Rwanda 1994

Many women begged to be killed during the genocide. They were refused and told, ‘you will die of sadness.’

(Crehan et al.)


“Genocide: the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethical, racial or religious group” (The International Legal Definition of Genocide).  Inevitably, it is a word that conjures images of horror and gore and begs the unanswerable, ‘why?’  Why has genocide been part of human history from the beginning? Why do we let things go so far? Why are we so vulnerable to political propaganda that can turn us against our own neighbours and friends?

Darfur, the Holocaust, the Armenian genocide, the colonization of the Americas… the list goes on and on. Genocide is often the final, disastrous step in many drawn out conflicts. It begins as a small, hostile virus that feeds off of growing hatred and resentment between people, and becomes more severe, gaining momentum, growing exponentially until a single spark flies and ignites a massive explosion. This was the case in Rwanda, where consistent friction between the Tutsi and Hutu over decades resulted in the deaths of anywhere from 500,000 to 1,000,000 citizens, and this over the course of about 100 days. Nearly as many were victims of horrific sexual violence.

In 1994, nearly a century had passed since there had been peace between the Hutu and Tutsi of Rwanda. The arrival and domination of Belgian colonialists in 1916 brought a favoring of the Tutsi for their tall, slender frames. The resentful Hutu majority overthrew the Tutsi monarchy in 1959 in a riot that killed 20,000 Tutsi and forced an exodus from Rwanda of many more. In1962, Rwanda became a free, independent state with a newly installed Hutu government. Economic instability, growing dissatisfaction with the Hutu president, Habyarimana, and frustration amongst the Tutsi, all lingered heavily in the air, waiting to land.

Feeling threatened by the growing unrest, Habyarimana began anti-Tutsi propaganda to bolster his dwindling support. Gender discrimination against Tutsi women was a central part of this movement. On April 6th, 1994, Habyarimana’s plane was shot down, presumably by Tutsis. Within hours, political leaders invited a wave of retribution; opposition leaders were murdered and the slaughter of Tutsi and moderate Hutu people began. In addition to the slaughter of nearly a million Tutsi and moderate Hutu people, it is estimated that 250,000 to 500,000 women were sexually assaulted.

The sexual violence against Tutsi women was a tactical step in the destruction of the Tutsi people. It intended to destroy their spirit and steal their will to live. This sexual violence took mane forms including rape, forced sexual slavery and mutilation.

The videos below record testimonies of female survivors of the Genocide.

For more information on the specifics of the sexual violencethat took place, please refer to:

Crehan, Kate, and Peter Gordon. “Dying of Sadness: Gender, Sexual Violence and the HIV Epidemic.” SEPED Conference Paper Series 1 (n.d.): 1-19. UNDP/SEPED. Web. 16 Aug. 2013. <>.

Green, Lleszlie L. “Sexual Violence and Genocide Against Tutsi Women.” Sexual Violence and Genocide Against Tutsi Women. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Aug. 2013. <>.

“Rwanda: How the Genocide Happened.” BBC News. BBC, 17 May 2011. Web. 06 Aug. 2013. <>.

“The International Legal Definition of Genocide – Prevent Genocide International.” The International Legal Definition of Genocide – Prevent Genocide International. Prevent Genocide International, n.d. Web. 16 Aug. 2013. <>.

“United Human Rights Council.” United Human Rights Council. Armenian Youth Federation – Western United States, n.d. Web. 06 Aug. 2013. <>.