International Response to the Rwandan Genocide

The international community, led by the UN, acted as a bystander during the Rwandan genocide despite its increasing awareness of the crimes taking place. Why? In my opinion, as Barnett also describes, the lack of action by the UN was a moral factor and not one of, say, incompetence. It’s interesting that the international community was so unresponsive to the Rwandan situation especially at a time when the human rights community, growing in a time when human rights language was highly vernacularized, was also deeply engaged in the Rwandan situation. Like Barnett, I believe that the reason for the UN not acting on vital information passed on by witnesses of growing tension like Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire stems from the fear that another failed operation, such as in Somalia when 18 UN troops were killed, would be the result of intervention. Hence, the UN acted, or failed to act, in order to preserve the possibility of future peacebuilding in the area. Perhaps if they had yet another failed mission the legitimacy of the UN, its power in the world would be diminished. Moreover, it could be that the UN and the countries which represented the UN did not want to risk their own men and would rather see Rwandans die than their own people. This idea goes back to the philosophy of self-preservation–in times of stress, an individual (or an individual entity as the UN) will protect itself in spite of greater risks to other groups.

The non-UN international community could have pushed for more involvement in Rwanda as most of the world was very cognizant of the atrocities taking place. Belgium, the U.S., and France were the three other big third-party players. Apart from fear of failure after the Somalia incident, the major parties involved were more concerned with their nation’s economic standing than the lives of Rwandans. While Belgium hastened the removal of troops in Rwanda, the U.S. slowed relief force in Rwanda in cost-saving efforts and France continued to support the government involved in the atrocities. While the UN did want a successful peacekeeping operation in Rwanda, they wanted a lost-cost one that ultimately led to an inadequately sized force and an extremely limited mandate from which to form negotiations. Thus, the concern for money led to undersized troops and less than necessary food and supplies delivered for relief throughout the procession of the genocide. This trend depicts on one end the superficiality of the world; while we claim human rights and safety comes before all else, we act hypocritically to put money first. On the other hand, the fear for increased economic strain caused by providing support for genocide victims may go back again to self-preservation–the UN, especially the U.S. and the United Kingdom, wanted to help the Rwandans but not as much as they wanted to ensure their own economic security and the development of their own nations, hence ignoring possible threats to this security. In other words, the greater powers are willing to help to the extent that it does not interfere with their self-interests. Therefore, the imposition into the war was an attempt to boost their own prestige as peacekeepers and promoters of world peace. But in the face of controversial ethical dilemmas, this facade came down and their tactics sought to promote interests of a higher priority caliber.

However, due in large part to media portrayal of the genocide as a conflict between “tribes” and one that had deep historical roots, much of the public most likely felt as if the tensions between the Hutus and Tutsis were overdue and playing their course. While it is true that there was longstanding political tensions between the groups, prior to Belgium colonization, there was no real proof of great massacres between groups (it should be noted, too, that classes were permeable unlike after colonization when citizens were cast permanently into the two groups based on facial structures, as Barnett says). Thus, even in the midst of an increasing global consciousness for human rights, many people–including New Yorkers–believed non-intervention was the right way to proceed with the situation. The lack of knowledge and awareness of the history of these secluded nations has fostered an ambivalence and misconceptions about the right course, including non-intervention.

As a closing note, what more could we–the international community–have done? I believe that apart from taking the fairly obvious course of disarming rising murderers when alarm arose, blockage of radio broadcasts that were used to disband the perpetrators and a bigger and better equipped force to weaken the Rwandan militias could have been vital steps taken. More troops support, organized international and multilateral efforts, better public awareness efforts, more consistent support, and measure should have been taken to assure continued peace.The international community may not have been able to put an end to the genocide 100%, but it definitely could have been a vital force in lessening the murderous impacts. Could this indifference to nations in need be repeating today with the Karabakh-Azerbaijani conflict wherein Armenians in the Nagorno-Karabakh region are threatened by the outbreak of war? Is the international community ignoring yet another mass-murderous conflict yet again?


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