Twenty years ago, one of the world’s worst mass killings took place in the tiny African nation of Rwanda. Decades of tension and violence between the minority, ruling Tutsi ethnic group and the majority Hutus culminated in an unimaginable period of 100 days, where men, women and children were killed at a rate of 6 per minute — leaving three quarters of the country’s Tutsi population dead at the hands of Hutu interahamwe militias and Rwandan Armed Forces. With an estimated one million people dead and nearly 100,000 children orphaned, injured and traumatized, survivors fled their homes in masses to bordering countries where they suffered hunger, disease and still more violence living under makeshift tents in refugee camps.
Since the atrocities, the people of Rwanda — Tutsis and Hutus alike — have faced the long, hard task of rebuilding their country and their lives. A necessary step in doing so was seeking justice. Over one million of the accused were tried in a combination of International, national and localized Gacaca community courts. Some of those found guilty in early trials were sentenced to death while later convictions landed both high profile figures and civilians in prison for life. However, in order to move forward in reconciliation, and address prison overcrowding, the Gacaca courts gave many the opportunity to confess, repent and be released back into the community to live side by side with the very neighbors they had attacked.
Today, although Rwanda continues the daily struggle to heal from its haunting history, there is hope and positivity. The constitution now protects the equality of all Rwandans, while many citizens take part in training and programs designed to promote peace and cultural tolerance, helping forge a united national identity. With this as a foundation, the people of Rwanda are now are able to focus on building a strong economy and providing quality education to its youth.
Learn more about the history of Rwanda the events the led to the genocide, and the aftermath, in the timeline below.