March 2018 In 1994, the small town of Rwanda in East Africa suffered over one million Tutsi civilians during a three-month genocide. Though the genocide was widely broadcasted, little was done to intervene. The survivors suffered severe trauma, not only Tutsi victims of Hutu violence, but also Hutu who were forced to kill their wives, their neighbors, or small children. Hutus that perpetrated the genocide justified what they had done, seemingly without guilt. A mix of radicalism, fear and the need for survival drove the Hutu civilians to torture and kill former colleagues.
The Rwandan Genocide was the methodical killing of Tutsi and defiant Hutu in the small country of Rwanda in East Africa. The genocide was the result of the growing divide between the minority, but high-class Tutsi and the majority, lower class Hutu (Zimbardo). Encouraged by the radio messages which alienated Tutsi and called out names of specific people to be killed, many Hutu complied with the massacre (Rwanda Genocide).
‘Unlike other Genocides of the 20th century, the Rwandan genocide unfolded before the eyes of the national media,’ says an article of World Without Genocide (Rwandan Genocide).
By the time the genocide ended three months later, on July fourth, around one million Tutsis and Hutus were killed along with 2 million refugees (Rwandan Genocide). Even though there were many warning signs and the genocide was widely broadcast, the attacks were allowed to happen for three months without interference. There were mixed responses after the genocide, some showed clear pain and regret, while others remained indifferent and cold.
After the genocide, ten Hutu militia members, who were interviewed by Jean Hatzfeld, revealed many replies which seemed show no regret or sadness. Many people were bystanders, not actively participating in the killing, but also not willing to try and protect others from harm, preferring to turn away.
The surviving witnesses and bystanders experienced clear, severe trauma and immense regret (Rieder). Responses from the civilians turned murderers ranged from, ‘The worst thing about the massacre was killing my neighbor,’ to, ‘…from the first gentleman I killed to the last, I was not sorry about a single one,’ (Zimbardo). Many interviewees’ responses, however, were excuses, they feared not complying, it was simply an order, a job to complete. The fear and the pressure compelled them to kill (Zimbardo). The excuses point to shame and placing the blame on something else shows that some of these killers regret their actions. In order to kill, the Hutu would rationalize the murders, giving excuses and convincing themselves it was necessary. A woman killed two children after their parents had also been killed, she reasoned that she was helping the children by not allowing them to be orphans (Zimbardo). In other situations, the reason would be a choice.
A ‘them or me’ choice in which the person would be forced to kill or be labeled as weak and non-complicit (Loyle). Loyle wrote, ‘Conditions of violence motivate individuals based on fear, self-defense, a desire to protect their family or loved ones,’ (Loyle). Some people claimed they could not help but kill because they viewed the Tutsi as the cause of all their problems and, as such, taking matters into their own hands seemed the logical thing to do (Zimbardo). People would typically justify the killings by convincing themselves it was necessary, whether it be choosing their own life over another’s or simply by believing they were helping. In the beginning, there was not much international response, which allowed the genocide to unfold as deadly as it did. The genocide was backed by the Rwandan government, in fact, Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, the national minister of women’s affairs, ordered that the Tutsi women be rapes before they were murdered (Zimbardo).
The genocide was covered live, the world knew about it, they knew when the peacekeepers in Rwanda fell from 4,500 to 260 practically overnight, and still decided to not intervene (Rwandan Genocide). BBC’s Rwanda Genocide article mentions, ‘The Belgians and most UN peacekeepers puller out after 10 Belgian soldiers were killed,’ (Rwanda Genocide). After the genocide, Rwanda has become an international symbol of genocide as well as a symbol of what happens when people expect others to intervene for them (McGarty). After the genocide and during it, no one did anything aside from report on it, by the time some form of help arrived it was too late. The Rwandan genocide was carried out by frightened Hutus who were led to kill through a mix of propaganda and a loss of individualism.
The reason the genocide went on for as long as it did was because the government backed it up, allowing the killers to feel validated in their fear as well as to feel justified in killing acquaintances. The lack of response also allowed the killers to continue their attack on the Tutsi and moderate Hutu. The Hutu were continuously given the green light to continue the slaughter, leaving behind traumatized survivors, both victims and bystanders. Rwanda has turned into an international symbol for what happens when people fail to act, when people remain indifferent to the struggles of others. The genocide represents what happens when most expect others to step in and act for them. This terrible attack on an ethnicity and on tolerance shows what happens when people allow indifference to prevail.