the day’s end, the Achilles tendons of unprocessed victims were sometimes cut before the murderers retired to rest, to feast on the victims’ cattle and to drink. Victims who could afford to pay often chose to die from a bullet.” (Source: Stephen D. Wrage, “Genocide in Rwanda: Draft Case Study for Teaching Ethics and International Affairs,” unpublished paper, 2000.)

Moderate Hutus are killed too

Certain death-squads working in Kigali had lists prepared for each neighbourhood they visited. In addition to killing Tutsis, they killed Hutus who were deemed moderate and guilty of having supported the peace-accord. One of the Hutus killed was Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana, also known as Madame Agathe. From the time of President Habyarimana´s death at around 08:30 pm to her own death approximately 14 hours later, she had been Rwanda´s constitutional head of state and government.

Uwilingiyimana´s home was guarded by ten Belgian and five Ghanaian U.N. peacekeepers, and the Rwandian presidential guard. In the morning, the Rwandian presidential guard surrounded the U.N. peacekeepers and told them to lay down their arms. After roughly two hours, the peacekeepers complied. Uwilingiyimana and her husband were hiding, but came out of hiding in an effort to save their children. Both were killed by the presidential guard. Later, Uwilingiyimana´s body was found naked, shot point-blank in the head, and with a beer bottle inserted into her vagina. The peacekeepers were also found dead. Uwilingiyimana´s children survived, and were eventually resettled in Europe. (Source: U.N Commander Roméo Dallaire, “Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda”, Random House Canda, 2003)

As intended, the brutal killings of the Belgian peacekeepers resulted in Belgium withdrawing its U.N. troops from Rwanda.

The genocide expands from Kigali

With surprising quickness, the genocide expanded from Kigali to the countryside. Over the government-controlled radio, Tutsis were told that stadiums, schools and churches would serve as safe places for civilians and encouraged them to seek shelter there. This was a plot to make the Tutsis congregate.

Amazingly, some groups of unarmed Tutsis managed to protect themselves from local Hutu extremists for days or even weeks, using sticks and stones as rudimentary weapons. Ultimately, their resistance was futile as the heavily armed Rwandan army or presidential guard arrived to eliminate them with machine-guns and grenades.

By April 21, just two weeks after the death of President Habyarimana, an estimated 250,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus had been killed in Rwanda. In his 1998 book, Philip Gourevitch notes that “the dead of Rwanda accumulated at nearly three times the rate of Jewish dead during the Holocaust.” (Source: Philip Gourevitch, “We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda”, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998, p. 3.)

According to Human Rights Watch, the worst massacres had finished by the end of April, but the genocide continued.

The change in structure represented by “civilian self defense” was paralleled by a change in tactics, a shift from the open and often large-scale killing that had characterized the first weeks of the genocide to a less public, smaller-scale approach to eliminating Tutsi. Instead of attacking sizable concentrations of Tutsi, such as those at churches in Kigali, assailants came in squads, night after night, to take away small numbers to be executed elsewhere. In May and June, authorities transported some groups of Tutsi to less accessible sites. They sent people from the Cyangugu stadium, for example, to the remote Nyarushishi camp and moved other groups back to their home communes, presumably with the intention of slaughtering them with less attention. The cut off in massive slaughter was neither immediate nor total: massacres, begun later in Butare, were continuing even as the new policy was being broadcast and horrible, if less frequent, attacks were launched elsewhere in May and June. But, in general, the worst massacres had finished by the end of April.” (Source: Human Rights Watch, “Leave None to Tell the Story:
Genocide in Rwanda”; section Extending the Genocide, March 1999, ISBN 1-56432-171-1)

Gender aspects

Even though both men and women of various backgrounds were killed during the genocide, Tutsi men made up the bulk of the dead.

Throughout the genocide, it was Tutsi men who were the primary target.” (Ronit Lentin, “Introduction: (En)gendering Genocides,” in Lentin, ed., Gender & Catastrophe, Zed Books, 1997, p. 12.)

Judy El-Bushra has written about how women were more likely to be raped and mutilated instead of killed during the war of 1994.

During the war of 1994, and particularly as a result of the genocidal massacres which precipitated it, it was principally the men of the targeted populations who lost their lives or fled to other countries in fear. (…) This targeting of men for slaughter was not confined to adults: boys were similarly decimated, raising the possibility that the demographic imbalance will continue for generations. Large numbers of women also lost their lives; however, mutilation and rape were the principal strategies used against women, and these did not necessarily result in death.” (Source: Judy El-Bushra, “Transformed Conflict: Some Thoughts on a Gendered Understanding of Conflict Processes,” in Susie Jacobs et al., eds., States of Conflict: Gender, Violence and Resistance, Zed Books, 2000, p. 73.)

