Politically Correct: Genocide 20 Years After Rwanda

JP Letourneau

I don’t purport to be an expert on genocide merely because I’m taking a class titled “Humanitarian Interventions” (nonetheless, it’s an excellent course instructed by Assistant Professor of Political Science Valerie Morkevicius, and anyone who is interested in the topic should consider taking the class). Genocide happens and has happened frequently, especially since the tragedy in Rwanda.

In the 20th century these atrocities should not occur. But it seems that sovereignty and a country’s right to rule outweigh the individual rights of citizens to live free from persecution. Genocide should never occur. It is the obligation of the international community to ensure that groups of individuals are not persecuted for political, racial or religious purposes. Unfortunately, time and time again, even in the 20 years since Rwanda, the international community – more specifically the United Nations Security Council – has failed to protect human rights. Nearly every form of international relations theory argues that an intervention in Rwanda was warranted. Realists, neo-liberals and constructivist alike viewed Rwanda as a tragedy which could have been avoided or at least mitigated if the world powers and the greater international community intervened. Western rhetoric since the genocide has been extremely apologetic, with states acknowledging the calamity which occurred in 1994. Kofi Annan spearheaded an effort in the late 1990s and early 2000s to establish a new standard for intervention: the Responsibility to Protect model (R2P). This new international norm set a less restrictive standard for genocide and laid out

several steps detailing prevention, action and rebuilding.

Despite widespread acceptance of R2P in 2005 (although this newly accepted doctrine was weakly worded and took months to flesh out and solidify), genocide still plagues the underdeveloped world today. Mass killings in Darfur and Syria went unchecked due to international paralysis. Today, in South Sudan, civil war rages while innocent civilians suffer not only from ethnic killings but also from massive food shortages and home destruction.

Obviously, it is important for the great powers of the world to maintain their security. This leads me to think that genocide has just become a typical, nearly unpreventable feature of the third world. Presidents, dictators and generals evade justice for their actions and see no reason to desist. Ethnic killings, tribal warfare and political mass slaughters go unchecked and unchallenged, provided the perpetrator allies him or herself with powerful friends.

Condemnation can only do so much. It will require much more than threatening press releases to dissuade political leaders from committing war crimes and mass atrocities. The International Criminal Court (ICC) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) actually serve to exacerbate genocide because leaders often fear capture and will fight to the death and kill as many targets as possible to maintain power.

The more time I spend in my Humanitarian Interventions class, the more cynical I become about genocide and the hopes of legitimate intervention. Part of the problem is our current definition. Its present state is too strict and oftentimes it takes too long to act because the crisis does not fulfill every requirement. Another aspect of the problem lies with the international community’s current conception of sovereignty. It still seems that states are guaranteed more rights than individuals. This needs to change in order to provide a faster avenue to

genocide prevention.

A few days ago, Ban Ki-Moon made a trip to the Central African Republic. The African nation’s current political climate is deteriorating at alarming rate. While a battle for power rages between two opposing factions, Muslim and Christian groups have been engaging in mass killings. The Secretary-General has requested 12,000 additional United Nations peacekeeping forces with the hopes that they can quell the violence and protect civilians. Hopefully, Mr. Ban’s actions will forestall a plunge into chaos and a likely road to a Rwanda repeat.

Contact JP Letourneau at [email protected]