Marking the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide – The “Genocide Fax”

As part of my work at the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, I recently put together a summary of a discussion organized at the UN at the beginning of the month. I thought I’d share some if it.

2014 marks the 20th Anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide. Twenty years ago, on January 11, 1994, United Nations military commander LGen The Honourable (Ret’d) Roméo Dallaire sent a fax to UN Headquarters in New York, warning his superiors of a plan to exterminate Tutsis. But U.N. member states, led by the five permanent members of the Security Council, refused to listen and watched as over the course of hundred days more than 500,000 Tutsis were deliberately massacred. As Roméo Dallaire recalled in a press conference last Tuesday “The international community did its best to ignore Rwanda. It wasn’t on their radar, it was of no self-interest, it had no strategic value.”

To commemorate the anniversary of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, the Permanent Mission of Rwanda to the United Nations and the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect organized “Genocide: A Preventable Crime,” a panel discussion continuing the global conversations advancing understanding of early warning of mass atrocities. The event featured a keynote address by MIGS’ Distinguished Senior Fellow, LGen The Honourable Roméo A. Dallaire (Ret’d) as well as presentations by Jan Eliasson, UN Deputy Secretary-General; H.E. Mrs. Mathilde Mukantabana, Ambassador of the Republic of Rwanda to the U.S;, Eugenie Mukeshimana, a Rwandan genocide survivor; and Dr. Stephen Smith , Executive Director of the Shoah Foundation.

Where are we now? Twenty years after the Rwanda genocide, have we made any progress? The 2005 “responsibility to protect” report and the principles it elaborated have given us the tools  to intervene with UN support. But, as Ambassador Mukantabana asked, “As a global community, would we act differently today if the genocide fax was received? Would we take any action, not only to intervene, but to stop the genocide?” The answer, as Syria shows, is that despite progress, “we are still standing on the sidelines as lives are being lost.”

In an open letter to UN Member States, Dr. Simon Adams, Executive Director of the Global Centre for R2P, writes that “the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide is an important opportunity to honor the victims”, an opportunity for states “to demonstrate their commitment to the prevention of mass atrocities and R2P (Responsibility to Protect).”

Indeed, the best way to commemorate the victims and survivors would be to show our will to do much better, to make more efforts to make the words “never again” a reality. Although progress has been made, right now it still remains a challenge.  

The video of the event is available Genocide: A Preventable Crime — Understanding Early Warning of Mass Atrocities

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