This gender-component was already evident in the numerous smaller-scale massacres carried out during the four years leading up to the 1994 events. According to Human Rights Watch, these massacres targeted almost exclusively Tutsi males, as they were suspected of either being RPF members or having the potential to join. (Source: Human Rights Watch, “Mid-May Slaughter: Women and Children as Victims,”in Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda.)

Trends and changes observed in 1994

When it comes to gender-selection, several trends can be seen in the genocide of 1994.

  • In the massacres that took place prior to the death of the Rwandan president, adult males or older boys were almost always the targets, and this bias was still in force during the earliest stages of the 1994 genocide.
  • In the later stages of the 1994 genocide, killing women, girls and young boys became less unusual.

“In the past Rwandans had not usually killed women in conflicts and at the beginning of the genocide assailants often spared them. When militia had wanted to kill women during an attack in Kigali in late April, for example, Renzaho [a principal leader of the genocide] had intervened to stop it. Killers in Gikongoro told a woman that she was safe because ‘Sex has no ethnic group.’ The number of attacks against women [from mid-May onwards], all at about the same time, indicates that a decision to kill women had been made at the national level and was being implemented in local communities.” (Source: Human Rights Watch, Alison Des Forges, “Mid-May Slaughter: Women and Children as Victims,”in Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda.)

Sexual assault against women

In a report regarding sexual violence during the Rwandan Genocide, Human Rights Watch notes how rape and other forms of sexual attacks were extremely common.


(…) testimonies from survivors confirm that rape was extremely widespread and that thousands of women were individually raped, gang-raped, raped with objects such as sharpened sticks or gun barrels, held in sexual slavery (either collectively or through forced “marriage”) or sexually mutilated. These crimes were frequently part of a pattern in which Tutsi women were raped after they had witnessed the torture and killings of their relatives and the destruction and looting of their homes. According to witnesses, many women were killed immediately after being raped. Other women managed to survive, only to be told that they were being allowed to live so that they would “die of sadness.” Often women were subjected to sexual slavery and held collectively by a militia group or were singled out by one militia man, at checkpoints or other sites where people were being maimed or slaughtered, and held for personal sexual service. The militiamen would force women to submit sexually with threats that they would be killed if they refused. These forced “marriages,” as this form of sexual slavery is often called in Rwanda, lasted for anywhere from a few days to the duration of the genocide, and in some cases longer. Rapes were sometimes followed by sexual mutilation, including mutilation of the vagina and pelvic area with machetes, knives, sticks, boiling water, and in one case, acid.” (Source: Human Rights Watch, “Shattered Lives: Sexual Violence During the Rwandan Genocide and its Aftermath”, 1996)

Among those Tutsi women who survived these attacks, many later tested positive for HIV.

I was raped by so many interahamwe and soldiers that I lost count,” the survivor Olive Uwera is quoted saying in an 2001 article in The Guardian.”I was in hospital for a year afterwards. A few months after my child was born the doctors told me I was HIV-positive.” (Source: Chris McGreal, “A Pearl in Rwanda’s Genocide Horror”, The Guardian [UK], December 5, 2001.)

The strategy of involving a large proportion of the Hutu population in the killings

A majority of the 1994 genocidal killings were carried out with machetes, hoes and other low-tech and comparatively inefficient weapons. The death toll still soared horrifyingly high, as the orchestrators of the genocide managed to involve such a large proportion of the Hutu population. According to some scholars, this was not just “means to an end” – those in power actually wanted to involve as many Hutus as possible in the killings rather than relying on special forces or similar.

Videotapes of the killings show that three or more killers often hacked on a single victim. Since the organizers wished to implicate as many people in the killing as possible, there may have been many more killers than victims.” (Source: Stephen D. Wrage, “Genocide in Rwanda: Draft Case Study for Teaching Ethics and International Affairs,” unpublished paper, 2000.)

Human Rights Watch concur with this view, and points out how the authorities provided various incentives to civilians who participated in the slaughtering.

