The Prevailing Denial of the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi in Rwanda: Revisiting Falsities and Upholding the Universal Responsibility to Truth


Genocide is often considered to be the worst of crimes that humanity can inflict on one another. Any country that has ever been touched by the scourge of genocide faces the risk of denial during and after the atrocity. For a very long time, the Tutsi genocide has succumbed to that denial which attempts to falsify and alter completely the truth of what ensued in Rwanda in 1994. Despite the vast documentation of the atrocities of the Tutsi genocide 1994, some still deny its occurrence and justify their claims by coining the genocide as a civil war, double genocide and other forms of denialism notably genocide minimisation and revisionism. By devising genocide ideologies, and through denialism, the perpetrators certainly purpose to advance many and different motives such as reducing or shifting the responsibility of the true perpetrators, denial of victim status and revictimization upon survivors and others affected by the crimes of the 1994 Tutsi genocide. Although these shortcomings continue to affect the rapidly growing country, Rwanda has been very successful in the aftermath of the 1994 Genocide through adoption of several unconventional measures which have birthed solutions to the challenges the country faced. To continue steering the country forward, there is a dire need to convey and tell the truth about the genocide. This can and will only be achieved by investing heavily on efforts that counter the inconsistencies and falsities told about the genocide thus protecting the genocide victims, Rwanda’s memory, and prevention of future atrocities.


In the span of one hundred days only, between April and July 1994, more than one million Tutsi were killed in the genocide against the Tutsi.1 This tragedy may have set a historic record for the largest number of people killed in the shortest time possible.2 As a consequence of Tutsi genocide, hundreds of thousands of survivors became orphaned, wounded, disabled, widowed, infected with HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases, and were left at a dark page of poverty with no hope of any further human existence.3 The genocide inflicted psychological torture through the macabre acts to which genocide survivors were subjected and it destroyed the mutual trust and social cohesion that Rwandans had forged over the centuries.4

Tutsi genocide was systematically planned and executed by the use of advanced ammunitions and rudimentary tools such as machetes, guns among other arms.5 It was a result of long-time systematic discrimination, divisionism, hatred, and dehumanization of Tutsis. From 1959, hundreds of thousands of Tutsi were sporadically killed during a series of bloody ethnic massacres, thousands were forced to flee, and many were deprived of their properties.6 All this systematic violence eventually culminated into the Genocide against the Tutsi in 1994.7

Despite the vast documentation and cogent evidence about the atrocities that transpired during the Tutsi genocide in 1994, there is a strong wave of genocide denial today.8 Most of the Tutsi genocide ‘denialists’ hide under the guise of democracy, free speech, freedom of expression, promotion of peace, academic freedom and purposive reconciliation. It is being denied in the speeches given in conferences, in the media, academic debates, writings and so on.9 The denialists adopt different deceitful strategies and theories such as “Tutsi genocide was a civil war”, “double genocide theory” and other forms of denialism including genocide minimisation and revisionism.10 It is the authors’ view or rather an obvious deduction that by devising genocide ideologies, and through denialism, the perpetrators purpose to advance certain agendas that reduce or shift the responsibility of the true perpetrators, denial of victim status and revictimization upon survivors among others affected by the crime of the 1994 Tutsi genocide.

Tutsi Genocide is no longer debatable. The Commission of Experts of the UN Security Council in its 3 October 1994 report, officially recognised the extermination of the Tutsi minority by the former Habyarimana Juvenal led government to have been done in a concerted, planned and systematic way. The Commission concluded that the atrocious acts of mass extermination against the Tutsi between 6th April and 15th July 1994 as such constitute genocide within the meaning of Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.11 Furthermore, on 26th January 2018, the General Assembly adopted a decision designating 7 April as the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. What is of significance is the correcting of inaccuracies in the Assembly’s 2003 resolution establishing the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda, particularly its title and operative paragraph. The title changed from Rwandan Genocide to “Genocide against the Tutsi”.12 This title leaves no room for ambiguities that have been long exploited by denialists who push their ‘double genocide theory’.
Thus, it is criminal and iniquitous for anyone to deny occurrence of the Tutsi genocide. Instead, one must abhor the tragic attempt to deny genocide and seek to promote unity among Rwandans. It is, however, important to note that the ethnic divide of Hutu-Tutsi is now obsolete, and the two peoples are simply recognised as Rwandans. It is also worth noting that despite this purge of genocide denialism, Rwanda has forged its unconventional path to reconciliation, unity and development and the yields are very promising.

