This April marks the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide. Over the course of just 100 days in the spring of 1994, over 800,000 Rwandan civilians were slaughtered while the international community watched in silence. Throughout this period, this genocide was conveniently categorized as an “African tribal problem” by the rest of the world. But far from being a tribal war , it was the deliberate killing of an ethnic group, the Tutsis, that took place in Rwanda 20 years ago.
Had the international community called the genocide what it was, it would have had an obligation under international law to take action. The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948, compels contracting parties “to prevent and to punish” such acts. Yet, the rest of the world, especially the western countries and the United Nations, failed to live up to its collective responsibility. Canadian General Roméo Dallaire, who was on the ground in Rwanda at the time overseeing a helpless UN mandate for peacekeeping, called it a “failure of humanity”.
Since 1994, our thinking on international humanitarian intervention has evolved a great deal. Under the leadership of the Canadian government, the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty gave birth to the concept of “Responsibility to Protect” in 2001. In doing so, the architects of the R2P principle hoped to shift the language from “right to intervene” to “sovereignty as a responsibility.” The principle states that when countries manifestly fail to protect their own populations from genocide, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, or war crimes, the international community has the responsibility to protect the population at risk. However, it emphasized that the use of military force was the absolute last resort, to be used only after exhausting all other options. This was a turning point in our Westphalian understanding of state sovereignty.
Since then, the normative journey of the R2P principle has had its ups and downs. After 9/11 and the start of the “War on Terror” it was seemingly forgotten by the Western world. At the 2005 World Summit, it was unanimously endorsed by the world leaders in the outcome document. The war in Libya, an intervention that ultimately resulted in a regime change, bolstered both supporters and critics.
As we look around the world today, with the warning signs that a genocide could break out in the Central African Republic and the on-going crisis in Syria, the international community’s pledge of “never again” remains as relevant as ever. But Canada’s role as a champion of the Responsibility to Protect has grown more ambiguous, despite such compelling and urgent needs on the ground.
Throughout the month of April 2014, the Canadian Centre for the Responsibility to Protect and OpenCanada.org will be publishing reflections from prominent Canadians who have shown leadership in promoting global humanitarianism. Through this project, we hope to reflect upon the lessons learned since the Rwandan Genocide, the journey of the R2P principle, and the role that Canada can still exercise in the face of mass human atrocities around the world. While it is not intended to be an exhaustive survey, this project aims to bring together politicians, policy-makers, scholars, civil society representatives, and religious leaders to share their ideas on this important anniversary.
The Eight Lessons of Rwanda
Irwin Cotler on what we have learned in the 20 years since the Rwandan genocide.
Peacekeeping Does Not Have to Wait
Roméo Dallaire on how the international community can guarantee swift international action where civilians are under imminent threat.
How Much "Law" Is There in "International Law"?
Bob Rae on our collective failure to properly enforce the rule of law.
The Role of the Churches in the Rwandan Genocide
Churches are uniquely positioned to address conflict before it gets out of hand, says Lois M Wilson. Yet they failed to act 20 years ago in Rwanda.
There is still much work to be done on how to define and apply R2P, but there is hope for the concept, says Lloyd Axworthy.
Today’s Digital Witnesses Can Prevent Tomorrow’s War Crimes
A growing cadre of scholars, practitioners, and hobbyists are leveraging new tools to help prevent human rights violations and holding perpetrators to account after heinous crimes are committed, says Robert Muggah.
Returning to the Responsiblity to Protect
If we want to make R2P's hope of "never again" a reality, we need to turn away from the critique of sovereignty and the example of Libya, argues John Duncan.
Protecting R2P From Misuse
Acting on R2P inappropriately or invoking it as a pretext for other objectives like regime change can be as damaging as inaction to R2P’s long-run effectiveness, argues Maria L. Banda.
Time For Canada to Recommit to R2P
In the 20 years since the Rwandan genocide, Canada has gone from being the most vocal supporter of the norm to one of its meekest. That needs to change, argues Naomi Kikoler.
Learning Something, Not Everything
Two decades ago, the global media virtually ignored the killing in Rwanda. Has it learned from its mistake since, asks Michael Valpy.
Protecting the Responsiblity to Protect
The “responsibility to protect” be made real through “the capacity to deploy,” says Hugh Segal. Without that, the doctrine will lose salience.
New Tools to Prevent Mass Atrocities
Technology can be used to gather, analyze, and communicate information for the sake of predicting, preventing, and mitigating atrocities in an unprecedented way, argues Christopher Tuckwood.
The Canadian Voices on the Responsibility to Protect series is part of the campaign organized by the Canadian Centre for R2P, co-hosted by the Bill Graham Centre for Contemporary International History and the International Relations Program at Trinity College, University of Toronto, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide. Called “A Journey of Lessons Learned,” this campaign consists of a full day conference on March 29th at the Munk School of Global Affairs, featuring Dr. Jennifer Welsh, the UN Secretary-General’s Representative on R2P, as the keynote speaker; a student panel discussion with Dr. Lloyd Axworthy and Dr. Madeleine Albright on April 1st; a film festival called “Eyes on Genocide” at the Media Commons Theatre of Robarts Library from April 15th to April 17th; and a youth/education outreach to high schools in the Greater Toronto Area. Based at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto, the Canadian Centre for R2P is a leading non-profit, non-partisan research organization mandated with scholarly engagement and political implementation of the R2P principle.