Eric Pichon By / April 4, 2014

Rwanda: 20 years after the genocide – what are the lessons of the past?

In 1994, from April to July, nearly 1 million Rwandans, mostly from the Tutsi minority, were massacred by the Rwandan…

Genocide memorial
picture by Adam Jones (CC-BY-SA-20)

In 1994, from April to July, nearly 1 million Rwandans, mostly from the Tutsi minority, were massacred by the Rwandan army and civilians encouraged by an extremist Hutu government. Although a warning was sent as early as 11 January by General Romeo Dallaire, then head of the UN forces in Rwanda, the United Nations failed to protect the population – on the contrary, their first move was to scale down their troops following the murder of ten Belgian soldiers, before coming back with 6500 soldiers in mid-May, after a resolution for the first time qualified the atrocities as a genocide.

The Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front, led by Paul Kagame overthrew the government in July, which in turn led 2 million, mainly Hutu, Rwandans to flee the country for Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) and Tanzania.

Twenty years later, the scars of genocide are still visible and are one of the causes of instability in the Great Lakes countries. In Rwanda, a real reconciliation policy has so far not materialised; the Rwandan genocide trials are often suspected of partiality by foreign observers. On the international level, the UN operate an International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda since 1997, with a mandate set to end in December 2014. Trials in Western countries also questioned the responsibility of their governments’ actions at the time.


For a short description of the events:

Rwanda 20 years later. US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The Museum provides a series of briefings (published between January and July 2014), each one analysing a “pivotal event” that occured 20 years earlier.

The Shroud over Rwanda’s Nightmare. The New York Times. 9 January 2014

This article explains why the early warning given in January 1994 by General Dallaire was not taken seriously by the UN, and portrays his main Rwandan informant “Jean-Pierre”.

The UN, Rwanda and the ‘Genocide Fax’ — 20 Years Later. The WorldPost, 21/01/2014.

In this op-ed, Simon Adams, Executive Director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P), presents a mixed picture of the UN evolutions as regards preventing mass atrocities.
On the 15/01/2014 the GCR2P and the Permanent Mission of Rwanda to the UN organised an event with prominent speakers in the UN premises Genocide: A Preventable Crime — Understanding Early Warning of Mass Atrocities

Legal proceedings

Trials before international or national jurisdictions are still taking place and are a forum for questioning the role of all parties: genocidaires, but also the Rwandan Patriotic Front now in office, and the western governments, whose first move was to protect the government against the RPF.

Legal basis

UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, 9 December 1948:
“Article II: In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group:
(a) Killing members of the group; […] ”

UN Resolution 918 (1994) adopted by the Security Council, 17 May 1994: “Recalling in this context that the killing of members of an ethnic group with the intention of destroying such a group, in whole or in part, constitutes a crime punishable under international law”

Rwandan “Genocide Ideology Law” (Law No. 33n bis/2003 Repressing the Crime of Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes, 6 September 2003)
“Article: 3 Shall be sentenced to death any person who will have committed, in time of peace or in time of war, the crime of genocide as defined in Article 2 of this law.” [the definition is the one of the 1948 Convention]
Article: 4 Shall be sentenced to an imprisonment of ten (10) to twenty (20) years, any person who will have publicly shown, by his or her words, writings, images, or by any other means, that he or she has negated the genocide committed, rudely minimised it or attempted to justify or approve its grounds, or any person who will have hidden or destroyed its evidence.
Where the crimes mentioned in the preceding paragraph are committed by an association or a political party, its dissolution shall be pronounced.”

International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) was created by UN resolution 955(1994) of 8 November 1994.

Official website:
current cases:

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda / Robert D. Sloane in: The rules, practice, and jurisprudence of international courts and tribunals. Martinus Nijhoff, 2012, p. 261-282[book available at the EPRS library S 12.40.04 RUL 12]

Trials in Rwanda

On the trials in Rwanda, and the “gacaca courts” see the section  “Analyses” below.

The case of Victoire Ingabire

Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza is a Rwandan opponent, charged in 2010 under the Genocide ideology law for a speech calling for the prosecution of “those responsible for crimes against Hutus”, and sentenced for 15 years in December 2013. She was nominated for the 2012 Sakharov Prize.

