The decision to declare 7 April 2004 as the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda stems from a recommendation made by the Executive Council of the African Union. In March 2003, the Council recommended that the United Nations and the international community proclaim, in commemoration of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, an international day of reflection and recommitment to the fight against genocide throughout the world.

On 23 December 2003, the General Assembly adopted resolution A/RES/58/234, mandating on 7 April the observance of the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda. That resolution "encourages Member States, organizations of the United Nations system and other relevant international organizations, as well as civil society organizations, to observe the Day, including special observances and activities in memory of the victims of the genocide". The resolution also calls upon all States to act in accordance with the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide so as to ensure that there is no repetition of events of the kind that occurred in Rwanda in 1994.

The Government of Rwanda has asked that the world's observance of the Day include a minute of silence at 12:00 noon local time in each time zone. At the Memorial Conference on the Rwanda Genocide, organized by the Governments of Canada and Rwanda at the United Nations in New York on 26 March 2004, the Secretary-General stated that "'Such a minute of silence has the potential to unite the world, however fleetingly, around the idea of global solidarity. I would like to urge all people, everywhere, no matter what their station in life, whether in crowded cities or remote rural areas, to set aside whatever they might be doing at noon on that day, and pause to remember the victims. Let us be united in a way we were not ten years ago. And let us, by what we do in one single minute, send a message - a message of remorse for the past, resolve to prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again - and let’s make it resound for years to come."

Definition of genocide

The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide defines genocide as any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Background to the genocide

In 1994, 800,000 Rwandans were slaughtered by their fellow countrymen and women, most for no other reason than that they belonged to a particular ethnic group. The killings began on 7 April 1994, the day after a plane carrying the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi was shot out of the sky with a missile as it prepared to land in Kigali. The systematic slaughter of men, women and children, which took place over the course of about 100 days between April and July of 1994, was perpetrated in full view of the international community. Appalling atrocities were committed, by militia and the armed forces, but also by civilians against other civilians. The genocide was highly organized, with top government and ruling party officials playing a role. Lists were drawn up of Tutsi and opposition leaders earmarked for assassination before the genocide itself actually began. The hate media also played a role in mobilizing support for and participation in the killings. Thus, the key perpetrators were not faceless crowds, but identifiable individuals who can be brought to justice.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR)

In Rwanda in 1994, the United Nations had peacekeeping troops on the ground at the very place and time where genocidal acts were being committed. During the genocide, some of those peacekeepers lost their lives trying to defend the victims. But instead of reinforcing the troops, the United Nations withdrew them, a decision made by Member States in the Security Council.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR), the main component of the United Nations presence in that country, was a traditional, consensual peacekeeping operation, which did not have the capacity within its mandate to prevent the genocide. It was established to help implement the Arusha Peace Agreement signed on 4 August 1993. It was not planned, configured or deployed to take a proactive and assertive role in a situation of genocide, but eventually to facilitate a peace process leading to the creation of a broad-based transitional government. The mission was smaller than originally recommended, slow in being set up, and lacked well-trained troops and functioning materiel.

Even before the start of the massacres, the United Nations tried to raise awareness of the possibility of mass killings among a group of key Member States. The massacres were brought to the attention of the Security Council, which voted in favour of scaling back UNAMIR.

Initially, the Security Council rejected the possibility of a military response to the crisis, and some Governments refused to allow UN documents to use the word "genocide" to describe the killings taking place in Rwanda. Governments who had contributed troops to UNIMIR called them home when they sustained casualties. Two weeks after the killings began, the Security Council voted to reduce UNIMIR from 2,000 to 270 soldiers. This followed the murder of 10 Belgian UN peacekeepers and the Prime Minister of Rwanda, whom they were guarding.

As the scale of the killings became apparent, the Security Council in mid-May of 1994 authorized the dispatch of some 5,500 UN troops, but few arrived before the massacres ended when the Uganda-based Tutsi-dominated Rwanda Patriotic Front took control of the country.

