Monday 19 February 2018

UN apologises for Rwanda inaction

This year marked the 20th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide
This year marked the 20th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide

The diplomat who was president of the UN Security Council in April 1994 apologised today for the council's refusal to recognise that genocide was taking place in Rwanda and for doing nothing to halt the slaughter of more than one million people.

Former New Zealand ambassador Colin Keating issued the rare apology during a council meeting to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the genocide and examine what has been done since to prevent new genocides.

The open session elicited praise for the UN's stepped-up commitment to put human rights at the centre of its work but widespread criticism of its failure to prevent ongoing atrocities in Syria, Central African Republic and South Sudan.

The council unanimously adopted a resolution calling on all countries "to recommit to prevent and fight against genocide" and reaffirming their responsibility to protect people from crimes against humanity.

It condemned any denial of the Rwanda genocide and underscored the importance of taking into account lessons learned from the slaughter of Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

Mr Keating recalled that New Zealand, Nigeria, the Czech Republic and Spain, supported by Argentina and Djibouti, urged condemnation of the Rwanda genocide in April 1994, the month it started, and called for reinforcement of the U.N. mission in the country, but "most" veto-wielding permanent members objected.

The United States and France were among those opposed.

He said the UN Secretariat concealed "a critical piece of advice" - a cable from force commander, General Romeo Dallaire, "which gave graphic early warning of a probable genocide" - and said a report to the Geneva-based Human Rights Commission warning of the likelihood of genocide was never brought to the council's attention.

"All this confirms that there are many lessons about information, about early warning and about how to use information, which I believe are still relevant today," Mr Keating said.

Rwanda's UN ambassador Eugene-Richard Gasana told the council that "the systematic slaughter of men, women and children was perpetrated in full view of the international community".

"The genocide against the Tutsi highlighted the extent to which the UN methods of prevention utterly failed," he said.

Mr Gasana said the "horrific" scenes from Central African Republic, Syria and South Sudan today have convinced many people that the UN still has a long way to go on the issue.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said those conflicts "sadly show that the protection of populations from atrocities remains lagging and elusive".

Jordan's UN Ambassador Prince Zeid al Hussein asked his fellow council members, particularly the permanent members, whether they had learned anything from the Rwanda genocide, and what words they would use that would be "immune to the inevitable mockery, the cynical laughter" of the people of the Central African Republic whose relatives have been killed in unprecedented fighting between Muslims and Christians.

While the Security Council authorised a UN peacekeeping force for Central African Republic last week, Prince Zeid said the time lag in finding and deploying troops, and the financial constraints are similar to the way the UN confronted crises in 1994.

"And ultimately, are we not too late - again?" he asked. "We all care, yes, maybe. But it is equally clear we still do not care enough; not enough to act immediately, overwhelmingly, in those cases where an intervention is needed."

Press Association

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