Next Score View the next score

    As Boston case unfolds, a primer on the Rwandan genocide

    The Boston trial of a Rwandan man charged with lying on his asylum application has revived memories of the 1994 genocide that tore apart the East African country.

    Federal prosecutors say Jean Leonard Teganya ordered the killings of innocent Tutsis, Rwanda’s ethic minority, during a hospital raid in the city of Butare. US law bars someone who participated in genocide from obtaining asylum.

    The sheer brutality of what unfolded in Rwanda more than two decades ago still shocks the conscience, even in an age when terrorism has grotesquely stretched the definition of barbarism.


    In the span of just 100 days, extremists in the country’s Hutu ethnic majority killed some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutu countrymen who refused to take part in the slaughter.

    Get Metro Headlines in your inbox:
    The 10 top local news stories from metro Boston and around New England delivered daily.
    Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

    Neighbor turned on neighbor. Victims were dispatched with machetes, clubs, and bullets; others were burned. Bodies were thrown in rivers and dumped on roadways, where they remained. Many were killed while seeking haven inside churches, schools, and hospitals.

    Animosity between Hutus and Tutsis had roiled Rwanda for centuries, but tension deepened during the colonial period. Belgian rulers favored Tutsis for jobs and educational opportunities, feeding resentments.

    In 1959, a Hutu uprising led to the deaths of hundreds of Tutsis and displaced thousands of others.

    The genocide began in April 1994 after then President Juvenal Habyarimana and his counterpart Cyprien Ntaryamira of neighboring Burundi — both Hutus — were killed when their plane was shot down.


    Responsibility for the attack is disputed, but Hutu extremists blamed a Tutsi rebel group and launched a well-organized campaign of slaughter. Radio stations linked to the extremists played a key role in exhorting Hutu mobs.

    The international community, including the United Nations, has faced criticism for failing to intervene and perhaps limit the bloodshed. The United States, chastened by the disastrous 1993 intervention into the Somalia conflict, blocked a move to send peacekeepers amid signs of the impending chaos. President Clinton has since apologized to Rwanda for the lack of international response.

    In Rwanda today, efforts at reconciliation continue. One approach was to establish a system known as gacaca, community courts to promote forgiveness by victims and acceptance of guilt by criminals as a way to move forward.

    But reminders of the madness remain. Last year, four mass graves that concealed thousands of bodies were discovered.

    SOURCES: Globe reports, BBC, The New York Times

    Roy Greene can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @roygreene.