At the Memorial Conference on the Rwanda Genocide, held at UN Headquarters on 26 March 2004, the former Commander of UNAMIR, Romeo Dallaire, said that on 22 April, when over 100,000 people had been killed, the bulk of the Force was ordered to withdraw, but 450 African and 13 Canadian troops were told to stay on the ground and observe. As millions were internally displaced, killed and injured, the Mission was able to save some 30,000 people.

The International Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR)

The Security Council created the Rwanda Tribunal, located in Arusha, United Republic of Tanzania, in November 1994, to prosecute people responsible for genocide and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in Rwanda between 1 January 1994 and 31 December 1994.

It is also empowered to deal with the prosecution of Rwandan citizens responsible for genocide and other such violations of international law committed in neighbouring States over the same period.

Since its creation in 1995, the ICTR has been helping to restore and maintain peace and bring about national reconciliation by trying persons allegedly responsible for acts of genocide and other grave breaches of international humanitarian law. The work done by the Tribunal has included explicit efforts to deal with the victims of the genocide and their needs. The total number of judgments rendered by the Tribunal now numbers 18, since the first trials started in 1997. The current Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda is Hassan Bubacar Jallow of the Gambia, who took up his duties in October 2003.

The Tribunal has made some landmark decisions. For example, in relation to the role of the hate media, in December 2003 it convicted three Rwandan news executives of genocide for their role in helping incite the massacres of 1994. Their media not only inflamed ethnic hatred, but also guided killers to the victims. "The power of media to create and destroy human values comes with great responsibility," the ICTR judgement said. "Those who control the media are accountable for its consequences." A community-based courts system has also been established in Rwanda, to handle the backlog of some 80,000 murder cases relating to the genocide.

United Nations efforts after the genocide

Following the genocide in Rwanda, the entire United Nations system was mobilized to help stabilize the situation, alleviate the suffering of the survivors and assist the country on the path to reconstruction. Among the Organization's achievements are the ongoing efforts to protect human rights and rebuild Rwanda's judicial system, the humanitarian and refugee assistance programmes undertaken, and the establishment of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to prosecute alleged perpetrators of the genocide, only the second time since the Second World War that such a body has been created.

The United Nations has undertaken and implemented maintained a massive programme of humanitarian assistance in Rwanda, as well as for the Rwandan refugees in Burundi, United Republic of Tanzania, Uganda and Zaire. The United Nations peace-keepers have worked to provide security, undertake mine clearance, assist in the return of refugees and internally displaced persons and rebuild the country's infrastructure. While today there is relative stability in Rwanda along with significantly improved living conditions, much remains to be overcome, including the lack of national reconciliation, a devastated economy and the presence of large numbers of refugees in neighbouring States.

The report of the independent inquiry into the genocide

On 15 December 1999, an independent inquiry that the Secretary-General commissioned - and which was chaired by a former prime minister of Sweden, Ingvar Carlsson - diagnosed a number of failings in the UN's actions during the genocide in Rwanda.

The Carlsson report concluded that: "The responsibility for the failings of the United Nations to prevent and stop the genocide in Rwanda lies with a number of actors, in particular the Secretary-General, the Secretariat, the Security Council, UNAMIR and the broader membership of the United Nations." As to the responsibility of those Rwandans who planned, incited and carried out the genocide against their countrymen, the reports called for continued efforts to be made to bring them to justice - at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and nationally in Rwanda. The overriding failure in the response of the UN before and during the genocide in Rwanda was summarized by the report as "a lack of resources and a lack of will to take on the commitment which would have been necessary to prevent or stop the genocide".

Lessons Learned

Since 1994, the United Nations has launched a process of critical self-examination to understand what went wrong. Both in Rwanda and in Bosnia, the Organization has tried to extract lessons learned from the failures encountered with the peacekeeping operations in those countries.

In recent crises, the UN has tried to respond more quickly and effectively at the first signs of a threat to civilian life. The Security Council has authorized action by multinational forces, followed over time by the deployment of UN peacekeeping forces. The Secretary-General has become more assertive in raising awareness among Member States about civilian massacres and the need for quick deployment to forestall bloodshed. He has urged the members of the Security Council to engage in serious discussions on the best way to respond to threats of genocide or comparable massive violations of human rights.

