Press Conference on Upcoming Event to Commemorate Rwanda Genocide

14 January 2014

Press Conference on Upcoming Event to Commemorate Rwanda Genocide

14 January 2014
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on Upcoming Event to Commemorate Rwanda Genocide

Twenty years after the genocide in Rwanda had claimed the lives of nearly 800,000 people, there had been much talk, but not nearly enough action, by States to prevent mass atrocity crimes and punish the architects, a panel said today, recalling a 1994 “genocide fax” sent to the United Nations by its Force Commander in the central African country signalling the rapidly unfolding tragedy.

Speaking at a Headquarters press conference about an event on 15 January, entitled “Genocide:  A preventable crime — Understanding early warning of mass atrocities” were:  Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire, Force Commander of the now-closed United Nations Assistance Mission in that For Rwanda from 1993 to 1994; Eugène-Richard Gasana, Permanent Representative of Rwanda; and Simon Adams, Executive Director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.

Ambassador Gasana recalled that it was Lieutenant-General Dallaire who had sent the historic fax on 11 January 1994, outlining credible information of impending bloodshed, a warning that would have prevented the Tutsi genocide, had it been heeded by the United Nations.

“The commemoration is an important occasion to remember the lives that were lost, show solidarity with survivors and recommit ourselves to the promise of ‘never again’ in Rwanda or elsewhere in the world,” Mr. Gasana said.  Its official launch, he noted, had taken place on 7 January at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre with the lighting of the Kwibuka flame, which symbolized remembrance and resilience.  Activities between January and April would involve reflection, debate and soul searching, while those between April and July would be forward looking, focused on nation- and society-building.  In New York, Rwanda and the Department of Public Information were discussing a series of events, including conferences, film screenings and exhibits.

Lieutenant-General Dallaire recalled that in the months before the genocide, which had begun on 6 and 7 April 1994, the international community had done its best to ignore Rwanda.  “We deliberately decided not to be involved,”  which was a “catastrophic failure” to respect the humanity of Rwandans and to live up to Charter responsibilities.  And even if it had intervened, it would have done so “on the cheap”, with old, ineffective instruments of peacekeeping of the cold wear era.

Twenty years later, the Brahimi report — named for the chairman of the commission that produced it, Lakhdar Brahimi — had brought some significant changes to peacekeeping.  The 2005 “responsibility to protect” initiative had opened the door to the greatest revolution of the “nation State” concept since the 1648 signing of peace treaties in Westphalia, which had initiated a new political order in Europe by outlining that sovereignty was no more an absolute if a nation was massively abusing the human rights of its people or could not stop it.

“We have the responsibility, through the UN, to intervene,” he said.  “We’ve been given the tools to fight impunity in the field, not just in the courts afterwards.”  What was lacking was the will, including in parallel situations today.  “The onus is on every sovereign State that makes up this UN,” he said.

Rounding out the discussion, Mr. Adams called on all States to take meaningful action during the commemoration to advance their responsibility to protect.  Concrete steps could include the appointment of an “R2P” Focal Point, ratifying the relevant legal treaties — including the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide — and supporting multilateral initiatives aimed at the voluntary restraint of veto use on the Security Council in mass atrocity crime situations.  “History has judged the United Nations very harshly for its inaction in Rwanda and we must learn the lessons of the past,” he said.

Taking questions, Mr. Gasana said justice was a preventive mechanism.  But, it depended on how it was used, as it could be manipulated.  For example, some European Union members had indicted, overnight and without investigations, the entire high command of Rwanda — the very people who had stopped the genocide — while allowing those who had committed the genocide to remain free in those very countries.  “You can question the role of justice,” he said.

Mr. Dallaire added that Canada had tried only one genocidaire, as critics had said the process was expensive.  Strong political will was required to invest in advancing justice in countries where people had sought refuge.  Years after the Holocaust, countries were still pursuing Nazis, an unending process that should be continued.  Moreover, the Secretary-General must be given the ability to engage in prevention efforts.  “This outfit is just learning how to do prevention,” he said, underlining the need for a methodology to warn and gain early engagement in preventive work.  There were ways to place people in the field without dragging the entire Secretariat there, he added.

Asked about crimes against humanity committed inside Syria, Mr. Dallaire said the situation there had started with prior events in Libya, where there had been a “feeble” attempt to intervene on the premise of the responsibility to protect.  He argued that the exact words used by former leader Muammar Qadhafi had been used by extremists in Rwanda.  Boots should have been on the ground from that day forward to establish a “separation force”, rather than letting Mr. Qadhafi’s forces run amuck.  A follow-on exercise could then have been established that would have prevented weapons and foreign fighters from entering the country.

Rather, the international community had been ineffective in preventing — even reacting to such situations and the inaction had informed actors in and around Syria.  But, it was not simply inaction on the part of big Powers, such as the United States.  He questioned why “middle Powers” and regional bodies that could have been the first ones on the ground had been engaged.  “There is where the weakness of the whole exercise existed,” he said.

Responding to a question about how to generate political will to intervene, Mr. Dallaire said that the Multinational Stand-by High Readiness Brigade for United Nations Operations — a multinational brigade — could be made available to the United Nations as a rapidly deployable peacekeeping force.  It had deployed in eastern Sudan before the African Union or the United Nations itself could put a force in the field.  Help could also be given by States that committed to the fact that “humans are human” and that human rights superseded self-interest.  That will was seen in the under-30 generation, which was a growing force through their use of electronic tools. 

Mr. Adams added that the United Nations had taken timely action in South Sudan, and last year in Kenya. 

To a question on the Democratic Republic of the Congo and neutralizing the 23 March Movement, specifically whether the United Nations had learned lessons in the past 20 years given that the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR) included those involved in the Rwandan genocide, Mr. Gasana said he did not believe lessons had been learned.  Pointing to the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO), he said “we know that it's a genocidal force” in that country for 13 years, and it was a shame the United Nations was paying billions of dollars for it.

Mr. Dallaire added that the creation of a new force in the Democratic Republic of the Congo that could deploy offensive capabilities was a “significant departure” from previously restrictive mandates.  The current operation in South Sudan was another extraordinary move forward.  He was optimistic that the Security Council wanted to see more strategic planning and “command and control” capability.

As to who was ultimately responsible for the 1994 genocide, he said the Secretariat was not the culprit.  Rather, every sovereign State that had refused to give it any ability to prevent or stop the atrocities was responsible.  A political decision must be taken on the ground inside a country where deliberate actions were being taken to curtail a group of the population.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.