What happened to the perpetrators of the 100-day long Rwandan genocide that left half a million people dead?
The Rwandan genocide, also known as the 100 days of slaughter, occurred from April 7 to July 15, 1994, and saw mass killings of roughly 800,000 people in Rwanda by ethnic Hutu extremists. The killings were conducted in an attempt to wipe out the minority Tutsi community from the region and it succeeded in wiping out an estimated 70 percent of them. The Hutu extremists also slaughtered nearly all of their major political opponents, mainly consisting of parties having moderate or favorable views towards the Tutsi.
Among these politicians was then-President Juvénal Habyarimana, second and longest-serving president of the Republic of Rwanda. Also known as the "invincible," the day of Habyarimana's assassination marked the beginning of the Rwandan genocide. Habyarimana, a Hutu, succumbed to international pressures to resolve the decades-long power struggle between the communities and intended to create a power-sharing government with the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). However, his plane was shot down and the Hutu power leaders in the army and the government declared a war against the Tutsis, facilitating machetes and rifles to civilians and fringe extremists groups, asking them to slaughter any Tutsis they found.
The Hutu extremists agenda was a "final solution", which meant killing every person of the Tutsi community living in Rwanda. There was no opposing force to prevent or slow the 100-days-long slaughter of people except for the RPF army, which jumped into action and began its advance to the capital of Kigali.
In urban areas, roadblocks were manned by military and the Interahamwe, a youth wing of the Hutu power government, who checked each person's identity card — which included their ethnicity— and any person with a Tutsi card was immediately killed. In rural areas, people were directed to kill their own Tutsi neighbors as it was easier to identify them in a small region. Multiple Hutus were killed in the assault too for varied reasons, some including showing sympathy for the moderate opposition parties or even simply resembling a Tutsi.
The genocide came to an end after the RPF rapidly seized control of the northern part of the country and captured Kigali about 100 days later in mid-July. During and after the rampant killings, the United Nations (UN) and multiple other countries like the United States and the United Kingdom were heavily criticized for their inaction and failing to strengthen the force and mandate of the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) peacekeepers deployed in the country to contain the situation.
After 25 years of the heinous genocide, here's a look at what happened to the key players involved in the events:
Former Prime Minister — Jean Kambanda
Jean Kambanda was the Prime Minister in the caretaker government in the country from the beginning of the Rwandan genocide in 1994. He reportedly distributed arms and ammunition to members of political parties, militia and civilians with the aim that the weapons would be used in the massacre of the Tutsi population.
Kambanda is the only head of the government at the time to plead guilty to genocide ever since the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide came into effect in 1951. He was arrested on July 18, 1997, in Nairobi after a multinational stakeout and was transferred to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).
Kambanda, on September 4, 1998, was sentenced to life imprisonment by the ICTR for genocide and agreement to commit genocide. He is currently in Koulikoro Prison in Mali.
Former Defense Ministry chief of staff — Colonel Théoneste Bagosora
Théoneste Bagosora, a former Rwandan military officer, is known for being one of the masterminds of the Tutsi genocide. After fleeing the country in 1994, he was eventually convicted in December 2008 by the United Nations court in Tanzania of genocide and was sentenced to life in prison. He was found guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. However, his sentence was eventually reduced to 35 years' imprisonment on appeal. He will be imprisoned until the age of 89.
Former army chief of staff — Gen. Augustin Bizimungu
Augustin Bizimungu, a former general in the Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR), was appointed the chief of staff of the army and was promoted to the rank of Major-General at the beginning of the Rwandan genocide on April 16, 1994. He had complete control of the soldiers and the extremist militia responsible for the killings. Bizimungu also prepared lists of ethnic Tutsis to be exterminated, referring to them as "cockroaches"
He was apprehended eight years later in 2002 in Angola along with Unita rebels. His trial at the ICTR lasted for an additional nine years. He was found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity and was sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2011.
Vice-president of the Rwandan Hutu militia Interahamwe — Georges Rutaganda
Georges Rutaganda was the second vice-president of the Rwandan extremist Hutu militia called Interahamwe. He was partly responsible for the genocide. According to prosecutor James Stewart "Without Georges Rutaganda, the Rwandan genocide would not have functioned the way it did.”
Rutaganda was sentenced to life imprisonment in December 1999 following his conviction on one count of Genocide and of two counts of Crimes against Humanity by ICTR. He died in incarceration on October 11, 2010.
Commander of the Interahamwe — Bernard Munyagishari
Bernard Munyagishari was a commander of the extremist Hutu militia Interahamwe and played a key role in the genocide. He formulated a special unit for the rape and murder of Tutsi women and also for the massacre of Rwanda Patriotic Front led by Paul Kagame.
Munyagishari was arrested in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo on May 26, 2011. He was convicted of participation in the Genocide against the Tutsi and killing as a crime against humanity. He was eventually sentenced to life in prison.
Former Minister of Defence — Augustin Bizimana
Augustin Bizimana held the position of Minister of Defence in the government of Juvénal Habyarimana formed on July 18, 1993. After Habyarimana's assassination, he became the Minister of Defence in the interim government which oversaw the genocide. He had control over possession of weapons by the civilian population and played an intrinsic role in the genocide of Tutsis.
Bizimana has not yet been detained, however, a warrant against him has been issued by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the United States government.
Rwanda’s former minister for family and women’s affairs — Pauline Nyiramasuhuko
Pauline Nyiramasuhuko was the Minister for Family Welfare and the Advancement of Women and played a key role in planning and aiding others to carry out multiple crimes during the genocide. The ICTR became the first tribunal to convict a woman of genocide crimes, including rape. Nyiramasuhuko had reportedly incited troops and militia to carry out rape during the 1994 genocide. She was eventually sentenced to life in prison by the tribunal.
Force Commander of UNAMIR — Roméo Dallaire
Romeo Dallaire served as Force Commander of UNAMIR, the United Nations peacekeeping force for Rwanda between 1993 and 1994. The force was deployed in an attempt to dilute tensions and violence in the country, however, despite Dallaire's attempts, he failed to stop the killings waged by Hutu extremists against the Tutsi people and the moderates. Dallaire became an example of how the United Nations and the international community failed to assist and strengthen the UN forces in the country.
RPF leader Paul Kagame
The Rwandan Patriotic Front leader Paul Kagame, who led the RPF during the genocide and eventually succeeded in putting an end to it, is currently the President of Rwanda. He was considered Rwanda's de facto leader when he served as Vice President and Minister of Defence from 1994 to 2000.
Kagame, 25 years after the genocide, on April 8, 2019, lit a remembrance flame at the Kigali Genocide Memorial, where more than 250,000 mainly Tutsi victims are believed to be buried and said: "In 1994, there was no hope, only darkness."
"Today, light radiates from this place ... How did it happen? Rwanda became a family once again. The arms of our people, intertwined, constitute the pillars of our nation. We hold each other up. Our bodies and minds bear amputations and scars, but none of us is alone. Together, we have woven the tattered threads of our unity into a new tapestry," he added.