227 – A Look at Humanitarian History – Civil War in ’94 Rwanda
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A Look at Humanitarian History

Civil War in ’94 Rwanda

The concept of humanitarian work seems simple: helping people in need. In practice, it turns out that humanitarians must struggle with many complex political, economic and moral challenges ever present in their noble path of helping those who need help the most. This proved to be the case in Rwanda in the 1990s.

Learning from humanitarian history

Africa is a continent which is often plagued by civil wars and political instability in a lot of its regions. This also results in multiple wars involving non-African nations that took place in Africa. Through the years, Africa has seen wars of independence, secessionist and separatist conflicts, and major episodes of violence. Compassionate humanitarians from all over the world traveled to Africa to provide relief for those affected by conflicts and turmoil during the past decades.

The Rwandan Civil War was a conflict in the African Republic of Rwanda, between the Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR), representing the Hutu-dominated government of President Juvénal Habyarimana, and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). The war consisted of two phases and took place over multiple years.

Phase 1: The first phase began in 1990 when President Habyarimana began using anti-Tutsi rhetoric to gain more power in Rwanda. Since then, there were several massacres of hundreds of Tutsis. An invasion by the RPF followed, and the first phase ended on 4 August 1993 with the signing of the Arusha Accords. These were a set of five protocols intended to end the three-year Rwandan Civil War organized by the United States, France and the Organization of African Unity.

Phase 2: The second phase began following the assassination of Habyarimana on 6 April 1994. Fighting started the day after and only ended months later. Estimations are that more than 800,000 Rwandans were killed, with many more injured, during the period from April 7 to mid-July 1994, when the war ended with a victory of the Tutsi-backed RPF.  The heavily armed Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) led by Paul Kagame took control of the country. He became President hereafter.

An estimated 2,000,000 Rwandans became refugees, and in need of assistance. As reports of the genocide spread through the media, the United Nations Security Council supplied more than five thousand troops to give a strong force. Because of the killing of Belgian peacekeepers in the early stages of phase 2, the U.N. withdrew troops from Rwanda, and it took five months to rebuild to the authorized strength. Because of the complex nature of the situation and many issues between the parties, implementation of the agreement was heavily delayed and significantly undermined. This prevented the force from arriving on schedule, causing them to arrive months after the genocide was over. The general opinion regarding humanitarian intervention in Rwanda was that too little effort was being made during the war, and more lives could be saved, and lessons should be learned.

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