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The Tutsi Genocide

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Autor:   •  October 9, 2018  •  Term Paper  •  3,174 Words (13 Pages)  •  8 Views

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The term “genocide” was first coined in 1944 by a Polish Jewish lawyer named Raphael Lemkin. According to the United States Holocaust museum website, “He formed the word by combining geno-, from the Greek word for race or tribe, with -cide, from the Latin word for killing. Noting that the term denoted an old practice in its modern development.”( www.ushmm.org) It is natural that this term started being used after the world had just witnessed the worst mass atrocity ever to be committed. During the Holocaust, over six million Jews were exterminated by the Nazi killing machine. In the aftermath of this tragedy, the United Nations were formed and most countries vowed to never allow such tragedies to ever happen again. And yet they did. Between April 1994 and July of the same year, between 800,000 and 1,000,000 Tutsis were exterminated as the world remained dead silent. Rwanda a small landlocked nation in the heart of Africa, had mostly remained obscure on the global scale. This was until tales of cadaver lined streets and unborn babies being snatched from their mothers’ wombs reached the West. All of a sudden, the whole world found itself asking the same question that it had asked nearly fifty years before in the aftermath of the Holocaust, “How did we let this happen?”

In order to understand genocides and particularly in the Rwandan context, one has to recognize the fact that genocides do not simply happen overnight. Rather, genocides are a result of a combined series of political, economic and social policies meant to marginalize one group of peoples which ultimately cultimate in the purest form of hatred: extermination. In Rwanda’s case, there was no shortage of alarming signs that something atrocious would happen. So why did the United Nations which already had a peacekeeping mission on the ground and other countries do nothing to stop the killings? The fact of the matter is that a genocide in Africa is not something that the rest of the world was particularly concerned with. At a time when violence in Africa was no longer newsworthy, the international community simply could not care less about a million more dead Africans. It was not the lack of information or intervention means that stopped the world from helping. Instead, it was the lack of empathy.

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Research Plan.

My research journey began with two questions, “Why did the 1994 Tutsi genocide take place?” and “How did we let it happen?” My research attempts to first look at why the 1994 Tutsi genocide took place. In trying to answer this question, one has to be extremely cautious of falling in the trap that many “scholars” have fallen into by perhaps unintentionally trying to justify the genocide. Furthermore, I had to carefully analyze the sources that I was coming across for credibility and most importantly bias as the Tutsi genocide is still a very sensitive and polarizing topic. In structuring my paper, I believe that it is crucial to first understand the why before looking at how the genocide was carried out. In doing so, it is of the utmost importance to educate the potential reader on the history of colonial and post-colonial Rwanda and how it affected the issues of ethnicity and national identity. Around the time when the first colonizers arrived in Rwanda, racist pseudo-scientists in Europe were coming up with all kinds of theories suggesting the superiority of certain races over the others. Soon thereafter, the colonial establishment adopted these policies in an attempt to divide and conquer Rwandan society. In doing so, they effectively took what were socio-economic classes and turned them into separate ethnicities with an elite minority presiding over the others. As Caplan (2007) noted,

In the colonial era, under German and then Belgian rule, Roman Catholic missionaries, inspired by the overtly racist theories of nineteenth-century Europe, concocted a bizarre ideology of ethnic cleavage and racial rankings that attributed superior qualities to the country’s Tutsi minority. They institutionalized the split between the two groups, culminating in the issuance to every Rwandan of an ethnic identity card. This card system was maintained for over 60 years until, with tragic irony, during the genocide it became the instrument that enabled Hutu killers in urban areas to identify the Tutsi who were its original beneficiaries.”(,p.20)

As these quotes illustrate, the reader’s understanding of the intricacies of colonialism and ethnicity is paramount to understanding how one group of people which shared the same language, culture and religion could attempt to exterminate the other. Consequently, the first part of my paper would mostly consist of historical background in order for the reader to understand the succession of policies and events that led to the extermination of over a million people. When it comes to genocide scholarship, in the past twenty-two years there has been a wide array of articles and books that attempt to look at the Tutsi genocide in its historical context and I believe that I could make use of some of them to make my audience more aware of this history.

In the second part of my paper, I would try to answer the question of how the international community watched the carnage unfold without lifting a finger to help. However, before delving into this question, I want to make one thing clear. As much as the foundations of the genocide lay in the colonial period and as much as the rest of the world failed us, the ultimate responsibility of the genocide lays upon the Rwandan government that prepared and implemented it and the population that largely cared it out. The question of how the world allowed this to happen, is one that Rwandans started asking long before the rest world was finally able to come to terms with what had happened. As a second generation “survivor” growing up in post-genocide Rwanda, I recall seeing videos of white people being evacuated with their pets while Tutsis were left begging and asking my parents if they couldn’t squeeze a few more people in the trucks. I could not help but wonder how a dog’s life could be worth more than a human life. Much ink has been spilled and many hypotheses have been formulated in trying to answer the question of how the world allowed this to happen. The prevalent argument is that the world was simply not aware and that the fate of Rwanda was overshadowed by conflicts in Eastern Europe. However, as Burkehalter (1995) noted,

American policymakers, however, seem to have been aware of the ethnic tension in the country. The Country Reports on

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