[Rwandan] authorities offered tangible incentives to participants. They delivered food, drink, and other intoxicants, parts of military uniforms and small payments in cash to hungry, jobless young men. (…) Many poor young men responded readily to the promise of rewards. Of the nearly 60 percent of Rwandans under the age of twenty, tens of thousands had little hope of obtaining the land needed to establish their own households or the jobs necessary to provide for a family. Such young men, including many displaced by the war and living in camps near the capital provided many of the early recruits to the Interahamwe, trained in the months before and in the days immediately after the genocide began.” (Source: Human Rights Watch, “Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda”, March 1999, ISBN 1-56432-171-1)

Gérard Prunier also emphasizes how widespread poverty among Hutus made the recruitment to the paramilitary groups especially easy, and how the presence of trained paramilitaries quickly drew in those who were even worse off in Rwanda at the time.

The social aspect of the killings has often been overlooked. In Kigali the Interahamwe (…) had tended to recruit mostly among the poor. As soon as they went into action, they drew around them a cloud of even poorer people, a lumpenproletariat of street boys, rag-pickers, car-washers and homeless unemployed. For these people the genocide was the best thing that could ever happen to them. They had the blessings of a form of authority to take revenge on socially powerful people as long as they were on the wrong side of the political fence. They could steal, they could kill with minimum justification, they could rape and they could get drunk for free. This was wonderful. The political aims pursued by the masters of this dark carnival were quite beyond their scope. They just went along, knowing it would not last.” (Source: Gérard Prunier, “The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide”, Columbia University Press, 1995, pp. 231-232.)

It is clear that even though the gendercidal strategy was conceived by a small coterie of Rwandan government officials, it was very successful in quickly involving a very large proportion of the Hutu population as aggressors. Leader of the coterie was Theoneste Bagosora, a retired Colonel who held the post of acting defence minister on the day of President Habyarimana´s assassination. Another key organizer of the genocide was Agathe Habyarimana, wife of the assassinated president.

Women as genocidal killers

When genders are discussed, it is interesting to note the prominent role of Hutu women as killers participating actively in the 1994 genocide.

The largest study on this subject is the one published by African Rights in 1995, when the memories of the genocide and the years leading up to it were still fresh.

Summarizing its findings, the organization reported:

A substantial number of women, and even girls, were involved in the slaughter in countless ways, inflicting extraordinary cruelty on other women, as well as children and men. Women of every social category took part in the killings. (…) The extent to which women were involved in the killings is unprecedented anywhere in the world. This is not accidental. The architects of the holocaust sought to implicate as much of the population as possible, including women and even children. (…) Some women killed with their own hands. (…) Women and girls in their teens joined the crowds that surrounded churches, hospitals and other places of refuge. Wielding machetes and nail-studded clubs, they excelled as “cheerleaders” of the genocide, ululating the killers into action. They entered churches, schools, football stadiums and hospitals to finish off the wounded, hacking women, children and even men to death. Some women have been accused of killing or betraying their own husbands and children. Above all, women and girls stripped the dead — and the barely living — stealing their jewellery, money and clothes. Other women told the killers where people were hiding, often screaming out their names as the terrified quarry ran for their lives. Some women, including a nun currently hiding in Belgium, provided the petrol with which people were burnt alive. (…) There is no evidence that women were more willing to give refuge to the hunted than men. Some mothers and grandmothers even refused to hide their own Tutsi children and grandchildren. Some women forced out people taken in by their husbands. Many nurses at the CHK Hospital in Kigali and at Butare’s University Hospital gave the militia and soldiers lists of patients, colleagues and refugees to be killed.” (Source: Excerpts from summary of African Rights report, “Rwanda – Not So Innocent: When Women Become Killers”, August 1995.)

According to Ronit Lentin, the active role of women as perpetrators of the 1994 genocide did not get much attention internationally as it did not fit the idea of women as universal victims.

Describing women and girls as the principal victims of the genocide (…) obscured their roles as aggressors (…) The involvement of women in the genocide and murder of Hutu political opponents failed to attract national and international attention, precisely because of the construction of women as the universal victims of that particular catastrophe.” (Ronit Lentin, “Introduction: (En)gendering Genocides,” in Lentin, ed., Gender & Catastrophe, Zed Books, 1997, pp. 12-13.)

Avenge killings of Hutus

As soon as news about the attacks against Tutsis began to spread after the death of the Rwandian president, the Tutsi-led RPF moved in to put a halt to it. They successful fought governmental forces in both Kigali and other areas of the country, and in succeed in protecting a large number of residents against the genocide.

