How did Rwanda’s genocide change our world? Rwanda’s genocide, twenty years ago this month, symbolizes the zenith of ethnic violence in Africa and international indifference toward it. How did essay on humanitarian intervention defining event change our world?
It is true that mass atrocity is still not a ghost of the past and international inaction in the face of it is still not an unthinkable choice. Events in the Central African Republic and Syria today serve as dark reminders of each of these realities. Yet we would be overly cynical to think nothing has changed. African Arguments » How did Rwanda’s genocide change our world? How did Rwanda’s genocide change our world? Inaction over Rwanda moved Kofi Annan in 2001, as UN Secretary-General, to ask when intervention is ever justified. A year later, in a paradigm-shifting answer, an international commission re-cast state sovereignty as responsibility rather than control.
R2P signifies more than mere rhetorical change. In authorizing intervention in Darfur in 2006, the UN Security Council took the unprecedented step of explicitly invoking R2P. Its normative power is reflected in the more robust mandates of UN peacekeeping missions since Rwanda. The protection of civilians is now central to UN operations in the DRC, Mali, Ivory Coast, and South Sudan. The tribunals established for Rwanda, and for Yugoslavia, also lent momentum to the movement for an international institution of criminal justice. Critics accuse it of inefficiency and political bias: two convictions in 12 years and all eight investigations focused on Africa.
Yet the Court still stands as perhaps the most significant achievement of the human rights movement since the end of the Cold War. Rwanda also helped draw the world’s attention to the scourge of sexual violence during war. In a landmark judgment, the Prosecutor vs Akayesu, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda recognized rape, if intended to destroy a group, as a ground for genocide. Rwanda’s violence has also generated much research and taught us much about ethnic conflict and genocide.