“Good matters, right matters. They have the last word. We learn about the Holocaust and other genocides so that we can be more human, more gentle, more caring, more compassionate, valuing every person as being of infinite worth, so precious that we know that such atrocities will never happen again, and that the world will be a more humane place that is hostile to such horrendous occurrences.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Never again – this is what the world said after the Holocaust of the Second World War. Then there was Bosnia and, in between, Rwanda. The genocide in Rwanda in 1994 resulted in the merciless slaughter of more than 800,000 Rwandan citizens in the space of just 100 days – while the world watched and did nothing. This genocide was a stark and horrific reminder that the crime of genocide can – and did – happen again. It reminded us that the realities of genocide are not archived to history, such as in the horrors of the Holocaust in Europe, the Killing Fields of Cambodia or the Turkish slaying of innocent Armenians at the turn of the century. It must never happen again, yet it has, and is, and may well be happening again.

For those of us in the ‘developed’ world, genocide is a reminder that killing, on a large scale, is not confined to over ‘there’ such as in Rwanda or Cambodia, but is very much a part of our world, such as the genocide in the Balkans in the 1990s. For those of us living in Ireland, studying the phenomenon of genocide is deeply disturbing for a variety or reasons. While the character and scale of killing in Northern Ireland (and throughout the island) has remained limited, many dimensions of our own history remain deeply challenging. The reality is that many of the worst genocides have occurred in Europe and at the hands of Europeans.

What does Genocide mean?

“We are in the presence of a crime without a name.”

Winston Churchill

“What isn’t properly named, cannot be properly understood.”

‘Genocide’, as a word, is relatively new. It originated as a result of the Jewish Holocaust under Nazi rule in the 1940s. Raphael Lemkin coined the term by combining the Greek word geno, meaning ‘race’ or ‘tribe’, together with the Latin word cide from caedere, meaning ‘to kill’. In 1948, the United Nations made Genocide an international crime, punishable during war or in times of peace under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. More than 130 countries have signed the Convention. Article 2 of the Genocide Convention defines genocide as:

“any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

  • (a) Killing members of the group
  • (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group
  • (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part
  • (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group
  • (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group

In naming and defining Genocide, crimes associated with it were finally brought into the international arena and created the possibility of action to prevent/stop genocide and (eventually) the possibility that perpetrators could be tried for their crimes in an international court.

However, one noted commentator has stated:

“Since the invention of the word, however, a long line of (US) Presidents have gone out of their way to avoid using it. Jimmy Carter resisted branding the Khmer Rouge with the term. Ronald Reagan avoided applying it to Saddam Hussein. The first President Bush refused to apply it to the Bosnian Serbs. And Bill Clinton skirted the label for Bosnia and Rwanda. State Department spokeswoman Christine Shelly became the face of Clinton’s semantic wriggle when she tried to insist that, although hundreds of thousands of Rwandans had been butchered, only “acts” of genocide were occurring.”

Samantha Power (2003) “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide”

The 8 Stages of Genocide

“One of the reasons for our failure in Rwanda was that beforehand we did not face the fact that genocide was a real possibility. And once it started, for too long we could not bring ourselves to recognise it, or call it by that name.”

Kofi Annan, April 2004 (speaking on the 10th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide)

Genocide does not just happen. It is precisely organised, planned and executed and usually follows eight stages in its development and execution:

Stage 1: Classification

Classification is the categorising of people into groups. They are classified by ethnicity, race, religion and/or nationality. An ‘us versus them’ attitude is introduced and promoted. Classification will always take place – it has happened in Ireland for example where there are divisions drawn between Protestants and Catholics, and between Nationals and Non-Nationals. There are ways of ensuring that these classifications don’t escalate. If both sides find a common ground and institutions that transcend these divisions, inter-relationships and tolerance can grow. One example could be the promotion of a common language in countries like Tanzania or Cote d’Ivoire. In Rwanda – Rwandan society was classified into three groups, the Hutu (majority), the Tutsi and the Twa. The Tutsi were seen as the “Elite” by the French and Belgian colonists because of their “white” features. The Tutsi were given preference in education, religion and governmental services. Because of this the Hutu Power movement saw the Tutsi as foreigners who had taken the rightful control of Rwanda from the Hutu.

Stage 2: Symbolisation

Groups are given names and other symbols that can be used to classify them. Classification and symbolism are universally human and do not necessarily result in genocide unless they lead to the next stage, dehumanisation. When combined with hatred, symbols may be forced upon unwilling members of groups, such as the Star of David on Jewish populations by Nazi rule during the Second World War. In Rwanda – this stage came in the form of identification cards. They were introduced in 1926 by the Belgians and were required by law. The card recorded each individual’s group identity – Hutu, Tutsi or Twa. New ID cards (that did not show which group people belonged to) were printed after the Arusha peace agreement in 1993. They were never issued because the Hutu regime wanted to use these new cards to identify the Tutsi during the genocide.

