Over the course of 100 days in 1994, between 7 April and mid-July, up to a million people were killed in Rwanda, in a
mass slaughter unparalleled in modern history.
It is believed that
800,000 people were killed in the first six weeks, at a rate five times higher than that of the Nazi Holocaust. Around one-fifth of the country's entire population was murdered. Most of the dead were Tutsis, and most of the killers were Hutus. This was genocide; a concerted effort to exterminate an entire group of people.
Shelves of skulls are pictured at one of the many genocide memorials in Rwanda Reuters
The Tutsi minority were ruling caste, historically in control of the monarchy, the army and the administration. Resentment boiled over among Hutus, who made up 84% of Rwanda's population. In 1990, rebels of the Tutsi-dominated Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) invaded northern Rwanda from neighbouring Uganda.
The RPF's success prompted President Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, to sign a deal with them to end years of civil war and allow power sharing. However, Habyarimana was slow in implementing the plan and a transitional government failed to take off.
A Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) rebel soldier stares at a portrait of slain president Juvenal Habyarimana in Kigali Corinne Dufka/Reuters
On 6 April 1994, a plane carrying Habyarimana and Burundi's President Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down in a rocket attack.
Habyarimana's death triggered a 100-day orgy of violence, perpetrated mainly by Hutus against Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Hundreds of thousands of people were slaughtered by hand, using home-made weapons and household tools – knives, hammers and machetes. Tutsi families were blown up in churches where they had taken refuge.
Finally in July, the RPF – under the
command of Paul Kagame – captured Kigali, and around two million Hutus fled to Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo). Thousands of these refugees, who included those who carried out the massacres, died of dehydration and cholera.
The West largely stood by and ignored what was happening. When diplomatic messages warned the US, Britain and the United Nations of an imminent "new bloodbath" in February 1994, no action was taken. The UN finally agreed to increase its contingent of troops to 5,000, but they weren't deployed until after the killing had stopped.
IBTimes UK presents this harrowing series of photos illustrating the darkest days in recent history.
9 April 1994: A Rwandan woman carries a Swiss family's baby at Butare on the boder with Burundi, as foreigners flee the violence in Rwanda Pascal Guyot/AFP 11 April 1994: French paratroopers help Europeans at Kigali airport during an evacuation operation Pascal Guyot/AFP 12 April 1994: A French soldier accompanies a convoy of Europeans to the airport in Kigali Reuters 30 April 2004: Tutsi children play at a refugee camp Pascal Guyot/AFP 3 May 1994: Refugees wait for relief food from the Red Cross near the border between Rwanda and Tanzania Reuters 5 May 1994: Displaced Rwandans collect water from a polluted lake near a refugee camp in Benako, Tanzania Gerard Julien/AFP
8 May 1994: Dead bodies lie along the side of a road about 70 kilometres north of the Rwanda/Tanzania border Corinne Dufka/Reuters
8 May 1994: Makeshift shelters are seen at a refugee camp in Benako, Tanzania, after torrential rain Gerard Julien/AFP 11 May 1994: A Canadian Military Police officer plays with refugee children at the Kigali sports stadium where they were living with around 20,000 Rwandans who fled their homes Gerard Julien/AFP 12 May 1994: Tutsi children who were mutiliated with machetes rest at the Red Cross hospital in Kigali Gerard Julien/AFP 20 May 1994: An amputee walks past three Tutsi refugees huddled together to protect themselves against the cold and damp in a camp in southern Rwanda Corinne Dufka/Reuters 20 May 1994: Fishermen pile up corpses for burial at Kasensero village in Uganda. The bodies were carried by the Akagera river from Rwanda into Lake Victoria Reuters 23 May 1994: Rwandan Patriotic Front rebels load mortars and other ammunition onto a truck after taking the Kanombe barracks from government troops Corinne Dufka/Reuters 26 May 1994: Rwanda Patriotic Front rebels inspect the wreckage of the plane in which President Juvenal Habyarimana was killed when it crashed on 6 April, sparking the murder of hundreds of thousands of people Corinne Dufka/Reuters 27 May 1994: Rwandan orphans cling to each other in a church in Kabgayi, a town about 65km south of Kigali Alexander Joe/AFP 28 May 1994: Rwandan orphans hide in a house near their orphanage after it was hit by shelling Corinne Dufka/Reuters 28 May 1994: A displaced Tutsi baby cries as she and her mother wait for food at a refugee camp in Kabgayi Alexander Joe/AFP 28 May 1994: Displaced Tutsis wait for food at Kabgayi refugee camp, south of the capital Alexander Joe/AFP 30 May 1994: Thousands of Rwandan refugees cross the border into Tanzania carrying their belongings Jeremiah Kamau /Reuters 5 June 2004: An exhausted Rwandan mother lies next to her two crying children at Runango refugee camp about 50km south of the capital Abdelhak Senna/AFP
