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Rwanda Genocide Lesson Plan


- Romeo Dallaire

Focus: High school students

Lesson Plan Objectives:

  • Provide an overview of the Rwanda genocide
  • Create an understanding of the subject of genocide
  • Understand the genocide through the eyes of Romeo Dallaire < OL>

Lesson Plan Resources:

  1. "A Good Man in Hell," a DVD produced by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2002.
  2. "A Problem from Hell, America and the Age of Genocide," Samantha Power (Harper Collins, 2002).
  3. "The Triumph of Evil," PBS, 1999, www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/evil/.
  4. "Ghosts of Rwanda," PBS, 2004, www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/ghosts/.
  5. "Children of Rwanda's Genocide," a collection of photographs by photographer Vanessa Vick, www.nytimes.com/library/world/africa/index-rwanda-children.html.

Supplementary Resources:

  1. "Shake Hands with the Devil," Romeo Dallaire (Carroll & Graf, 2004).
  2. "We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families," Philip Gourevitch (Picador, 1998).
  3. "Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda," Human Rights Watch, 1999, www.hrw.org/reports/1999/rwanda.
  4. "King Leopold's Ghost," Adam Hochschild, (Mariner Books, 1999).
  5. "Heart of Darkness," Joseph Conrad.

An Introduction

Rwanda, a small and heavily populated country in east central Africa, has consisted for centuries of two main ethnic groups, the Tutsi and the Hutu. Over this time, the two groups lived comfortably together, intermarried and shared a common language. The physical differences between the two groups became less distinct. But as a general rule, the Tutsi were herdsmen, and the Hutu were cultivators. The value of cattle was such that the Tutsi over time became a financial and then political elite, even though they were a minority of some 15 percent of the population.

Struggles for political and economic power were a consistent feature of Rwandan history, but communal violence was not. Belgium was granted control of Rwanda after World War I, and in the early thirties, the colonial administration initiated an identification system that froze ethnic identity. Belgium also aligned itself with the Tutsi minority, which had dominated the economic and political life of the country.

The Belgian favoritism of the Tutsi and its ethnic division of the country produced a tribalism that ultimately erupted in communal violence in 1959. Granted independence in 1962, a Hutu dictatorship took hold. Significant attacks on the Tutsi occurred regularly over the next three decades.

On April 6, 1994, the Hutu president of Rwanda, Juvenal Habyarimana, died when his plane was downed by a rocket-propelled grenade. A radical Hutu group calling itself Hutu Power took hold of the government, and a well-planned and centrally controlled and directed genocide of the Tutsi community began. The government's use of the radio in particular incited the Hutu to attack their neighbors and directed Hutu groups to known concentrations and hiding places of Tutsi. Often the deaths resulted from being hacked to death by machete. Over the course of the next three months, the world community watched as at least 800,000 Tutsi were murdered, two-thirds to three-quarters of the Tutsi population and one-tenth of the entire population of the country.

Lesson Plan

Assignment: Read Chapter 10, "Rwanda: Mostly in a Listening Mode," of Samantha Power's "A Problem from Hell." Also "The U.S. and the Genocide in Rwanda," the report of the National Security Archive at George Washington University (Web site reference above). Particular attention should be paid to documents 1, 4, 5, 6, 13, 14, 15 and 16 attached to the report.

Class: Break the class down into five groups. Assign each one of the following subjects:

  1. Create an overview of the pre-genocide ethnic history of Rwanda (see "A Historical Chronology" in the "Readings" section of the PBS production "The Triumph of Evil."
  2. Determine the effect of the American experience in Somalia on the U.S. attitude toward events in Rwanda (see also in particular "The Triumph of Evil."
  3. Create a timeline of the major events of the Rwanda genocide.
  4. Produce a summary of the discussions within the U.S. government about how the U.S. and the U.N. should respond to the genocide (see also the interview with Samantha power in the PBS production "Ghosts of Rwanda."
  5. Create an overview of what UNAMIR was, who led it, what the United Nations in New York thought UNAMIR's role was to be and what UNAMIR's leadership thought its role was to be (see also the interviews with Kofi Annan and Romeo Dallaire in "Ghosts of Rwanda" and with Iqbal Riza in "The Triumph of Evil").

Each group should report its work back to the class.

Assignment: The documents mentioned below can be found at www.unhchr.ch/english/law. See also the interview with Tony Marley, U. S. State Department Political Military Advisor in "The Triumph of Evil." Answer the following study questions:

  1. Under the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, what acts can constitute genocide?
  2. What intent is required for such acts to constitute genocide?
  3. Under the Statute for the International Tribunal for Rwanda, what are crimes against humanity?
  4. Find a definition of ethnic cleansing.
  5. Is there overlap between and among the meanings of genocide, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity?
  6. What action does the Genocide Convention require be taken by countries which sign and ratify it?
  7. Did the United States meet its obligations under the Genocide Convention? What actions could the United States have taken?