This paper has discussed a brief history of Tutsi Genocide and its denial under this introductory chapter. The paper also promises to deliver on the following parts: Part II will interrogate the definition of genocide denial. In part III, the authors will delve into discussing different strategies and theories that have been adopted by genocide denialists. Part IV of the paper will thus highlight both Rwandan and international legal frameworks that are placed to combat the denial. Part V will invite the authors to avidly light up the hearts of Rwandans by tracking the development made as of the aftermath of the Tutsi Genocide to date. Finally, Part VI will serve as the conclusion of the paper.

A Closer Look at Genocide, Genocide Denial and Laws Criminalising Genocide Denial It has become an accepted part of human rights and humanitarian law that prohibition of genocide as a jus cogens obligation is binding on all states, whether or not they have ratified the Genocide Convention or legislated laws against genocide.13 The prohibition of genocide is currently reflected under international and Rwandan national laws.

Internationally, the prohibition of the crime of genocide is enshrined in the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Genocide Convention), which peremptorily prohibits genocide thus no state can derogate.14 Acts that qualify as genocide are embodied under Articles 2 and 3 of the Genocide Convention and are those committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group, as such:

Killing members of the group; Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.15

National laws follow suit and uphold the prohibition of genocide. Notably, however, there is a distinct crime related to genocide which attempts to deny the fact that a genocide occurred, and it has also been construed to amount to a crime. Although there is an existing uncertainty as to what the crime of genocide denial or genocide minimisation entails, there have been notable attempts to push for the development of literature and law on genocide denial.

According to Lasana Harris, genocide denial is blatant psychological torture with the potential to cause serious harm. Genocide denial often involves denial of responsibility and denial of injury.16 Such denial of a historical fact is an attempt to justify genocide or other crimes against humanity and trivializes the pain and suffering of genocide victims. Furthermore, Professor Gregory Stanton, one of the most prominent scholars of the crime, describes denial as an integral part of genocide and as one of the ten stages of the crime. He documents that the crime begins with the classification of the population, proceeds to the symbolisation of those classifications and includes discrimination against a targeted group and dehumanisation of the pariah group. The crime requires organisation, the polarisation of the population, preparation by killers, the persecution of the victims, and the extermination of the victims. Denial ensures the continuation of the crime once it is initiated. It incites new killings. It denies the dignity of the deceased and mocks those who survived. In all cases, the final stage of genocide is the denial that it ever happened.17

According to Eric Weitz and Robert Hayden, there is a need to prevent genocide denial and it is for that reason that genocide denial laws are put in place.18 For instance, the Rwandan Constitution references the country’s history and commits to fight against a future occurrence of genocide by combating genocide denial.19 It considers genocide denial as the major enemy of the unity amongst the Rwandans thus urges its people to take steps towards fighting against
denial and revisionism of genocide as well as pushing for the eradication of genocide ideology and all its manifestations.20

Rwandan President Paul Kagame (Right) leads thousands of Rwandans and several heads of state in a solemn walk to
honour the victims of the 1994 genocide, Kigali, 7 April 2019

Section 6, Chapter III of the Crime of Genocide Ideology and other Related Offences Act defines genocide minimization as any deliberate act, committed in public, aiming at downplaying the gravity or consequences of genocide and downplaying the methods through which genocide was committed. Any person who commits such an act commits an offense of minimization genocide which is punishable under Rwandan law. The punishment to this offense is embodied in the Rwandan organic law which institutes the penal code which is to the effect that:

‘Any person who publicly shows, by his/her words, writings, images, or by any other means, that he/she negates the genocide against the Tutsi, rudely minimises it or attempts to justify or approve its grounds, or any person who hides or destroys its evidence shall be liable to a term of imprisonment of more than five (5) years to nine (9) years. If the crimes under Paragraph One of this Article are committed by an association or a political organisation, its dissolution shall be pronounced’.21

The Crime of Genocide Ideology and Other Related Offences Act, (Act No 43 of 2013), also denotes minimisation of genocide as the denial crime.22 Further and according to the 2008 law on genocide ideology, amended in 2013, negation of genocide which is part of genocide denial occurs when negation is deliberate and committed in public aiming at:

stating or explaining that genocide is not genocide; deliberately misconstruing the facts about genocide for the purpose of misleading the public; supporting a double genocide theory for Rwanda; stating or explaining that genocide committed against the Tutsi was not planned.23

Commission of these acts qualifies as an offense of negation of genocide punishable by the law. It is thus true to make the argument that Rwanda has been very awake against the Tutsi genocide denial through legislation.

