The Genocide


In 1994, Rwanda witnessed a genocide in which 800,000 people were killed over a period of 100 days.

The roots of the genocide lie in decades of political power struggle between the Hutus and the Tutsis, in colonial and postcolonial relations, and in a tangle of definitions of ethnic identity. Therefore, to summarize what caused the genocide is a long task. During the years leading up to the genocide the social and political environment in Rwanda grew restless because there were rumours that a Tutsi revolutionary force was grouping up in the neighbouring country Uganda. Hutu rulers became afraid of losing power, and begun steadily preparing the country for war.

Most radio stations at the time were controlled by the Hutu government and from 1990 onwards the media was used as a propaganda machine against all Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda. At the same time, the Hutu government trained and recruited hundreds new militias.

The genocidal killing began on April 6, 1994, after the plane of the Hutu leader Habyarimana was shot down and Habyarimana was killed. The real identity behind the shooting remains unknown till this day, but Hutu extremists immediately used the event to justify the initiation of mass killings that the government had secretly been planning for months.

The killings begun immediately. Thousands of men, women, and children were tortured, killed, and their houses were often looted and burned down.

In addition to the killings, during the spring of 1994 500,000 women were violently raped. Rape during the genocide was particularly brutal because it was used as a weapon of war. Many of the women were physically mutilated and psychologically scarred for life.

Today, 18 years later, the effects of these rapes are still very real. Approximately 15,000 children were born out of these rapes and thousands of women and children were affected with HIV. The stigma caused by rape has forced these women and children to live on the margins of society. The women are silenced and neglected by their community and families; they constantly struggle to obtain dignified sources of income, lack access to medical aid, and lack economic security.

Nyira, 40


When the genocide happened Nyira (Nyirangendahimana) was 20 years old. She had a big family. She was one of 13 children. During the spring of 1994, however, her entire family was killed. When the killings began Nyirangendahimana ran and tried to hide, but was quickly found by a group of men. They raped her but were uninterested in killing her. Once she managed to escape she carried on walking without knowing where to go. She then met a man whom she had never seen before. He took her to his house. For a moment she thought she was safe, but this man locked her in a room and kept her there for the duration of the genocide, systematically raping her every day. She said it was like “not being a woman, not like being a human being.” After the genocide the man was put to prison for killing many people. He wasn’t charged for rape.


After the genocide Nyirangendahimana found out she was pregnant and later gave birth to a baby boy. Her family house in the village was destroyed, so for a while she lived in a shelter. She had to give her body to be able to eat. Today, she is 40 and she still doesn’t have a house. She lives in a small room that she rents from the neighbour. She’s very ill, but since she’s unable to work she’s unable to afford medication or adequate meals.

“My life is bad,” she says. “I’ve spent two months in the house without working. I cannot work because I am sick. It’s a big problem for me.”

Whenever she can, she does small jobs like cleaning and washing for her neighbours. Her first son died when he was 16, but she now has two other younger children whom she has to look after. Her youngest son is a year and three months old.

“I know the father but he doesn’t accept him. We are not married. He can refuse this baby.”


Nyirangendahimana still lives in the same village where she was born. It is the same village where her family was killed, where she tried to hide during the genocide, where she was violated, and where her first son died. “When your children grow up what will you tell them?” I asked her. “I will tell them the truth,” she said.