The case of Pascal Simbikangwa

The first trial in France of a Rwandan genocidaire is an important step in the tense diplomatic relations between Rwanda and France – the latter being considered by the former as one of the main supports of the Hutu regime at the time:

EU Institutions and Member States statements

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy / Vice President of the European Commission

Speech by EU Commissioner Günther Oettinger on behalf of HRVP Catherine Ashton on the case of Mrs Victoire Ingabire, 23 May 2013

“A number of controversial laws still need clarification as well as the scope of their application. This includes, inter alia, the Genocide Ideology law, the media laws and the freedom of association laws. […] While it is important to recognize that political stakeholders in Rwanda, whoever they might be, can’t ignore the extent and the consequences of the 1994 Tutsi genocide, it is also crucial to ensure that genuine reconciliation in the country is promoted on the basis of a fair and objective Justice.”

European Parliament

Resolutions on Rwanda:

EU Member states

Statements following the panel discussion during “Genocide: A Preventable Crime”, 15/01/2014: Czech RepublicFranceThe Netherlands

Rwandan statements

Permanent Mission of Rwanda to the UN – statements:

  • Statements on post-conflicts resolution, 26/01/2004
  • Statements at the 10th Commemoration on the Rwanda Genocide, 26/03/2004
  • Statements at the Commemoration on the Nazi Concentration Camp, 24/01/2005



NGOs’ and think-tanks’ analyses

How Rwanda Judged its Genocide / Africa Research Institute (ARI), 2012

“Since 2001, the gacaca community courts have been the centrepiece of Rwanda’s justice and reconciliation process.”

Challenges of Transitional Justice in Rwanda/ Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), 2012

Justice Compromised. Human Rights Watch. 31 May 2011.

Reconciliation and Transitional Justice: The Case of Rwanda’s Gacaca Courts / Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) 2011

“This paper has a two-fold objective:firstly to conceptualise reconciliation as an outcome of transitional justice, and secondly to analyse critically the implications and consequences of the Rwandan transitional justice programmes (specifically the gacaca system) in terms of this evaluative framework.”

Academic publication

Transitional justice in Rwanda : accountability for atrocity / Gerald Gahima. London: Routledge, 2013.

Politics and society

EPRS analysis

Women in politics: Rwanda / Aidan Christie, European Parliamentary Research Service, November 2013, 1 p

In the aftermath of the genocide, women were given a greater share in politics (51 MPs out of 80) but Victoire Ingabire is both a symbol of their empowerment and of the risk of being a political opponent in Rwanda.

Academic publication

Democracy, identity and the politics of exclusion in post-genocide Rwanda : the case of the Batwa / Danielle Beswick in : Democratization in Africa : challenges and prospects. London: Routledge, 2012, p. 216-236

NGOs’ and think-tanks’ analyses

Memory Controversies in Post-Genocide Rwanda: Implications for Peacebuilding / Elisabeth King in: African democracy and development challenges for post-conflict African nations . Lexington Books, 2013.
e-book available on the EP network: select chapter4 on the left and then click ‘copy’ or ‘print’

The impact of armed conflict on economic performance – Evidence from Rwanda / Pieter Serneels, Marijke Verpoorten, Centre for the Study of African Economies, 2012, n. 10, 39 p.

Press articles

Entretien avec Paul Kagamé. Jeune Afrique, no. 2778, avril 2014.

This interview caused the absence of French officials in the commemorations of the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Kigali.

How Rwandans Cope With the Horror of 1994. The Atlantic, 4 April 2014.

Will FDLR rebels ever leave Congo and return to Rwanda? BBC, 12/02/2014

A report on the members of the militias responsible for the Rwandan genocide, now committing abuses in the RDC regions where they sought refuge.

The Global Elite’s Favorite Strongman.The New York Times. 4 September 2013.

A portray of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who in 1994 led the Rwandan Patriotic Front to victory, putting an end to the genocide.

International impact

Lernen aus Ruanda: Die Entwicklung einer wirksamen internationalen Schutzverantwortungspolitik / Lars Brozus; Raphaela Hobbach. Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik SWP-Aktuell, 2014/A 19, April 2014, 4 p.

This article analyses how the concept of “Responsibility to Protect” was invented to prevent other mass crimes after the Rwandan genocide – and why it is difficult to “activate”, for example in Syria.

Rwanda, in : Genocide and the Europeans / Karen Elizabeth Smith. Cambridge University Press, 2010, p. 142-178.

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