Preventing future genocides

Painfully and belatedly, the international community is trying to do more to prevent and punish genocide and crimes against humanity. In November 1999, in his report to the General Assembly on the fall of Srebrenica, the Secretary-General warned the General Assembly of the dangers of inaction in the face of massive violations of human rights. He drew attention to serious doctrinal and institutional failings within the United Nations, including a "pervasive ambivalence regarding the role of force in the pursuit of peace", and "an institutional ideology of impartiality even when confronted with attempted genocide".

The Secretary-General has also called for the protection of the rights of minorities, since they are genocide's most frequent targets. Indeed, the protection of civilians in armed conflict remains at the centre of the United Nations mandate. The Secretary-General's reports in 1999 and 2001 on this subject painted a stark picture of the realities faced by millions of civilians around the world in situations of armed conflict, including the recruitment and use of child soldiers, the proliferation and trafficking in small arms, large scale displacement and ethnic cleansing, and widespread impunity for atrocities. These reports, as well as two Security Council resolutions on this topic adopted since 1999, have contributed to advancing the normative framework for the protection of civilians in armed conflict. They clearly demarcate the limits of acceptable behaviour in times of war and outlaw those operating outside this framework. In 2000, the then 189 Member States of the Organization pledged in the United Nations Millennium Declaration to "expand and strengthen the protection of civilians in complex emergencies, in conformity with international humanitarian law."

The responsibility to protect

Governments - and the world community --may be starting to accept the concept of the responsibility to protect their citizens from harm. The 2001 report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, entitled "The Responsibility to Protect", "has altered the terms of debate on the very difficult issue of protection, in a most creative and promising way", said the Secretary-General. The report represents the most comprehensive and carefully thought out response to date, and marks an important step in the difficult process of building a new global consensus on intervention for human protection.

Moreover, the new doctrine of "robust peacekeeping" empowers UN forces to use force not only to defend themselves, but also to implement their mandate and to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence -as is now being done in Ituri, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Secretary-General's High-Level Panel

The United Nations is becoming more proactive in responding to massive human rights violations - often a warning sign of a genocide to come. In November 2003, the Secretary-General appointed a group of eminent people to serve on a High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change. The Panel of 16 highly respected and experienced people from all parts of the world is chaired by former Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun of Thailand, and includes outstanding experts on both security and development issues. The Panel's role is threefold: to develop a shared analysis of current and future threats to peace and security; to prepare a rigorous assessment of the contribution which collective action can make in meeting these threats; and to recommend the changes needed to make the United Nations a legitimate and effective instrument for a collective response. One of the issues it will examine will be the international community's responsibility to prevent or resolve conflicts within States - particularly when they involve genocide, "ethnic cleansing" or other extreme violations of human rights. The Panel will report to the Secretary-General by the end of this year.

Secretary-General's actions to prevent genocide

In an address on the prevention of genocide given at the Stockholm International Forum on 26 January 2004, the Secretary-General suggested that the States Parties to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide consider setting up a Committee on the Prevention of Genocide, which could meet periodically to review reports and make recommendations for action.

The Secretary-General also proposed the establishment of a Special Rapporteur, or Adviser, on the prevention of genocide, who would report directly to the Security Council.

On 20 February 2004, the Secretary-General reflected that "There can be no more binding obligation for the international community than the prevention of genocide. The events in Rwanda ten years ago were especially shameful. The international community clearly had the capacity to prevent those events, but failed to summon the will. Today, Rwanda has much to show the world about confronting the legacy of the past and tackling the challenge of recovery. It is demonstrating that it is possible to reach beyond tragedy and rekindle hope. We, in turn, must act on our collective power to prevent future genocides. We must ensure that we never again fail to summon the will."

At the Memorial Conference on the Rwanda Genocide in New York on 26 March 2004, the Secretary-General said that more can and must be done to meet genocide with resolve. "I am currently analyzing what further steps could be taken", he stated. "The silence that greeted genocides in the past must be replaced by a global clamour, a clamour and a willingness to call what is happening by its true name."

On 7 April the Secretary-General will be in Geneva to address a special one hour commemorative meeting being held within the framework of the 6oth session of the UN Commission on Human Rights. The Secretary-General will make an important speech which will address the prevention of genocide.