Stage 3: Dehumanisation

(Dictionary extract: to deprive of human qualities)

This process implies that members of one group deny the humanity of another. Members of the ‘other’ group are compared to animals, vermin, insects or diseases. Why is dehumanisation important? By dehumanising a group, those planning a genocide feel justified and the killing of the other group is not seen as murder. Dehumanisation overcomes the human revulsion against murder. This is the stage where hate propaganda in print and on radio is used to vilify the victim group such as during the genocide in Rwanda.

In Rwanda – Newspapers and radio were used to dehumanise the Tutsi in Rwanda. The “Kangura” newspaper as well as 20 other extremist newspapers wrote articles and cartoons portraying the Tutsi as cockroaches and snakes, they accused the Tutsi of eating vital organs and they embellished the myth that the Tutsi invaded from Ethiopia. Radio Television Libres des Milles Collines (RTLMC) was set up in 1993. It was a “hate radio” which broadcasted anti-Tutsi propaganda throughout Rwanda.

Stage 4: Organisation

The genocide is organised, often by the state or by terrorist groups. Hate groups are organised and militias are formed, trained and armed. Plans are made for genocidal killings. Propaganda institutions like newspapers and radios are strengthened and propaganda increases. In Rwanda – In 1990 the Forces Arm?es Rwandaises (the all-Hutu army) expanded from 5,000 to 28,000. Between 1990 and April 1994 Rwanda spent $12 million on arms. In the early 90’s two militias were set up. The “Interahamwe” (Those Who Stand/Attack Together) and the “Impuzamugambi” were secretly trained by Rwandan army officers.

Stage 5: Polarisation

(Dictionary extract: form, or cause to form into groups with directly opposite views)

Extremists drive the two groups involved in the genocide apart. The ‘us versus them’ attitude is emphasised and a new view is formed, ‘if you are not with us, you are against us’ – hate groups may broadcast polarising propaganda, laws may forbid intermarriage or social interaction between groups, etc. Moderates are denounced as traitors and are persecuted. Some are even killed. It is now ‘a kill or be killed situation’.

In Rwanda – “Kangura” and RTLMC called anyone who opposed Hutu Power an accomplice of the Tutsis and an ally of the enemy. An example of a moderate killed in the genocide is Agathe Uwilingiyimana . When she became Prime Minister of the Government in 1993, RTLMC openly called for her assassination. She was one of the first officials to be murdered in the genocide.

Stage 6: Preparation

Plans are made for the fast approaching genocide. Victims are identified and separated out according to their ethnic or religious identity and lists are drawn up of those who are to be killed. Here, members of victim groups may be forced to wear identifying symbols and may be segregated. Trial massacres are conducted to give the murderers practice. If these massacres go ignored by the international community, genocide is ready to proceed. This is the time when an international force should be sent to intervene and humanitarian assistance should be organised for the inevitable tide of refugees.

In Rwanda – when the Rwandan Patriotic Army invaded, the trial massacres began…

  • 300 in Kabirira October 1990
  • 500-1000 in Kinigi January 1991
  • 300 in Bugesera March 1992
  • The US Embassy reported a massacre of 70 Tutsis by the Interahamwe in Kigali February 1994.

Stage 7: Extermination

This is when the killings begin. It is termed “extermination” as the killers believe their victims to be less than human and that they are purifying society. When the genocide is sponsored by the state, the armed forces often work with militias to do the killing. At this stage, only rapid and overwhelming armed intervention can stop genocide. In Rwanda – the genocide began on April 7, 1994, the day after the Rwandan President’s plane was shot down, killing him. The genocidaires were well prepared and began slaying at once. The killing was low-tech. The murderers used machetes, hoes and anything that could be used to kill. The Hutu believed that it was kill or be killed. In the second week of the genocide the militias brought the Tutsis to government offices, churches schools and began massacring them on a larger scale.

Stage 8: Denial

During and after every genocide, the perpetrators will deny the crime. How can you deny genocide? You lie, block investigations and dispose of the evidence. The killers will deny that they committed any crimes, and blame what happened on the victims, they will hide the bodies in mass graves and intimidate any witnesses who are brave enough to speak out. Most will claim that the genocide was justified and that the killings were part of a war or a repression of terrorism. Many continue to govern until driven from power by force, when they flee into exile, where they remain with impunity, such as Pol Pot from Cambodia or Idi Amin from Uganda. The best response to denial is punishment by an international tribunal, such as the Rwanda Tribunal, national courts and ultimately the International Criminal Court. There the evidence can be heard, and the perpetrators punished. They may not deter the worst genocidal killers. But with the political will to arrest and prosecute them, some mass murderers may be brought to justice.

In Rwanda – there were many forms of denial in Rwanda:

  • the murderers believed that they were taking legitimate action by part-taking in the genocide;
  • the militias disposed of the bodies (by using lime) to minimise the amount of victims;
  • the government blamed the actions of victims for their deaths and claimed that the murders were spontaneous outbreaks or the actions of rogue commanders.