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IB DP History Study Notes

5.1.5 Genocide Tactics and Crimes

The Rwandan Genocide, a harrowing testament to the extremes of human violence, utilised a gamut of tactics resulting in a vast array of crimes against humanity. The exploitation of media further amplified the atrocities.

Strategies Employed by the RPF and Rwandan Government

The Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF)

  • Guerrilla Warfare Tactics: The RPF, comprised mainly of Tutsi exiles, leveraged classic guerrilla warfare techniques.
    • Infiltration: Small units would sneak into enemy lines, gathering intelligence and occasionally attacking strategic targets.
    • Ambushes: Relying on the element of surprise, they would attack unsuspecting units and then quickly retreat.
    • Hit and Run: A series of swift attacks were initiated to confuse and disperse the enemy.
  • Political Strategy: The RPF aimed to integrate both Hutus and Tutsis into their governance structure. However, historic and ongoing animosities made this goal challenging.

The Rwandan Government

  • Mobilisation of the Populace: The then Hutu-led government systematically stirred civilian participation against the Tutsi minority.
    • Local Leadership: Village heads and regional leaders were instrumental in organising grassroots level massacres.
    • Roadblocks: Erected throughout Rwanda, these were used to identify and subsequently execute Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
  • Militarisation: Militia groups like the Interahamwe (‘those who attack together’) and Impuzamugambi ('those with a single purpose') were formed, indoctrinated with hate, and heavily armed.

Nature and Scope of Crimes Against Humanity

Unprecedented Scale

  • Rapid Execution: Roughly 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were brutally murdered within three months.
  • Geographical Spread: From remote villages to bustling towns, nowhere was safe. The ferocity of the violence was consistent throughout.

Depth of Atrocities

  • Targeted Attacks: Individuals, families, and entire communities were singled out. Lists of Tutsi residents were created, ensuring thorough extermination efforts.
  • Sacred Places Desecrated: Locations thought to be sanctuaries, like churches and hospitals, were transformed into killing fields. Notably, the Nyarubuye Church massacre saw thousands killed in what they believed would be a place of safety.
  • War Rape: Sexual violence was rampant, with an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 women subjected to rape.
    • Tactical Violence: Rape was tactically used to humiliate Tutsi men and to exert dominance.
    • Lasting Trauma: Many survivors faced lasting trauma, unwanted pregnancies, and diseases like HIV/AIDS.

Collaborators and Instigators

  • Widespread Participation: Militia groups were central, but a significant portion of the Hutu population also participated, either due to coercion, fear, or genuine belief in the propaganda.
  • Government Involvement: It wasn't just rogue entities; elements within the Rwandan army and government were directly involved.

Use of Media and Propaganda

Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM)

  • Voice of Hate: RTLM, a private radio station, was pivotal in fuelling the genocide. It reached even remote areas, broadcasting hatred against Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
  • Directives for Murder: On-air personalities would often release names, addresses, and hideouts of Tutsis, ensuring they had nowhere to hide.

Print Media's Role

  • Kangura: This newspaper was notorious for anti-Tutsi propaganda.
    • Hutu Ten Commandments: This publication painted Tutsis as the enemy, promoting discrimination and hatred.
    • Graphic Depictions: Cartoons and articles would routinely portray Tutsis as malevolent, cunning, and deserving of punishment.

Propaganda's Sinister Role

  • Dehumanisation: By constantly referring to Tutsis as 'cockroaches' or 'snakes', the media made it easier for ordinary Hutus to dissociate from the human aspect of their victims.
  • Pervasive Mobilisation: Radio broadcasts, leaflets, and public meetings were all harnessed to rally the population, urging them to take up arms against the Tutsis.
  • Normalization of Hate: With the daily barrage of hateful propaganda, the idea of exterminating the Tutsi population became a regular topic of conversation and action.

It's imperative for students to recognise the intricate web of strategies and manipulations during the Rwandan Genocide. This understanding is crucial not only from a historical perspective but also to ensure such atrocities aren't repeated.