Kigali fell to the RPF on July 4, 1994, and the genocide and war was officially ended on July 18. Kigali coming under RPF control prompted a massive wave of Hutu refugees leaving Rwanda, as they correctly feared that revenge killings would take place.

Large-scale revenge killings did occur, targeting Hutus who allegedly participated in the genocide. Notably, this new killing-wave also had a strong gender-bias, with men and boys making up the bulk of the dead. All in all, Human Right Watch cites sources to the effect that between 25,000 and 45,000 Hutus were killed. (Source: Human Rights Watch, “Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda”)

One example of gender-selective killings reported by Human Rights Watch concerns the town Mututu.

RPF soldiers asked children to go bring back the adults in their families who were hiding in the fields and bush. On June 10, after several hundred adults had returned, the soldiers directed them to assemble at the commercial center to be transported to a safer location to the east. The RPF reportedly killed a number of young men at the market place late in the afternoon and tied up some of the others. The crowd was directed to set out for the commune, about one hour away by foot. The soldiers reportedly killed some men on the way and threw their bodies in latrines or in a compost heap at a reservoir. In another report from the same area, witnesses said that RPF soldiers and armed civilians gathered men and adolescent boys at the home of a man named Rutekereza and then killed them.” (Source: Human Rights Watch, “Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda”)

Another report comes from Mwogo, where a witness claims to have seen RPF soldiers bring bodies in trucks at night and throw them into toilets. “They brought men already wounded with their arms tied behind their backs. They brought no women.“ (Source: Human Rights Watch, “Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda”)

Human Rights Watch also notes in the aforementioned report that there were incidents where RPF soldiers killed without regard to gender, age or even ethnic group.

The aftermath

In the wake of the Rwandan genocide, the United Nations established the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and based it in Tanzania.

In September 1988, Jean-Paul Akayesu, former mayor of the town Taba, became the first individual found guilty of genocide by ICTR. Another notable ICTR conviction occurred just a day later, when the tribunal sentenced former prime minister Jean Kambanda to life in prison. He had pled guilty to genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, complicity in genocide, and two charges of crimes against humanity.

Within Rwanda´s own judicial system, roughly 120,000 individuals were arrested on allegations of participation in the genocide. Of them, thousands died in squalid jails. By April 2000, only 2,500 people had been tried. Of them, about 300 had been sentenced to death.


As men and boys were much more likely to be killed during the genocide and its aftermath than women and girls, a demographic imbalance formed in Rwanda where the number of marriage-aged women greatly outnumbered the available men. (Source: Judy El-Bushra, “Transformed Conflict: Some Thoughts on a Gendered Understanding of Conflict Processes,” in Susie Jacobs et al., eds., States of Conflict: Gender, Violence and Resistance, Zed Books, 2000, p. 73.)

Contributing to the imbalance was also the fact that compared to women, men were more likely to be imprisoned for their part (true or alleged) in the genocide.

In an article published in the year 2000, David Gough notes how in certain parts of the Gitarama district in central Rwanda, “(…) scene of some of the worst excesses in 1994 (…) adult males make up a mere 20% of the population.” (Source: David Gough, “Husband-hiring hastens the spread of Aids in Rwanda”, The Guardian [UK], February 8, 2000.)

Many of the women who survived the genocide did so with serious physical and psychological injuries, making it even more difficult for them to adequately shoulder the burden of providing for themselves and their families.

In the areas most affected by the massacres — for example in Bugasera in eastern Rwanda — the proportion of women who have been widowed, raped or physically handicapped is very high. It is to a large extent these women on whom the responsibility for producing food is now falling. Their psychological as well as their physical status is therefore a major issue for the community’s survival in the current stage.” (Source: Judy El-Bushra, “Transformed Conflict: Some Thoughts on a Gendered Understanding of Conflict Processes,” in Susie Jacobs et al., eds., States of Conflict: Gender, Violence and Resistance, Zed Books, 2000, p. 73.)

Polygamy is not legally permitted in Rwanda, but David Gough notes in his 2000 article how kwinjira, the practise of women sharing men, became widespread after 1994, and how health officials listed this practise as a major factor in the spread of HIV in Rwanda.

“If a woman has land and maybe some money then she can attract the services of young men,” said Jerome Ndabagariya of CARE. “He does some work for her in the field and then some more work in the bedroom.” A more affluent woman will give a man some food, maybe some beer or, in rare cases, money. In return he may well give her the Aids virus.” (Source: David Gough, “Husband-hiring hastens the spread of Aids in Rwanda”, The Guardian [UK], February 8, 2000.)