6 June 1994: A Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front fighter lights a cigarette in Nyanza in the Gitarama district of central Rwanda Abdelhak Senna/AFP 9 June 1994: A child with a gun sits in a car with Rwandan Patriotic Front partisans patrolling the streets of Kigali Abdelhak Senna/AFP 12 June 1994: A young Rwandan government soldier holds his machine gun on the Mushubuti front line during the battle against Rwandan Patriotic Front rebels Alexander Joe/AFP 12 June 1994: A Rwandan government soldier takes aim in a banana field on the Mushubuti frontline as Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) rebels make gains Alexander Joe/AFP 13 June 1994: Three girls who were saved from Hutu militias by Rwandan rebels stand in a school which is now safely in rebel held territory Reuters 22 June 1994: Rwandan youngsters carry water at Benako refugee camp in Tanzania Reuters 22 June 1994: An elderly Rwandan refugee looks through a barbed wire fence at a UN mission in Benako Reuters 23 June 1994: A little Hutu boy waits for his food rations, along with thousands of others living in the sprawling refugee camp in Benako Corinne Dufka/Reuters 27 June 1994: A French soldier shakes hands with Hutu children in the village of Murutu, 60 km from the border with Zaire Pascal Guyot/AFP 27 June 1994: French soldiers pass Hutu troops from the Rwandan government forces near Gisenye, about 10km from the border with Zaire. The French military was later accused of ferrying extremist Hutu militiamen to a mountain hideout in Rwanda to slaughter thousands of ethnic Tutsis Pascal Guyot/AFP
7 July 1994: A Rwandan Patriotic Front rebel examines a nail-spiked club found near a militia checkpoint which was abandoned after the rebels captured Kigali. Such weapons were used by the militia to slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis and opposition Hutus Corinne Dufka/Reuters 10 July 1994: A French paratrooper holds a Tutsi child in the western Rwanda village of Rwimpiri Pascal Guyot/AFP 15 July 1994: A Zairean soldier with a bandana covering his face searches Rwandan refugees for weapons at the border crossing Corinne Duka/Reuters 17 July 1994: A Zairean soldier steals from a Rwandan civilian before he crosses into the country, fleeing in front of advancing RPF forces Corinne Dufka/Reuters 18 July 1994: A Zairean soldiers inspects a pile of weapons left behind after Rwandan government troops fled the border city of Gisenyi Corinne Dufka/Reuters 19 July 1994: An elderly Rwandan refugee, exhausted and starving , is carried by relatives to a refugee camp near Goma airport in Zaire Pascal Guyot/AFP 19 July 1994: Rwandan refugees cross the Zairean border at Goma to flee RPF troops advancing on the town of Gisenyi Pascal Guyot/AFP 19 July 1994: Rwanda's newly-elected Hutu president Pasteur Bizimungu and his vice president the Tutsi-led RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) commander Paul Kagame, share a joke in Kigali Pascal Guyot/AFP 20 July 1994: A Rwandan refugee girl stands next to a mass grave outside Kigali, where dozens of bodies were laid to rest Corinne Dufka/Reuters 22 July 1994: A young Rwandan boy waits for his ration of water in a refugee camp near Goma in Zaire Vincent Amalvy/AFP
23 July 1994: A dying Rwandan woman tries to breastfeed her child next to hundreds of corpses waiting to be buried at a mass grave near the Munigi refugee camp in Zaire, where thousands of refugees succumbed to cholera or dehydration Corinne Dufka/Reuters
23 July 1994: An aid truck full of medical supplies makes its way past scores of bodies of Rwandan refugees who died of cholera Corinne Dufka/Reuters 24 July 1994: A Rwandan refugee carries his child on his shoulders on his return from Goma in Zaire Vincent Amalvy/AFP
26 July 1994: A little girl suffering from cholera is carried past the bodies of hundreds of Rwandans in the Mugunga camp in Zaire Corinne Dufka/Reuters
26 July 1994: Rwandan children suffering from dysentery are given milk at an orphanage Ulli Michel/Reuters 28 July 1994: Rwandan refugees carry food distributed by the Red Cross at the Kibumba camp in Zaire Ulli Michel/Reuters 28 July 1994: A Rwandan woman collapses with her baby on her back along a road connecting Kibumba refugee camp and Goma in Zaire. Aid officials said that refugees were dying at a rate of 1,800 per day Ulli Michel/Reuters 29 July 1994: A Rwandan refugee carries the body of his baby who died of cholera towards a mass grave Corinne Dufka/Reuters
Every year, on 7 April, millions of people in Rwanda
hold events to pay homage to the victims of genocide.