Class: Review and discuss the study questions, particularly questions 6 and 7.

Class: Watch "A Good Man from Hell."

Lead a class discussion of the following questions.

  1. What is Dallaire's attitude toward the actions of the United Nations' Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Security Council? (see also the interview with Romeo Dallaire in the PBS production, "Ghosts of Rwanda").
  2. Dallaire is critical of several Western countries. Which ones and why?
  3. Dallaire says, "My quitting would have been a 15-second sound bite." What was he talking about and what did he mean?
  4. In the interview, Ted Koppel says, "Nations don't have friends. They have interests." What did he mean? Was it in the interests of the United States to take any action to protect the Tutsi civilian population of Rwanda?
  5. "Rwanda was on nobody's radar." What did Dallaire mean?
  6. "These people didn't count. There are no people more human than others." What did Dallaire mean? How does he compare the world's concern with Bosnia and its concern for Rwanda? What role does Dallaire believe racism played in the world's response to events in these two countries?

Class Project

Have the class review the collection of photos of Rwandan children at www.nytimes.com/library/world/Africa/index-rwanda-children.html. (Note the guidelines for analysis and use of photographs attached to this lesson plan.) It is estimated that 95 percent of Rwanda's children alive during the genocide witnessed acts of savagery.

Each student should write a poem of hope and compassion addressed to one of these children. In addition the class should organize a fund-raising project to benefit a Rwandan orphanage as well as develop a pen pal relationship with a class of Rwandan students. Of particular interest might be the Imbabazi Orphanage associated with the Rwanda Project, www.rwandaproject.org



Final Assignment

Choose one of the following quotations. Write an essay discussing whether you agree or disagree with the quote's author discussing the following questions:

  1. Why do you think people are willing to commit the barbaric acts seen in Rwanda and in other genocides?
  2. Why do you think people who were fundamentally good and decent cross the line into behavior that was profoundly wrong?
  3. In situations of conflict, people can be classified as perpetrators, rescuers, bystanders and victims. It is estimated that generally the category of bystanders contains far more than all the other categories combined. Why is the bystander category so large?
    Reference the "Holocaust Triangle" attached to this lesson plan. It is estimated that during the Holocaust, some 85 percent of non-Jewish Europeans were bystanders, 10 percent perpetrators and a small percentage rescuers. The critical element of this analysis is that each of those in the non-victim categories made a personal choice or series of choices about what role they would play.
  4. Does it matter what one person does in such situations?

Norfolk, Michael, "For Most of It, I Have No Words," (Dewi Lewis Publishing, 1998), foreword by Michael Ignatieff, p. 3.

"The impulse to commit genocide is ancient. The list of tribes which have been exterminated may be as long as the list of animal and plant species which we have rendered extinct. This exterminatory impulse is much misunderstood. It is actually a kind of longing for utopia, a blood sacrifice in the worship of an idea of paradise. What could be more like paradise on earth than to live in a community without enemies? To create a world with no more need for borders, for watch-posts, a world freed from fear in the night and war by day? A world safe from the deadly contaminations and temptations of the other tribe? What could be more beautiful than to live in a community with people who resemble each other in every particular? We all long for harmony, for an end to the seemingly interminable discord of human relations. What could be more seductive than to kill in order to put an end to all killing? This utopia is so alluring that it is a wonder the human race has been able to survive it at all. Certainly genocide enlists lower motives than the longing for utopia. The men with the machetes may have no utopia in mind higher than at last possessing their neighbour's farm or property. But low motives aren't enough. Genocide is such a radical cleansing, such a violation of the normal order of things, that it must seek permission for itself. It must enlist the highest of motives, the biggest of dreams. Most genocides begin with orders from above, with hate-filled campaigns on the radio, with rabid invocations of the people's need to cleanse themselves of pollution. Beyond the hate, however, the authorities always promise a calm after the cleansing storm and a world freed of enemies and fear. This utopia both glorifies venal motive and silences residual scruple."

Gourevitch, Philip, "We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families," (Picador, 1998), p. 17-18.

"Considering the enormity of the task, it is tempting to play with theories of collective madness, mob mania, a fever of hatred erupted into a mass crime of passion, and to imagine the blind orgy of the mob...."

"But mass violence, too, must be organized; it does not occur aimlessly. Even mobs and riots have a design, and great and sustained destruction requires great ambition. It must be conceived as the means toward achieving a new order, and although the idea behind that new order may be criminal and objectively very stupid, it must be compellingly simple and at the same time absolute.... For those who set about systematically exterminating an entire people -- even a fairly small and unresisting population -- blood lust surely helps. But the engineers and perpetrators of a slaughter ... need not enjoy killing, and they may even find it unpleasant. What is required above all is that they want their victims dead. They have to want it so badly that they consider it a necessity."

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