April 7, 2014

The Rwandan Genocide


Shelby: I am here in the African country of Rwanda, where just two decades ago nearly a million people were killed in the streets over the span of one hundred days. On this twentieth anniversary, we take a closer look at what happened during Rwanda’s genocide and how people here have come together to pledge ‘never again’.

Djarudi Bucyana: It was easy to see the people dying. It was easy.

Shelby: Djarudi Bucyana was just eleven years old when his country erupted in violence.

Twenty years ago, here on these streets of Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, Djarudi witnessed neighbor slaughter neighbor in what became one of the worst genocides in recent history. Genocide is the annihilation of a particular group, usually based on race or religion.

He is telling me that during genocide, trucks would come and drop bodies off on top of this roof. He was living next to hundreds of dead bodies – he says too many to count.

Did you think you were going to die?

Djarudi: Yes, of course. If I see a hundred people dying, why not me?

Shelby: Like most of those targeted in Rwanda’s genocide Djarudi was Tutsi, an ethnic minority that clashed with the country’s Hutu majority.

Djarudi: Before genocide, the people had no love.

Shelby: Why didn’t the races like each other?

Djarudi: This is the problem from the white man coming here, you see?

Shelby: The white man meaning Europeans from Belgium who controlled Rwanda after World War I. The Belgians considered the Tutsis, who were taller and had thinner noses, to be superior to the Hutus, mostly because their facial features looked more European. Under Belgian rule, Tutsis attended better schools, got better jobs and made more money.

Djarudi: Hutu was poor. Tutsi was rich.

Shelby: So there was a lot of tension?

Djarudi: Very, very tense.

Shelby: After Rwanda gained independence in 1962, that tension sparked decades of violence. Then on April 6th, 1994, the Rwandan president’s plane was shot down after he signed a peace deal between the Hutus and the Tutsis.

Djarudi: The president died in the night and the people were dying in the morning. Yeah, many, many people died in the morning.

Shelby: The country collapsed in chaos. Encouraged and even rewarded by government forces and Hutu extremists, ordinary Hutu citizens went house-to-house slaughtering their Tutsi neighbors. Hutus who didn’t participate in the genocide then became targets too. For many, it was kill or be killed.

Djarudi: Say, Tutsi mom, Hutu dad. There’s many, many places that the dad, he killed his wife and his kids.

Shelby: Djarudi and his mom survived by hiding in their neighbor’s home and then the Tanzanian embassy. Stuck inside, the television gave him a better glimpse of the big picture.

One of the most horrific images that emerged from genocide came from this river. And that is because during the killings hundreds, if not thousands, of Tutsi bodies were thrown in the river, ultimately to leave Rwanda.

At first, the international community didn’t label the violence as genocide, which would have required that the United Nations take action. Instead, UN troops were sent in to, quote, ‘monitor the situation,’ but they were forbidden to use force.

The brutal killings continued for three months while the U.S. and UN did little to stop it. Finally, in July, Tutsi rebel forces captured Kigali, declaring an end to the violence. The killings stopped, but the wounds were deep. About three-quarters of the Tutsi population had been wiped out. Nearly 100,000 children were orphaned.

Julienne Mukarusanga: Imagine a big number of children, if they had been kept in that situation whereby they were unhappy, no education, nobody to care about them; that’s a big loss.

Shelby: Aid groups like Concern Worldwide set up centers to take care of Rwanda’s homeless children.

Did you feel like a mother?

Julienne: Yeah, no choice. All of them were my kids.

Shelby: They provided food, shelter, medical attention and education. And through a process called tracing, Concern even helped children find parents, relatives and neighbors who were still alive.

Julienne: Around 30,000 children passed through the centers and were reunified or fostered.

Shelby: Concern’s teams traveled all over the country searching for survivors. They found success even in the most remote villages of Rwanda.

We traveled toward the Ugandan border to meet one of those families.

Jean Bosco!

Ripped away from his parents at the age of ten, Jean Bosco thought he was on his own.

Jean: When I was at the center, I wasn’t even thinking about my parents. I thought they were dead.

Shelby: But when a Concern car drove him to his hometown after genocide was over, he found his father sitting outside his house.

Jean: It was a miracle. After all that time not seeing my dad, I came here and saw him alive.

Shelby: Now Jean lives next door to his dad with his wife and children. He says he is very happy and that twenty years after genocide, Rwanda is a different and peaceful place.

Do your children know the difference between Hutu and Tutsi?

Jean: No, they don’t know. Now everyone is Rwandi. Whatever ethnicities existed don’t exist anymore.

Shelby: After the genocide, another 2 million people fled to nearby countries. And to this day, Rwandans are still scattered and deeply scarred.

To learn more about Rwanda and to see a timeline of the events surrounding genocide, head to


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