Yes, several countries were implicated in supplying weapons or support, either directly or indirectly. France, for instance, is frequently criticised for its role. The French government had long-standing ties with the Hutu-led government and provided military assistance, training, and arms. Though they argued their intention was to support a sovereign government and maintain stability, critics contend that this support indirectly facilitated the genocide. On the RPF side, Uganda played a role in their initial formation and provided some support. The role of foreign nations in the Rwandan crisis is a topic of intense debate and investigation.

Foreign media coverage of the Rwandan Genocide was initially scant and inconsistent. Many Western outlets initially portrayed it as just another African tribal conflict, undermining the severity and scale of the genocide. The sheer speed and brutality of the genocide made real-time reporting challenging. Moreover, the international community was distracted by other concurrent events, notably the Yugoslav Wars in Europe. While some journalists did risk their lives to document the atrocities, it wasn't until the genocide was nearing its end that a more accurate picture emerged in international media. Sadly, this delayed coverage contributed to a delayed international response.

The Rwandan Genocide had profound regional consequences. Massive refugee movements, especially into neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Tanzania, and Uganda, led to humanitarian crises in these countries. The refugee camps in the DRC, in particular, became militarised zones as exiled Hutu militias regrouped. This sowed seeds for future conflicts in the DRC. These exiled militias launched attacks both within the DRC and across the border into Rwanda, leading to further destabilisation. The Rwandan Genocide, therefore, not only devastated Rwanda but also had long-lasting repercussions on the stability and security of the entire Great Lakes region of Africa.

Psychological manipulation played a significant role. The systematic dehumanisation of Tutsis, often labelled as 'cockroaches', enabled Hutus to view them as less than human, thus justifying violence. Fear was another tactic; many Hutus were threatened with violence or death if they did not participate in the killing. Peer pressure and a sense of community responsibility were exploited, with propaganda painting the extermination as a communal duty. Lastly, rewards, be it in the form of looted goods or promises of land, were used to entice participation. This cocktail of fear, peer pressure, and incentives made it challenging for many to resist participating.

Absolutely. Amidst the widespread violence and hatred, there were instances of remarkable bravery and compassion. Some moderate Hutus, despite the risks to their own lives, sheltered Tutsis. Churches and mosques became havens for many, though not always reliably, as some sanctuaries were violated. There were also Hutu officials who used their authority to protect Tutsis, refusing to partake in the massacre. Additionally, some radio stations, in stark contrast to the incendiary RTLM, called for peace and unity. However, these efforts were sporadic and lacked a cohesive structure, making them susceptible to threats from the larger, more organised extremist groups.

Practice Questions

How did the use of media and propaganda play a significant role in the Rwandan Genocide, and how did it contribute to the crimes against humanity committed during this period?

The media, especially RTLM radio and the newspaper Kangura, played a pivotal role in inciting and perpetuating the Rwandan Genocide. RTLM's broadcasts reached remote areas, spewing vitriol against Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Specific details like names and addresses were often aired, making escape almost impossible. Kangura published the "Hutu Ten Commandments", propagating discrimination against Tutsis. The constant dehumanisation, portraying Tutsis as 'cockroaches', facilitated the dissociation from the human aspect of victims. Such pervasive propaganda mobilised the Hutu populace and made the idea of exterminating Tutsis widely accepted, directly contributing to the heinous crimes against humanity.

Explain the strategies adopted by both the RPF and the Rwandan Government during the genocide, and how they differed in their approach and objectives.

The RPF, largely composed of Tutsi exiles, adopted guerrilla warfare tactics, employing techniques like infiltration of enemy lines, ambushes, and hit-and-run attacks. Their overarching political objective was to establish an inclusive government integrating Hutus and Tutsis. On the contrary, the Hutu-led Rwandan Government sought to exterminate the Tutsi minority. They mobilised the civilian populace against Tutsis, using local leadership for grassroots massacres and erecting roadblocks for identification and execution. Militarisation was prominent, with the formation of militia groups like Interahamwe and Impuzamugambi. Thus, while the RPF aimed for integration and ending persecution, the Rwandan Government focused on extermination and consolidation of power.

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Written by: Maddie
Oxford University - BA History

Maddie, an Oxford history graduate, is experienced in creating dynamic educational resources, blending her historical knowledge with her tutoring experience to inspire and educate students.

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