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Rwanda, Syria and the Responsibility to Protect
Simon Adams, The Huffington Post
4 April 2012
At the recent "Friends of Syria" meeting in Turkey, Rwanda's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Louise Mushikiwabo, declared that despite the distance between Damascus and Kigali, "Rwanda and Syria share the same experiences." She denounced the killing of innocent people by the Syrian government and asserted that, "the responsibility to protect" was "critical for the survival of the community of nations."
The timing was significant. Eighteen years ago this week Rwanda descended into the quickest and bloodiest genocide since the Holocaust. In just 100 days between April and July 1994 an estimated 800,000 Rwandans were murdered. (…)The genocide ended not because of foreign intervention, but because a rebel army eventually succeeded in overthrowing the "Hutu Power" regime.
(…) No more than twenty journalists were present to record Rwanda's horror. To Rwandans it was as if no one cared that they, and their country, were being cut to pieces.
Beyond the media, the role of countries with the power to actually make a difference was shameful. The UN Security Council failed the people of Rwanda. International inertia created an enabling environment for the génocidaires. Eighteen years later, Charles' question -- "where was the world?" -- still gnaws at one's soul.
The doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) was first developed in the aftermath of Rwanda's genocide and unanimously adopted at the UN World Summit in 2005. The basis of R2P is that all humans have a right to be protected from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. If their own government fails them, the international community is obliged to act.
Last year R2P saved lives in Libya and Cote d'Ivoire. In the midst of the Libyan intervention, President Kagame of Rwanda wrote that, "our responsibility to protect is unquestionable -- this is the right thing to do; and this view is backed with the authority of having witnessed and suffered the terrible consequences of international inaction."
One can not read those words today without thinking of Syria. There is no doubt that the bitter debate over whether NATO overstepped its Libya mandate has hampered efforts at the UN to consistently apply all the preventive, mediated and coercive elements in the R2P toolkit. It also has to be pointed out that Russia and China have acted on the Security Council as several Western powers did in 1994, undermining an effective response.
Over the last year UN inaction has emboldened Assad in his war against his own people. (…)
(…) "Where is the world?"
This is a question we have seen Syrians scrawl upon crude placards in Homs and elsewhere. It is a question that the UN is obligated to answer. And while the diplomatic mission of Kofi Annan must be vigorously supported, the time has arrived to begin contemplating other measures. If Annan's mission fails -- if Assad continues to murder his own people -- then history will not forgive further prevarication.
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