The Chicanery Strategies and Theories Adopted by ‘Denialists’ on the Tutsi Genocide It is true and proved that any country that has ever been through a genocide faces the risk of denial and revision during and after the atrocity.24 The perpetrators will try all possible ways to conceal the crime, distort statistics, deflect attention and even rebrand themselves as heroes and saviours all in efforts to nullify, downplay and revise the perpetrator’s role. Rwanda is of no exception. For a considerable length of time now, the Tutsi genocide has succumbed to genocide denial which attempts to falsify and alter completely the truth of what ensued in Rwanda in 1994.25 It is a sad take on today’s world where denial of the most appalling crime seems to go unnoticed by the public that is vulnerable to it. To deny genocide is surely to deny one’s humanity.

The Tutsi genocide denial can be classified under four major theories namely ‘Tutsi genocide is a civil war’, ‘double genocide theory’, ‘The Unplanned and spontaneous cause of Genocide’ and Statistical distortion’. The authors will discuss one by one.

Tutsi Genocide, a civil war Many denialists in this category put forward allegations that the Tutsi Genocide was a mere ‘inter-ethnic massacre’, that was simply a chaotic attempt to stop the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and thus a case of ‘every man for himself ’. At the core of this theory is an effortless campaign that purports to dispute an element of ‘intent’.27 It would rather be bizarre for any reasonable person to accept this deceitful claim after considering a systematic and coordinated pattern of events that preceded 6th April 1994.

Historically, the framing of a genocide as “war/civil war” has become one of the strategy of genocide denial.28 The basic difference between genocide and civil/total war is regarding the ultimate goals and intent. From the definition discussed in the proceeding part, the genocidal intent is to completely or partly destroy a certain group of people. Civil war quite has a different objective: it does not require the specific intent to destroy a certain sect of people instead in a civil war the insurgents or combatants are organised and armed and most of the time seek territorial secession or control of the central government.29

This theory fails in the logic behind it and technique. Logic in the sense that it is inconceivable how fighting against RPF was equated to killing the defenceless Tutsi civilians (men, women, children, etc.) in non-combat zones because of their ethnicity. The claim fails technically because by measuring the events between April and July qualifies to be a genocide. This conclusion has also been reached by many scholars, research institutions, authorities, International organisations and highest of all the Commission of Experts of the UN Security Council.

Double Genocide Theory

Reyntjens is arguably the most vocal proponent of this theory of the denial of Tutsi Genocide. The proponents of this theory seek some sort of moral equivalence, a comparison of wrongs against the ‘other side’, the side they refer to as RPF.30 The intended implication of this moral equivalence is to share a moral and legal responsibility and somehow force a negotiation roundtable.

This theory lacks merit. In fact, the idea of two genocides is sensational news that only serves a purpose to deflect attention from the perpetrators to victims. The theory also lacks evidence. For instance, a BBC journalist reporting from Rwanda to London explained that there was no convincing and substantial evidence that incriminated RPF to massacring civilians.31

Also, both Colonel Isoa Tikoca, head of the UN Military Observers (MILOBS) and Charles Petrie, deputy director of the UN Rwanda Emergency Office (UNREO) who had also heard rumours about RPF massacres, carried out careful investigations and they all found that the claimed abuses were inaccurate, if not outright fabrications.32

It is also worth noting that the champion of moral equivalence theory, Professor Filip Reyntjens was a close ally of President Habyara and his government. In 1978, at the request of President Habyarimana, he had helped draft a constitution for the Second Republic that had institutionalised the quota system in Rwanda. Moreover, in October 1990 when he had also offered his services to President Habyarimana following mass arrests of Tutsi and political opponents in the wake of the RPA struggle for Rwanda Liberation.33 His opinions can be refuted for being largely biased.

Unplanned and Spontaneous Cause root of Genocide

According to Melvern, the masterstroke of the genocidal government was to use its membership of the UN Security Council to spread the theory of spontaneous, out of control violence and promote the legitimacy of its actions within an international platform.34 It was a new order to assert that unplanned and spontaneous mass killings by militia Interahamwe and the military were a result of the death of their beloved President Juvenal Habyarimana in a plane crash.35 Denialists generally claim that it was from the anger, fear, and chaos of war they massacred more than One Million people.36 They claim that there was no planning or preparation and thus there is a lack of the element of intent to destroy a human group was lacking, and so with no intent, the 1948 Genocide Convention does not apply.37

The spontaneous uprising theory is the last to be believed if at any point one would lose a rational mind and consciousness. A proper and chronological study from the post-independent government led by Kayibanda to 1994 genocide against Tutsi reveals a crucial pattern of a meticulously planned and viciously execution campaign of extermination of Tutsis.

In 1924, Belgium took over from Germany and ruled Rwanda and Burundi (then called the Territory of Ruanda Urundi) as a single administrative trusteeship under the League of Nations mandate system until 1962.38 The Belgian regime was brutal and was characterised by forced labour, ethnic divisionism policies, land shortages, famine, and hatred.39 Right after the independence, the monarchy was abolished, and the power fell into the hands of the Hutu regime who carried down the colonial legacy.40 The ethnic divisions were reinforced and manipulated for political purposes.41 It was for this reason that the Hutu Ten Commandments were created and published in Kangura, No. 6 (December 1990).42 The Ten Commandments intended to indoctrinate the Hutu with a genocidal ideology which would grow deep in their minds and consequently facilitate future killings.43 Hutu leaders incited their followers to ‘to send the Tutsi back to their country of origin, Ethiopia, by the quickest route, via the Akanyaru river.44 From 1959, hundreds of thousands of Tutsi were being massacred systematically and well-coordinated by the then government because of their ethnic identity, Mass exodus of Tutsi forced to flee by the government and many were deprived of their properties.45

Raphael Lemkin, the first person to coin the term ‘genocide’ in 1944, described the crime of genocide as that results from a well-coordinated plan of action, and not a sudden and abominable aberration. It requires dependence on military security and certainty that outside interference will be at a minimum.46 All Lemkin requirements were present by 1994. It is well documented that by 1992 and 1993 Hutu militia were being recruited, trained and armed, there was a distribution of firearms and matches.47

However, all these undergoing activities were being denied.48 Bombshell evidence, perhaps one that convicts everyone, was the 11 January 1994 cable, a piece of material evidence sent from Kigali to the UN secretariat by Lieutenant General Romeo Dallaire. The Cable gave detailed evidence on the genocidal plan. It recounted the activities of registering all Tutsi families in Kigali with an intent to exterminate them. After registration the government would provide each sector with a militia of forty operatives trained to kill at a very high speed; the group had been trained in weapons and explosives, close combat and tactics in that within twenty minutes of receiving the order to kill, the militia had the capacity to kill 1000 people.49

Distortion of Statistics Another Tutsi genocide denial technique is the distortion of statistics. Those who deploy this strategy are accustomed to advance statistics that dispute the established death toll of more than one million Tutsis. In this category, the distinguished participants are Stam and Davenport who went far to contend that the number of Tutsi killed was ‘no more’ than 200,000.50 It is in the same vain that writers Edward and Herman in their book titled In the Politics of Genocide question heavily the distribution of the victims claiming that Hutus comprised the majority of the dead, not Tutsi.51

In perpetuation of these fabrications, the denialists under this category use a simple formula to explain how they arrived at their estimates: subtracting the number of Tutsi survivors from the number of Tutsi residents at the outset of the Genocide.52 This is misleading and crucially intentional deception because, for example, Stam and Davenport’s estimates relied on a 1991 census which recorded approximately 600,000 Tutsis in the country when the killing started, this is 8.4 per cent of the population.53 This figure, however, has many fundamental problems regarding their validity and they are demonstrably unreliable.

It is an uncontested fact that by 1994, the identity and racist quota system against Tutsis had already been institutionalised.54 The Hutu regime was determined to reduce the numbers of Tutsis registering with an intent to hide the evidence of what was to follow, the unprecedented mass killing of Tutsis.55 It is because of this system that many Tutsi feared to declare their identity and opted to identify themselves as Hutus.56 The implication of registering as Tutsi amounted to grave consequences such as discrimination from accessing education, health care, jobs, and other many services, humiliation and dehumanisation, and ultimately being a Tutsi came to cost lives.57 It is thus unreasonable and unsound to attach any probative value on the 1991 census.

The figures of 200,000, 3000 -5000 Tutsis killed is, in fact, a sharp contrast with other authoritative sources such as BBC journalists, as well as parliamentarians, human rights advocates, forensic scientists, academics, lawyers and judges, UN peacekeepers, and information in the archive of the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), to say nothing of survivor and eyewitness accounts. They contradict widely available research from Amnesty International, UNICEF, Oxfam, African Rights and Human Rights Watch.58

But an even more probative and authoritative source is the Rwanda Ministry of Local Government. In December 2001, the Ministry published a preliminary report endorsed by the national government, which recorded at least over 1 million people. The counting was systematically carried out in collaboration with genocide survivors/organisations. The report identified 934,218 victims by names: 93% were killed because they were Tutsis; the others either because they were Hutus married to Tutsis, resembled Tutsis, had hidden their Tutsi neighbours or were Hutus who opposed the genocide.59

