WASHINGTON — The 25th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide begins this week, a horrific event that left at least 800,000 dead and spawned — among other things — the establishment of an international body to help bring accountability for future similar atrocities.
Rwandans today begin mourning for 100 days, the time it took in 1994 for about a tenth of the population to be massacred. Most of those who died were minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus, killed by ethnic Hutu extremists.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has indicted dozens of individuals from various nations on war crimes since its creation in September 2002, all with limited support from the United States.
Last week, the Trump administration pulled the U.S visa for the court’s chief justice, Fatou Bensouda, because of concerns the body may investigate possible war crimes by U.S personnel in Afghanistan.
The ICC is a permanent court, an outgrowth of special tribunals established to investigate and prosecute war crimes in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda. The Rwanda tribunal made history in its conviction of individuals for rape as a war crime, the first time in history.
“Serious war crimes including genocide should not be permitted with impunity,” one longtime conflict resolution individual said in an interview with TMN. The interview was on background because of sensitivities in ongoing work.
“The Rwanda anniversary is a telling moment about where the world stands regarding those concepts of accountability and impunity,” the individual said. “The story of the ICC may be a story of frustratingly slow progress — but progress no matter how slow is still progress.”
According to its website, the ICC now has investigations in 11 situations: Burundi; two in the Central African Republic; the Ivory Coast; Darfur, Sudan; the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Georgia; Kenya; Libya; Mali, and Uganda.
Additionally, the Office of the Prosecutor is conducting preliminary examinations in 11 situations in Afghanistan; Colombia; Gabon; Guinea; Iraq / the United Kingdom; Nigeria; Palestine; the Philippines, registered vessels of Comoros, Greece, and Cambodia; Ukraine, and Venezuela, the website said.
Among the notables indicted by the ICC are Omar Hassan Ahmad Al Bashir, then president of Sudan, for directing a campaign of mass killing, rape and pillage against civilians in Darfur; Joseph Kony, leader of Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army; Laurent Gbagbo, charged with murder, rape and other crimes allegedly committed by supporters when he was president of the Ivory Coast; Goran Hadzic, leader of autonomous regions seized by Serbs in Croatia in opening parts of the 1990s Balkan wars, and Jean-Pierre Bemba, former vice-president of Democratic Republic of Congo.
The genocide in Rwanda started after a plane carrying then-President Juvenal Habyarimana — a Hutu — was shot down on April 6, 1994, killing all on board. The Hutu and Tutsi are the two largest ethnic groups in Rwanda.
In the immediate hours after Habyarimana’s assassination, Hutu propagandists appealed over Rwanda’s radio stations for Hutus to rise up and destroy Tutsi “animals” and “cockroaches.” One broadcaster repeated that, “The graves are not yet quite full. Who is going to do the good work and help us fill them completely?”
The rate of slaughter during the 100 days of the Rwandan genocide was five times higher than that of the Nazi death camp, historians have calculated. Most of those killed by ethnic Hutu extremists were minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus, according to historians.
During the months of genocidal violence, an estimated 150,000 to 250,000 Rwandese women were raped, according to human rights and war crimes investigators. Most were killed immediately afterwards, though some were told they were permitted to live to “die of sadness,” according to interviews.
Michele Mitchell, co-director, writer and producer of the film “The Uncondemned,” which tells the story of the conviction of Rwanda rapists for war crimes, said language used in the run-up to the genocide — similar to language often used by President Donald Trump — is where the “othering” starts.
“Likening people, over and over, to animals, making them less than human, is a time-tested first step towards mass violence,” Mitchell said in an interview with TMN. “Many Rwandans will tell you about being called ‘snakes’ and ‘cockroaches’ in the years leading up to the genocide. More recently, Rohingya (in Myanmar) will tell you about being called ‘snakes.’ It’s not dramatic to say that the president’s word choice is problematic, not when we’ve been here before so many times in the past couple decades.”