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Resources for ages 12-14 in History: The Rwandan Crisis 1994

Teaching and training materials

Resources for ages 12-14 in History: The Rwandan Crisis 1994

2 March 2007


By Jill Rutter, "REFUGEES: We left because we had to", (London, Refugee Council 1996) pp. 75-77

The murder of 500,000 Tutsi and Hutu opposition in Rwanda is genocidal murder. This event is one of many cases of genocide in the 20th century. The events in Rwanda in 1994 pose many moral questions to all of us.

Genocide is the deliberate extermination of an ethnic, religious, political or national group. Three groups of people are involved in genocide. They are:

  • The perpetrators.
  • The victims.
  • The bystanders.

In Rwanda the interhamwe were the perpetrators. They acted on the orders of the government and the army. The interhamwe were also, knowingly, provided with weapons by the French government.

In Rwanda the victims were the Tutsi, and Hutu who opposed the policies of the Government and army. Ordinary Hutu who tried to stop killings also risked their own murder.

In Rwanda there were many bystanders. There were the Hutu who watched their neighbours being killed and did nothing. The UN and politicians in individual governments knew what was happening in Rwanda, but they chose to do nothing. The television coverage of the murders in Rwanda meant that a far large number of people were bystanders. Every person in the world who watched television news during the period of April-June 1994 is a bystander to the genocide in Rwanda. Very few people then took any action such as writing to their MP or giving money to an aid organisation.

Genocide does not happen suddenly. There are many preconditions that must arise before a group of people become victims of a genocide. These stages are:

  • The victim group is stereotyped and defined as being "different from the rest of society". The rest of society readily believes that the victim group is different.
  • The victim group may experience racial attacks and discrimination by ordinary people.
  • The victim group loses many of its legal rights.
  • The victim group is isolated from the rest of the society.
  • The victim group is deshumanised by politicians, the media and then by ordinary people. Ordinary people cease to see the victim group as being human beings just like them.
  • There is a catalyst event which starts the genocide. This is an event which gives the perpetrators an excuse to carry out genocide.
  • The perpetrators of genocide are led to believe that they are morally right in their actions. They continue to carry out the genocide.

Genocide in the 20th century

After the mass murders of Jews and Gypsies in the Second World War, the United Nations passed an international law to prevent future genocidal murders. This is known as the 1948 UN Convention on Genocide. To use this international law a UN member-state must challenge an offending country with evidence that shows that the offending country is deliberately inflicting on the group "conditions of life calculated to bring about its destruction in whole or in part" (1948 UN Convention on Genocide). But this international law has rarely been used. There have been many instances of genocide in the 20th century, both before and after the 1948 UN Convention on Genocide. In almost all cases the UN, individual governments and other bystanders did nothing.