International Community Marks the 20th Anniversary of the Genocide in Rwanda
Today, 7 April 2014, marks the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the genocide in Rwanda, a tragedy that ended the lives of over 800,000 people in less than 100 days. Despite ample early warnings and then undeniable evidence of the atrocities, the international community failed to take any meaningful action to stop the brutal inter-ethnic killings and mass crimes committed against civilians. As the world commemorates the genocide, it should also reflect on the lessons learned and the steps taken to address the glaring shortcomings that allowed such atrocities to continue.
Among the most significant measures taken by the international community in response to the tragedy in Rwanda and to prevent the future commission of such atrocities was the unanimous commitment by heads of state to the Responsibility to Protect at the 2005 World Summit. Determined to ensure that states and the international community would develop and strengthen the tools necessary to ensure that such a failure would never happen again, governments universally agreed that they had a Responsibility to Protect populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing, and that the international community has an obligation to assist states and take action when crimes are being committed. Since this historic moment, many international organizations, regional and sub-regional bodies, and states have taken action to live up to their obligations both at home and abroad. This has ranged from working to domesticate RtoP by developing national plans for atrocities prevention and appointing focal points for RtoP and/or genocide prevention; to assisting in the prevention of atrocities in other states by sending peacekeeping operations to conflict zones, dispatching high-level envoys to conduct mediation between warring parties, or adopting sanctions against those accused of committing atrocities.
Global civil society, meanwhile, has been instrumental in advancing atrocities prevention and reminding governments of their Responsibility to Protect. Organizations have used RtoP to advocate for swift, preventive action where populations seem at risk, and have held states and the international community accountable when they have not lived up to their obligations. Often the only actors on the ground, civil society organizations monitor and document atrocities, contributing to early warning and assessment systems by alerting national, regional, and international policy makers to inform preventive and reactive measures. They facilitate mediation and negotiation, and assist with post-conflict peace and reconciliation processes to defuse tensions between communities. Civil society actors train civilian protection personnel and analyze/assess RtoP indicators and past crises to provide actors with lessons learned and best practices to enhance preventive strategies. Additionally, these actors are instrumental in supporting and enhancing domestic, regional, and international justice systems to ensure that perpetrators are held accountable when such crimes are committed.
Nevertheless, one need only look to the ongoing crimes against humanity being perpetrated in Syria, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and North Korea to see that the promise of “never again”, reaffirmed after the Rwandan genocide, has been broken repeatedly by the international community and remains a challenge to uphold. Lack of political will and weak capacity to prevent and/or respond, coupled with the reluctance of certain states to act against perceived national interests, has led to inconsistent, delayed, and lackluster responses in some atrocity situations. As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declared, “the international community cannot claim to care about atrocity crimes and then shrink from what it actually means to prevent them.” This insistence that we live up to our obligations under the Responsibility to Protect was echoed by UK Foreign Minister William Hague, who noted, “It is not enough to remember; we have a responsibility to act.”
More Civil Society statements/reports on 20th Anniversary of Rwandan Genocide: