UK Deportations to Rwanda Postponed Amid Legal Action

echoes of 1994 genocide worry deportees

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
Rwanda, Kigali downtown landscape
Landscape of downtown Kigali in Rwanda. Photo by FCG / Shutterstock

The United Kingdom struck a 120-million-pound deal with Rwanda to send Albanians, Iraqis, Iranians, and a Syrian seeking asylum from southwest England to Kigali. However, the asylum seekers’ concerns about Rwandan health and human rights were heard by several charities and, eventually, the European Court of Human Rights, who stopped the first departing flight shortly before takeoff.

The asylum seekers’ fears about staying in Rwanda stem from the nation’s long history of human rights violations, which were most strongly exemplified in its 1994 genocide and have continued to the present day. In his video series Utopia and Terror in the 20th Century, Dr. Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius, Lindsay Young Professor of History at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, explains how the once coexisting Hutu and Tutsi groups came to the murder of 800,000 Tutsis.

Growing Rifts

According to Dr. Liulevicius, the Hutu majority of Rwanda and the Tutsi minority were separated by class and occupation—the once-dominant Tutsis were herders and landowners, while Hutus were farmers. This difference became viewed as one of ethnicity, not class, when Rwanda was a Belgian colony and the Belgian government invented a classification system to “identify” Tutsis. After Rwandan independence occurred in 1962, the Hutu dominated the new republic.

Thousand of Tutsis fled, while the Hutu government thrived with the support of France and Belgium. Fighting continued for the next 30 years between the two groups. Peace accords in 1993 called for power-sharing and nonviolence.

“The Hutu-dominated government of Rwanda […] was determined not to share its power,” Dr. Liulevicius said. “It feared that returning Tutsi minority members to power might enable them to exact vengeance or justice for the acts that had been committed in previous periodic massacres. Thus, we need to observe the underground plotting of the government, as it laid its careful plans for the reality of genocide.”

This carefully organized process was known as “the unleashing of Hutu power.” Many Hutu political leaders, including President Juvenal Habyarimana, began cultivating a widespread hatred of the Tutsis. A 1990 document published in the official government newspaper, called “The Hutu Ten Commandments,” espoused Hutu ideology, a purity of Hutus by total separation from Tutsis, and more.

Propaganda campaigns inspired by Lenin and Goebbels ramped up, while militia groups roamed the nation, ready for mass murder on a moment’s notice. Weekly meetings in the countryside served up anti-Tutsi propaganda in plays and art performances.

The Assassination That Broke the Camel’s Back

“On April 6, 1994, the Hutu president, Habyarimana, who, with his allies, had been promoting this program, was assassinated under mysterious circumstances,” Dr. Liulevicius said. “Many analysts believe that his own allies assassinated him in order to provide the spark for this event. The moderate prime minister and the Belgian UN peacekeepers who were protecting her were murdered immediately, thereafter.”

The plotters knew such violence would prompt the Western peacekeeping forces to withdraw themselves from Rwanda. They did so on April 21. Over the next 100 days, the Hutu killed 800,000 Tutsis. The killers came from all walks of Hutu life, whether enticed by promises of what they’d gain or coerced by others.

“The killing was done with machetes, with guns, and with the most primitive of tools as well, such as sharpened car springs, clubs with nails driven through their heads, even screwdrivers,” Dr. Liulevicius said. “The massacres grew even more radical as they continued. At first, elites had been targeted, and men, then increasingly, women and children, and even spouses of Tutsis were targeted in this killing.”

Finally, in July 1994, the genocide ceased when Tutsi-led forces took control in Rwanda. Inaction by other nations throughout the massacres was widely criticized. In November 1994, the U.N. Security Council approved a resolution for an international court to try crimes of genocide in Rwanda, which didn’t close until 2015. The Rwandan government undertook similar actions in 1996.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily