On the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan massacre, a clear understanding of the facts


Rwandans hold a candle light vigil at Amahoro Stadium during the 20th anniversary commemoration of the 1994 genocide April 7, 2014 in Kigali, Rwanda. Thousands of Rwandans and global leaders, past and present, joined together to remember the country's 1994 genocide, when more than 800,000 ethnic Tutsi and moderate Hutus were slaughtered over a 100 day period.


Chip Somodevilla

KIGALI, Rwanda — The world is uniting in grief to mark the 20th anniversary of the genocide against the Tutsi.

Commemorative ceremonies are taking place across Rwanda and in many other countries as we remember the one million people who were massacred in just 100 days of unimaginable hatred and savagery.

No single event, of course, is the cause of such inhumanity. But history shows that it was the shooting down of the aircraft carrying Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana that signaled the beginning of the genocide. This is why it is important to understand the true facts of what happened on April 6, 1994.

In today’s world, it is no surprise that such a momentous and terrible event should be surrounded by conspiracy theories. But there is no reason for dispute about who shot down his aircraft or why.

Detailed investigations have uncovered that the assassination was planned from within the President’s own inner circle. The murderous aim of the plotters was to sink his plans for a power-sharing agreement between his Hutu government and the Rwandan Patriotic Front, and to unleash a tidal wave of violence.

The President unknowingly signed his own death warrant when he revealed that he intended, on his return from a summit in Tanzania, to put into practice a UN plan to end years of conflict in his country. This involved creating a new broad-based transitional government and an integrated Rwandan army.

The Arusha Accords, as they were known, were seen by the conspirators as a threat to both a Hutu-dominated Rwanda and their own political and economic standing. These men included Tthéoneste Bagosora, Anatole Nsengiyumva, Mathieu Ngirumpatse and Joseph Nzirorera. They were later to become some of the 20th century most notorious war criminals. They were not just opposed to reconciliation. They wanted the extermination of Tutsis and all who opposed their plans.

Despite the far-fetched conspiracy theories that continue to circulate, the investigation found the assassination was relatively straightforward. Colonel Bagosora was familiar with the President’s travel schedule. He was also powerful enough to ensure that Army Chief of Staff General Déogratias Nsabimana, who did not share the anger towards the president, would also attend the Tanzania summit and be travelling on the president’s plane.

Bagosora was in direct contact with discontented elements of the presidential guard, the para-commando battalion, and most importantly, the Anti-aircraft Battalion, which he had commanded for several years. These units were located in Kanombe Camp, close to Kanombe International Airport in Kigali.

On the night of April 6, the conspirators tracked the progress of the President’s aircraft all the way from Tanzania. Just before it came into land, two missiles were fired from Kanombe camp.

By comparing eyewitness accounts with scientific data, British experts found that the aircraft was hit by at least one surface-to-air missile, causing the plane to explode. An investigation by French judges Marc Trevedic and Nathalie Poux came to the same conclusion in 2012.

Within minutes of the crash, troops loyal to the conspirators had roadblocks in place around Kigali. Indeed, there were plenty of signs of unusual troop movements even before the aircraft was downed, which only add to evidence of pre-meditation.

The conspirators then began, as planned, the systematic identification and massacre of Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The killings quickly spread from the capital throughout the country. By the time they ended, more than one million people had lost their lives.

Dr. Jean Damascene Bizimana is a Rwandan Senator.