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Rwanda Civil War and Genocide

Years: 1990-1994
Battle deaths: 2,773 [1]
Onesided violence: 504,981 [2]

Nation(s) involved and/or conflict territory [note]
Rwanda, Burundi, France, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Published prior to 2013 | Updated: 2018-07-27 02:19:32


After the Social Revolution and first civil war of 1959-64 Rwanda effectively became a Hutu dominated one-party state. More than 100,000 Tutsi fled during these events and ended up in refugee camps in neighbouring countries without being allowed to return. Some of the refugees fought alongside Yoweri Museveni in the Ugandan Bush War in the 1980ies. When the relationship between the Museveni and the refugees soured and the Hutu president Habyarimana refusing to let the refugees return the desire to return by force grew. The refugees and former Ugandan officers Fred Rwigyema and Paul Kagame used their expertise to build an army, the FPR (Front patriotique rwandais, Rwandan Patriotic Front). On 1 October 1990, the FPR invaded Rwanda from their bases in Uganda. [1]

The first and second RPF offensives

The invasion was soon halted by the Rwandan army (FAR) assisted by French troops and the RPF retreated and withdrew to the Virunga mountains to regroup. The RPF began a classic hit-and-run style guerrilla war, which continued until mid-1992 with neither side able to gain the upper hand.[2]

From 1992 and onwards, external pressure forced Habyarimana to move towards democracy and in the spring of 1992, a token multiparty government was formed. As further pressure mounted, a second coalition was formed, this time with more significant representation from newly formed opposition parties. However, even after this change, power largely resided in the group closest to the president. [3]

Peace negotiations begun in 1992. This was a complex process involving his government, the RPF, the official opposition, and a group of Hutu hardliners. These hardliners opposed the peace process and disrupted the negotiations. They then initiated a massive wave of killings in early 1993, prompting Paul Kagame to launch a fresh offensive and bring the RPF to the verge of taking the capital, Kigali. Kagame decided not to storm the capital, however, and the two sides returned to the negotiating table with the RPF enjoying a strengthened hand.[4]

The Arusha Accords

An uneasy peace followed the signing of the peace agreement between the Government and the RPF (the Arusha Accords) in Arusha, Tanzania, August 1993. A peacekeeping force, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) headed by the Canadian Colonel Roméo Dallaire was deployed to the country with the objective to facilitate and supervise the implementation of the Arusha Accords and the establishment of a Broad-Based Transitional Government (BBTG).[5]

The establishment of the BBTG was plagued by repeated delays over the list of parliamentarians who would join it while Hutu extremists in the Iterahamwe and other militias begun to instil fear among Tutsis. The genocidáires used the popular RTLM radio station to broadcast hate speech and racist propaganda. Dallaire writes in his book Shaking Hands with the Devil about a third, invisible force in Rwandan politics at the time seemingly operating to derail the peace process. [6]

The Genocide

When on 6 April 1994, an airplane carrying Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down on its descent into Kigali hardliners and Hutu extremists of the interim government led by Théoneste Bagosora effectively took power.

Genocidal killings began the following day. Soldiers, police, and militia quickly executed key Tutsi and moderate Hutu military and political leaders who could have assumed control in the ensuing power vacuum. Checkpoints and barricades were erected to screen all holders of the national ID card of Rwanda (which contained ethnic classification information introduced by the Belgian colonial government in 1933) in order to systematically identify and kill Tutsi. These forces recruited and pressured Hutu civilians to arm themselves with machetes, clubs, blunt objects, and other weapons to rape, maim, and kill their Tutsi neighbors and to destroy or steal their property.[7]

Many nations evacuated all their nationals from Kigali and closed their embassies as violence escalated. The prime minister and her 10 Belgian bodyguards were among the first victims. The killing swiftly spread from Kigali to all corners of the country; between April 6 and the beginning of July, a genocide of unprecedented swiftness left up to 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus dead at the hands of organized bands of militia: Interahamwe. Even ordinary citizens were called on by local officials and government-sponsored radio to kill their neighbors. The president’s MRND Party was implicated in organizing many aspects of the genocide.[8]

RPF military victory

The breakdown of the peace accords led the RPF to restart its offensive and rapidly seize control of the northern part of the country before capturing Kigali in mid-July, bringing an end to the genocide.

The RPF military victory and installation of an RPF-dominated government prompted many Hutus to flee to neighboring countries, particularly in the eastern portion of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), where the Hutu genocidaires began to regroup in refugee camps along the border with Rwanda. Declaring a need to avert further genocide, the RPF-led government led military incursions into Zaire, including the First (1996–97) and Second (1998–2003) Congo Wars.[9]

Wikipedia Rwandan_Civil_War, published under the GNU FDL. Retrieved 2018-07-23
Wikipedia Rwandan_genocide, published under the GNU FDL. Retrieved 2018-07-23
Uppsala Conflict Data Program (Date of retrieval: 2018-07-23) UCDP Conflict Encyclopedia, Uppsala University.
Roméo Dallaire, Shake Hands with the Devil, 2003, ISBN: 009-947893-5

Rwandan Genocide Project at Yale University
International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda
Preventgenocide.org Rwanda resources page
Lemarchand René, Rwanda: the state of Research, Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence, [online], published on: 25 June, 2018, accessed 23/07/2018, ISSN 1961-9898


[1]    UCDP: conflict Rwanda Government vs RPF 2018-07-23
[2]    Wikipedia: Rwandan_Civil_War 2018-07-23
[3]    UCDP: conflict Rwanda Government vs RPF 2018-07-23
[4]    Wikipedia: Rwandan_Civil_War 2018-07-23
[5]     Dallaire, Shake Hands with the Devil, 2003, ISBN: 009-947893-5
[6]     Dallaire, Shake Hands with the Devil, 2003, ISBN: 009-947893-5
[7]    Wikipedia: Rwandan_genocide retrieved 2018-07-23
[8]    Wikipedia: Rwandan_genocide retrieved 2015
[9]    Wikipedia: Rwandan_genocide retrieved 2018-07-23


Data Sources

[1] Battle deaths: UCDP Battle-Related Deaths Dataset v. 5-2015 (link) (1989-2014) ID: #179
Low: 2,742 High: 7,353

[2] UCDP One-sided Violence Dataset v. 1.4-2015 (1989-2014) (link) including actors: Government of Rwanda, FPR, Interahamwe, ex-FAR
Low: 176,040 High: 806,830

More about sources


NOTE! Nation data for this war may be inconlusive or incomplete. In most cases it reflects which nations were involved with troops in this war, but in some it may instead reflect the contested territory.



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