Rwanda Timeline

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Rwanda Timeline
It is usually asserted that the Twa and Hutu peoples lived in the Rwanda/Burundi region prior to the arrival of Tutsis, and that Tutsis arrived sometime between the 14th and 16th centuries, establishing a kingdom and feudal system. However Rwanda’s history is contested and divisive. To what extent the Tutsi were an invading-type force and to what extent they assimilated is disputed, but there is a reasonable argument that they came in various waves of migration and intermingled with the existing population, rather than arriving as a single imperial entity to wrest control from an indigenous population.
At European contact Rwanda (and Burundi) was ruled by a Tutsi monarchy, and apparently had been for a couple of centuries, though there were also Hutu chiefs and principalities. In the north-west of what is now Rwanda there is a history of independent Hutu kingdoms.
19th century: Rwanda is internally changing towards greater centralisation of power, greater dominance by the central Tutsi monarchy and an increase in Tutsi chiefly powers. In the late 19th century Tutsi King Kigeri Rwabugiri, it is claimed, establishes a unified state with a centralised military structure. The Hutu kingdoms in the north-west are more resistant to these processes. Again, this is contested – the true nature of the political system at this point (and earlier) is not agreed upon. The significance of clan/lineage ties versus the Tutsi/Hutu/Twa identities is not agreed upon. The precise nature of Tutsi/Hutu/Twa social groupings is not agreed upon. The degree to which there was social mobility between these groupings is not agreed upon. The extent to which the central Tutsi monarchy was really able to exert political power over the outlying regions and Hutu principalities and the extent to which this was a self-aggrandizing narrative told to Europeans is not agreed upon.
European Contact and Colonial Rule
1850/60s: English explorer and colonial agent, John Hanning Speke, visits the Rwandan area and concludes that the ancestors of the Tutsi were the Galla people of southern Ethiopia (some other explorers and missionaries come to think that they are descended from ancient Egyptians). Beginning of European notion that the Tutsi ruling class are descendants of a conquering superior race that is more closely related to Europeans and that Tutsis are descendants of Ham, the son of Noah (Hamitic Hypothesis).
1885: at the Berlin Conference Rwanda is ‘given’ to Germany as part of German East Africa (Ruanda-Urundi).
1894: the first European, count Gustav von Götzen, Governor of German East Africa, is received at the Rwandan court of King Rwabugiri. Germany rules through the Tutsi elite and favours Tutsi over Hutu.
1907: Germany establishes an official post in Rwanda (minimal presence).
1916 Belgian colonial rule succeeds German through military conquest (i.e. Belgium occupies the territory).
After World War I: League of Nations Mandate officially gives Belgium power in Rwanda (dates for this given variously as 1919, 1920, and 1923). Belgium initially continues to rule the colony indirectly through Tutsi kings, but soon rules more directly and more violently and further consolidates Tutsi rule at the expense of Hutu. Encourages mass conversion to Christianity.
1920s: the powers of the Rwandan king are further circumscribed in favour of stronger colonial rule.
1933: national census in Rwanda held by Belgian administration. Identity cards are introduced and people are classified by ‘race’ on them (14-15% classed as Tutsi).
1945: the United Nations is formed and establishes the Trusteeship Council to oversee third world decolonisation. Ruanda-Urundi is made a UN trust territory in 1946, still governed by Belgium.
1950s: the Belgian administration makes moves towards democracy and the first Rwandan political parties are formed (along ethnic lines).
Independence and Ethnic Power Shifts
1957: a group of Hutu publish a manifesto demanding their emancipation and majority rule in Rwanda, including the notion that Tutsis are invaders from the north who enslaved Hutus. The Parmehutu party (Parti du Mouvement de l’Emancipation Hutu) is formed, calling for an end to Tutsi rule before freedom from Belgium. (Opposition party mainly Tutsi, Union National Rwandaise – UNAR, and is pro-monarchist and anti-Belgian.)
1959: Tutsi King Mutara III dies suspiciously, leading to political assassinations of Hutu leadership by an extremist Tutsi group in the royal court and UNAR attacks on the leader of Parmehutu. Widespread inter-ethnic political violence between Hutu and Tutsi. Essentially a Hutu revolution leads to the exile of 150,000-200,000 Tutsi, mostly to Uganda, and Belgium puts Rwanda under military rule and replaces Tutsi chiefs with Hutu ones.
1960: elections produce a strong win for Parmehutu. Tutsi King Kigeri V leaves Rwanda permanently. Thousands more Tutsi are exiled.
1961: Hutu leaders vote to abolish the monarchy and Rwanda is declared a republic.
1962: Rwanda is granted independence with Gregoire Kayibanda (Hutu) as president.
1963: organized massacre of thousands of Tutsis and a mass elimination of Tutsi political opposition through assassinations, in response to a failed attack by a group of monarchists from refugee camps in Burundi.
1967: massacre of Tutsis.
1973: massacre of Tutsis. Juvénal Habyarimana leads a military coup against Kayibanda (Habyarimana elected President in 1978) and power shifts towards northern Hutu.
Rebellion and Civil War
1985: a decade-long decline in the international price of coffee begins; hugely significant for Rwanda (the vast majority of its export income comes from coffee and tea).

1986: Yoweri Museveni gets the Ugandan presidency through a guerrilla insurgency aided by Tutsi immigrants (who make up a quarter of his soldiers) then backs Tutsi attempts to overthrow the Rwandan government.

1989: the bottom falls out of the international coffee market, very negatively affecting the economy of Rwanda.

1990-1994: Rwandan Government institutes a structural adjustment programme in the country, supported by IMF and World Bank loans. Almost immediately the Rwandan franc is devalued by 40%, with a second devaluation in 1992/93 (some accounts say 15%, some say 40%). Inflation and the cost of basic necessities rise hugely and very quickly. Poverty, malnourishment and loss of livelihoods increases significantly from an already poor level.

1990: exiled refugee Tutsi launch a civil war against the Hutu-led government of Rwanda, under the name of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), supported by Uganda.

1990, 10 December: extremist newspaper Kangura (‘wake up’), backed by government and military forces, publishes the ‘Hutu Ten Commandments’ relating to Hutu dealings with Tutsi. (Four of these ‘commandments’ relate to Tutsi women and contribute to sexual violence.)

1991: cease-fire declared between Rwandan government and the RPF.

1991-94: periodic massacres.

1992: Habyarimana’s party the National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development (MRND) and its extremist ally the Coalition for the Defense of the Republic (CDR) create ‘youth wings’ affiliated with the political parties, which soon become armed and trained civilian militias.

1992 July: Rwandan government negotiates with the RPF and other opposition leaders in talks held in Arusha, Tanzania.

1992 November: Hutu politician Leon Mugesera (with the backing of significant government elements) gives a speech claiming the Tutsi are ‘aliens, interlopers from Ethiopia’ who have no legitimate rights in Rwanda. He exhorts Hutu to murder all Tutsi and tells listeners that the RPF wants to exterminate them.

1993: radio station Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) is launched. RTLM broadcasts virulent accusations against Tutsis and against Hutus willing to work with them.

1993 June: In Burundi, military rule ends in free elections and the first pro-Hutu government is elected.

1993 August: the Arusha Accords are signed (power-sharing agreement with Tutsis) and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR) is established. Implementation of the Accords is delayed.

1993 October: In Burundi, Tutsi soldiers assassinate President Ndadaye. Some members of his party massacre Tutsis in revenge attacks and the army then launches reprisals. Burundi is plunged into ethnic violence claiming some 300,000 lives and, as usual, impacting upon Rwanda.


1994, 6 April: the Hutu presidents of Rwanda and Burundi (Juvénal Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira) are killed when their plane is shot down over Kigali by a rocket. Genocide against Tutsis begins by Hutu militias and some of the Rwandan military. The RPF launches a major military offensive against Rwanda. The interim Rwandan government blames the plane crash on the RPF and Belgian UNAMIR soldiers; the Rwandan army kills 10 Belgian soldiers and Belgium withdraws its peacekeeping troops.

1994, 21 April: the UN withdraws almost all its UNAMIR peacekeepers.

1994 May: France intervenes unilaterally, supporting the Hutu government and military (France has been arming and training the regime for years).

1994, 17 May: the UN decides to send in UNAMIR II, an expanded peacekeeping force, but operationalising this is delayed for months.

1994 April-July: an estimated 800,000-1,000,000 Rwandans are killed during the genocide, largely Tutsi but moderate Hutus and those who resist violence also suffer. An estimated 250,000-500,000 women and girls are subjected to sexual violence.

1994, 19 July: the RPF has taken control of most of Rwanda, set up government in Kigali and ended the genocide. Pasteur Bizimungu, a Hutu member of the RPF, is made President. Paul Kagame, military leader of the RPF, is Vice-President and in charge of defence. It has been alleged that in the immediate post-genocide period around 30,000 Hutus were killed by the RPF. Up to two million Hutus flee to refugee camps in neighbouring states, largely in Zaire (now called the Democratic Republic of Congo), and from the camps Hutu exiles attack Rwanda. Over the next couple of years Hutu militias responsible for the Rwandan genocide largely come to control many of the refugee camps in Zaire.

1994 August: UNAMIR II peacekeeping troops arrive in Rwanda.


1994, 8 November: the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) is created in Arusha, Tanzania by the UN Security Council through resolution 955:, with a remit covering crimes committed January to December 1994. The ICTR began trials in 1995 and as of October 2011 has indicted 80 people and convicted 32, with a further 19 currently going through the appeals process, and acquitted eight people. Ten people are being tried at present with one further person awaiting trial. Ten accused fugitives remain at large. The ICTR was supposed to complete its trials by the end of 2010 but this has been extended. The ICTR currently expects all trials to be finished by late 2012 but appeals are projected to continue until the end of 2014. Meanwhile many thousands of people (up to 120,000) have been imprisoned internally in Rwanda on charges relating to the events of the genocide and held for years awaiting trial. Thousands have been released since 2003.

1995: Extremist Hutu militias and Zairean government forces attack local Zairean Tutsis and Zaire attempts to force refugees back to Rwanda.

1996-97: in response to Hutu attacks from Zairean refugee camps the Rwandan government mounts an invasion against Zaire aimed at clearing out the Hutu refugee camps. During their invasion Rwanda helps a group of Zaireans opposed to the regime of their President Mobutu Sese Seko; these people help the Rwandans with their military operations in Zaire in exchange for help deposing Mobutu and installing a new government in Zaire, led by Laurent Kabila (who renames Zaire the Democratic Republic of Congo – DRC).

1998: the Rwandan government falls out with Kabila over the issue of his failure to deal with Hutu militias in the DRC and begins supporting rebel forces trying to depose him. A Congolese rebellion against Kabila is supported by Rwanda and Uganda, while Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola support Kabila. There is ongoing Rwandan military involvement in the DRC by both government forces and rebel Hutu militias.

1998 September: Jean-Paul Akayesu, former bourgmestre (leader/mayor) of the commune of Taba in the prefecture of Gitarama, is convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity (including rape) by the ICTR (sentenced in October to life imprisonment). This is the first ever conviction for genocide at an international court.

1999: Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, former Rwandan Minister of Family and Women’s Development and MRND member is charged at the ICTR with conspiracy to commit genocide, genocide, complicity in genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, crimes against humanity, and violations of Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. She is noted for organising massacres and encouraging sexual violence against Tutsi women in Butare prefecture during the genocide. She is the first woman to be charged with genocide at an international court and later the first woman to be convicted of genocide at an international court, though not the first woman to be convicted of this in local Rwandan courts (see Agnes Ntamabyariro, January 2009 and Beatrice Nirere, March 2009). Her trial began in June 2001 and in June 2011 she was convicted.

2000 March-April: Rwandan (Hutu) President Pasteur Bizimungu resigns after political disagreements with the government over Cabinet appointments and accusing the government of unfairly targeting Hutus in political corruption investigations. Vice-President Paul Kagame, former RPF military commander, is chosen by MPs as the new President of Rwanda. Bizimungu accuses the RPF-led government of undemocratic repression of dissent.

2001 June: Father Athanase Seromba, a Catholic priest in Kivumu commune in Kibuye prefecture at the time of the genocide, is indicted by the ICTR on genocide charges. Pauline Nyiramasuhuko’s trial begins at the ICTR.

2001 October: elections of people to new ‘gacaca’ (‘justice on the grass’) courts (based upon a supposedly traditional community justice model) begin, with the goal of clearing the backlog of genocide cases.

2001 December: a new flag and national anthem are launched to try to promote national unity and reconciliation.

2002: Augustin Bizimungu, head of the Rwandan army at the time of the genocide, is arrested in Angola and sent to Arusha for trial at the ICTR.

2002 April: former President Pasteur Bizimungu is arrested and charged with allegedly trying to form a militia, inciting ethnic violence and embezzlement – charges which he maintains were politically motivated. (He is eventually sentenced to 15 years but later given a presidential pardon.)

2002 July: Rwanda agrees to withdraw its troops from eastern DRC in return for a commitment from the DRC government to disarm and repatriate Rwandan Hutu rebels believed to be responsible for the genocide. By October the government says it has withdrawn all Rwandan troops from the DRC (after four years of involvement).

2002 September: Jean-Baptiste Gatete, former bourgmestre (leader/mayor) of Murambi Commune in Byumba prefecture, is arrested by the Congolese authorities for transfer to the ICTR on charges of genocide.

2003 May: a draft constitution banning incitement to ethnic hatred is approved by voters.

2003 August: Paul Kagame is elected President in the first presidential elections since the genocide.

2003 October: in the first multi-party parliamentary elections President Kagame’s RPF wins an absolute majority (accused of fraud by EU election observers).

2003 December: three former media directors are found guilty by the ICTR of inciting genocide.
2004 March: President Kagame rejects a French report which accuses him of ordering the April 1994 shooting down of the plane carrying the Rwandan president.
2004 June: former president Pasteur Bizimungu is sentenced to 15 years for embezzlement and inciting violence.
2005 March: the main Hutu rebel group, the FDLR, based in the DRC, says it’s ending its armed struggle.

2005 July: in a third phase of releases of prisoners accused of genocide, in an effort to ease the pressure of huge prison overcrowding the government releases 36,000 prisoners, most of whom have confessed to involvement in the genocide.

2006 January: Rwanda’s 12 provinces are replaced by five new larger regions, with the goal of creating more ethnically-diverse administrative areas.

2006 November: a French judge renews the accusation that President Kagame ordered the 1994 shooting down of the plane carrying the Rwandan president, issuing an international arrest warrant for him. Kagame breaks off diplomatic relations with France.

2006 December: Father Athanase Seromba is the first Roman Catholic priest to be convicted for involvement in the genocide, being found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity (extermination). The ICTR sentences him to 15 years imprisonment.
2007 February: another approximately 8,000 prisoners accused of genocide are released in Rwanda – around 60,000 have been freed since 2003 to ease overcrowding.

2007 April: former president Pasteur Bizimungu is released from prison after a presidential pardon.

2007 June: Rwanda abolishes the death penalty, hoping this will encourage countries opposed to capital punishment to extradite genocide suspects to Rwanda for trial.

2007 October: an inquiry is launched into the 1994 presidential plane crash.

2007 November: Rwanda signs a peace agreement with the DRC, under which the DRC will hand over those suspected of involvement in the genocide to Kigali and to the ICTR.

2008 January: French police arrest former Rwandan army officer Marcel Bivugabagabo, who is on a list of war criminals wanted for trial by the Rwandan government.

2008 February: a Spanish judge issues arrest warrants for 40 Rwandan army officers, accusing them of genocide, terrorism and crimes against humanity (President Kagame rejects this).
2008 April: Rwandan Hutu militias clash with DRC government forces, leading to the displacement of thousands.
2008 May: Callixte Kalimanzira, former high-ranking MRND member and acting Minister of the Interior at the time of the genocide goes on trial at the ICTR charged with taking part in the 1994 genocide in Butare prefecture (later convicted).
2008 August: Rwanda accuses France of having played an active role in the genocide and names more than 30 senior French officials. France rejects the claims. Also in August another Congolese militia, led by Congolese Tutsi General Nkunda (the main rival of the Hutu militias) clashes with government forces and UN peacekeepers in the DRC.
2008 September: President Kagame’s RPF wins a large majority in parliamentary elections. Also this month former deputy prosecutor Simeon Nchamihigo is convicted by the ICTR of four counts of genocide and crimes against humanity. He is sentenced in November to life imprisonment. (He was working as a defence investigator at the ICTR under an assumed name when arrested in 2001.)
2008 October: the Rwandan government decides that all education in Rwanda will be taught in English instead of French, officially resulting from joining the English-speaking East African Community but also clearly in response to the very poor diplomatic relations between Rwanda and France.
2008 November: Rwanda expels the German ambassador and recalls its own ambassador to Germany over a dispute about the arrest in Germany of presidential aide Rose Kabuye in connection with the shooting down of President Habyarimana’s plane in 1994.
2008 December: Simon Bikindi, a famous Rwandan singer and composer who worked at the Ministry of Youth and Association Movements during the genocide, is sentenced to 15 years imprisonment by the ICTR for direct and public incitement to commit genocide. Colonel Theoneste Bagosora, formerly of the Ministry of Defence, Major Aloys Ntabakuze, former commander of the elite Para Commando Battalion, and Colonel Anatole Nsengiyumva, former commander of the Gisenyi operational sector, are all found by the ICTR to be guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. (Bogosora is also found to be responsible for the murder of the 10 Belgian peacekeepers.) Each is sentenced to life imprisonment. Also this month a UN report accuses Rwanda (and the DRC) of helping Tutsi rebels fighting in eastern DRC. Rwanda denies supplying aid and child soldiers.
2009 January: former Justice Minister Agnes Ntamabyariro is sentenced to life by a Kigali court for conspiracy to plan the genocide and speeches inciting people to take part (her trial began in 2006). The DRC government asks troops from Rwanda to help with an operation against rebel militias active in the east; Rwandan authorities arrest General Nkunda (previously seen as their ally).
2009 February: Rwandan troops leave the DRC. The ICTR finds Emmanuel Rukundo, a former military chaplain in the Rwandan Armed Forces, to be guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity (including murder, extermination, abduction and sexual assault), sentencing him to 25 years.
2009 March: Rwandan MP and member of the governing RPF, Beatrice Nirere, is found guilty of genocide by a Rwandan gacaca court and she is sentenced to life imprisonment. A Dutch court finds Rwandan Hutu Joseph Mpambara guilty of torture in the context of the genocide but not guilty of war crimes.
2009 April: the British High Court rules four men accused of killing or conspiring to kill Tutsis during the genocide – Vincent Bajinya, Charles Munyaneza, Celestin Ugirashebuja and Emmanuel Nteziryayo – ought not to be extradited to Rwanda on the grounds that they would not undergo a fair trial.
2009 June: former MRND politician Callixte Kalimanzira is found guilty at the ICTR of genocide and direct and public incitement to genocide and is sentenced to 30 years.
2009 August: Gregoire Ndahimana, former bourgmestre (leader/mayor) of Kivumu Commune in Kibuye prefecture, is arrested in a refugee camp in the DRC and transferred to Arusha, indicted on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.
2009 October: The trial of Jean-Baptiste Gatete, former bourgmestre (leader/mayor) of Murambi Commune, begins. He is charged with six counts of genocide or complicity in genocide; conspiracy to commit genocide; crimes against humanity for extermination, murder and rape. He pleads not guilty but was convicted in 2011. Also this month Idelphonse Nizeyimana (one of the ICTR’s most wanted), former second in command of intelligence and military operations at Rwanda’s military training school at the time of the genocide, is arrested in Uganda and extradited to Tanzania for trial at the ICTR, charged with four counts of genocide or complicity in genocide (this is later upgraded to six counts of genocide) and crimes against humanity (including rape). Among other things he is accused of ordering the execution of the former Tutsi Queen (widow of Mutara III). He pleads not guilty.
2009 November: Rwanda is admitted to the Commonwealth (only the second country, after Mozambique, to become a member without having a British colonial past or constitutional ties to the UK). France and Rwanda restore diplomatic relations, three years after they were broken off.
2009 December: Rwanda is declared free of landmines, the first country to achieve this.
2010 February: French President Nicolas Sarkozy pays an official visit to Rwanda to mark reconciliation after years of mutual accusations over the genocide.
2010 April: opposition leader (United Democratic Forces) Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, a Hutu, who planned to run against President Kagame in the August presidential elections, is arrested on treason charges. Her lawyer is later detained too. Meanwhile two senior military officers are arrested within days of a reshuffle of the military leadership.
2010 June: ex-army chief of staff Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, a former ally turned critic of President Kagame, is wounded in a shooting while in exile in South Africa.
2010 August: President Kagame wins a new term in the elections.
2010 September: Gregoire Ndahimana’s trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity begins (closing arguments presented September 2011 and judgement in November).
2010 October: a UN report into conflict in the DRC 1993-2003 says Rwandan forces took part in attacks on Hutu civilians which, if proven, could amount to genocide.
2010 December: exiled military officers General Kayumba Nyamwasa and Colonel Patrick Karegeya form a new political party, the Rwanda National Congress. Also this month, members of the Twa community say authorities have destroyed hundreds of their homes as part of a purge of traditional thatched houses.
2011 February: opposition leader Bernard Ntaganda, accused of stoking ethnic tensions, is sentenced to four years in jail. Rights groups criticise the ruling.
2011 March: Jean-Baptiste Gatete is sentenced by the ICTR to life imprisonment for genocide and extermination as a crime against humanity.
2011 April: Rwanda commemorates the 1994 genocide.
2011 May: Augustin Bizimungu, head of the Rwandan army at the time of the genocide, is finally found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity and sentenced to 30 years (he was arrested in 2002).
2011 June: Pauline Nyiramasuhuko (former Rwandan Minister of Family and Women’s Development) is convicted of genocide by the ICTR. She is the first woman to be found guilty of genocide by an international court. Her conviction is currently on appeal at the ICTR.
2011 November: the ICTR finds that most of the sections of the indictment against Gregoire Ndahimana have not been proven, particularly with regard to ordering genocide. However it finds to be proven that he was in charge of the local police and therefore that he is criminally liable for his failure to punish crimes committed by the police, and that his presence at scenes of genocide had an encouraging effect due to his position of authority. Therefore, he is found guilty of genocide and extermination as a crime against humanity through aiding and abetting as well as through his command responsibility over the police. He is sentenced to 15 years imprisonment. His conviction is currently on appeal at the ICTR.
2012 June: a UN report claims the Rwandan state has been organizing, funding, and arming mutineers in the army of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – the mutiny began in April and led to the creation of the 23 March rebel movement (M23, a reference to a 23 March 2009 agreement). The Rwandan government hotly denies the allegations but this has led to the suspension of aid from various countries. Also this month, the controversial ‘gacaca’ community genocide courts in Rwanda finish their work. They have tried close to two million people since 2001, finding roughly 65% guilty. (In comparison, the ICTR has tried just over 60 people.)
2012 September: the UK is the first country to restore aid payments to Rwanda, arguing the government has made progress towards addressing the concerns about support for rebels in the DRC. This ‘progress’ is hotly disputed by the DRC government and NGOs like Human Rights Watch, which argue Rwanda is still supporting and training M23 and even forcibly recruiting soldiers, including children, aiding in renewed civil war in eastern DRC and the displacement from their homes of nearly half a million people. Other countries continue to withhold aid.
2012 October: political opposition leader (United Democratic Forces) Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza has been found guilty at her trial for treason (threatening state security and ‘belittling’ the genocide because she questioned why only Tutsi victims are mentioned in the official state memorial to the genocide) and sentenced to eight years. Terrorism charges were dropped. (President Kagame and his RPF party have been quick to quash new political opposition which has sprung up from various quarters: as well as the United Democratic Forces (UDF-Inkingi) and the PS-Imberakuri (both largely Hutu parties), there is also the Democratic Green Party which is led by a former ally of Kagame.)

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