The Light of Development in Rwanda post the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi Like a phoenix out of ashes, Rwanda has tremendously grown in the post-genocide period and continues to rebuild itself in diverse areas which have contributed largely to the socio-economic performance and brought about justice and reconciliation in the country.60 Rwanda’s successful growth may be largely attributable to its leaders’ emphasis on development ideology, their preferences for social engineering especially placing investment in youth, and the country’s self-reliance attitude.61 The economy has been revamped through extensive agricultural activities, trade and tourism, mining, and modern businesses. Consequently, the growth mechanisms in leading sectors have ensured that service delivery in Rwanda’s social sector has also been effectively ameliorated.62

One of the main drivers of the rapid growth is inclusivity. There has been a commendable great track record for female emancipation especially in the political sphere among other key aspects of the society.63 Discriminatory laws have been scraped off and new ones introduced to affirm the host of rights that women are entitled to in every society. Women can now own their property and keep an equal inheritance in law.64 This is a huge development contrary to the Rwanda tradition, which was patrilineal, in which women had no inheritance rights to the land.

Rwanda has made enormous strides towards the promotion of unity through reconciliation, which is a very big step for the country and its people. In a bid to ensure and encourage all peoples in Rwanda to put aside their differences and promote the Rwandan spirit of togetherness, the NdiUmunyarwanda program was launched back in 2013.65 The program aims at reconciling Rwandans through apologies to the wider Tutsi family. The President of Ibuka, Prof Jean Pierre Dusingizemungu, agrees that Ndi Umunyarwanda does not only act as an apology platform but also as an important occasion where Rwandans discuss their dark history and chart a brighter future ahead.66 Such homegrown solutions for Rwandan problems ensure that though the genocide will never be forgotten, future generations will not have to go experience the dark realities of genocide and thus strong social cohesion will be the driving force to development.

Furthermore, the adoption of the government-initiated programs such as “Kwibuka”, an annual commemoration of the 1994’s genocide, which brings together Rwandans from all corners of the globe to commemorate and learn the country’s history has served as a crucial mechanism to preserve the memory and pronounce a promise to prevent any genocide again.67 Such initiatives go far in an attempt to cement the adopted policies that seek to promote a single national identity. For instance, citizens are currently registered simply as Rwandans, with no ethnic or tribal references any more on their identification papers.

Although Rwanda is lauded as one of the most rapidly growing countries in Africa, more developments await to further raise the economy, create more employment for the youth and increase the productivity of the farmers to meet their daily needs. The country is still in steady progress to bolster other pertinent areas in the country such as voice and accountability, rule of law, and control of corruption. But the progress thus far is worth commendation.

Conclusion The precarious effects of genocide denial continue to pose a threat to the life and progress of the Rwandan nation. What ensued in Rwanda in 1994 continues to be documented by international inquiries, contemporary historians, journalists among other interested parties. Although this is a noble endeavour, especially in mitigating such future occurrences and as a human rights watch initiative, efforts must be put to eradicate genocide denial, minimisation and any pernicious propaganda that distorts the facts of the genocide. Thus, Rwandans and the international community should strongly stand against and condemn facts reversal and disinformation on the genocide.

Yet, it is not lost on these youthful authors that their efforts to attempt and relay the truth in such free spaces, such as this one, are not in vain. It only takes facts to fight lies just as this paper has relied only on facts to debunk the deceitful claims that have been prevailing about the Tutsi genocide. This article marks the beginning of a long journey in search of and dissemination of truth. The authors are convinced that combating the denialists through such and related efforts is the way forward as many denialists use writing to perpetuate the genocide denial.

Butera Michael is a Rwandan National, Publishing Editor of The Strathmore Law Review, Legal Researcher at Centre For Intellectual Property and Information Technology Law (CIPIT) and at The African Legal Support Facility (APLA Project). He is a Senior Clinician at Strathmore Law Clinic and is in his final year (LLB) at Strathmore Law School, Nairobi, Kenya.

Nyaga Dominic is a Kenyan National, Associate Editor of The People’s Accolade Law Magazine, Legal Intern at Strathmore Dispute Resolution Centre (SDRC), Research Assistant at Strathmore Institute of Family Studies (IFS) and the Coordinator of African Youth Leadership Forum (AYLF), Strathmore and Lang’ata-Nairobi Chapter. He currently serves as the Chairman of Beyond Tomorrow Youth Initiative. Dominic is in his final year (LLB) at Strathmore Law School, Nairobi, Kenya.



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