|+ Rwandan Genocide: 25 Years On On 6th April 1994, the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi were both killed in a rocket attack on their airplane, while returning from peace negotiations in Dar es Salaam.
This was the catalyst for a 100-day period of brutal violence and the genocide of over 800,000 Tutsi and the murder of moderate Hutu. The UN estimates that nearly 75% of the Tutsi population was killed.
The months of April and May 1994 were one of the most important moments of Africa's post-independence history.As Rwanda was entering the global consciousness as the location for thousands of brutal deaths, Nelson Mandela was becoming an emblem of the continent’s hope and triumph over adversity as he was sworn in as South Africa's first black president. Nigerian author Wole Soyinka wrote at the time, "Rwanda is our nightmare, South Africa is our dream."This week, Rwanda and the global community marked 25 years since the genocide. It's clear the horrific events of Rwanda continue to shape today's policymakers and peacemakers. In 2014, the genocide was the "fork in the road" not just for Africa but for the world, when the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) was formally introduced at the UN, borne out of the international communities failure to respond in the lead up to the tragedies of Rwandan and also the Srebrenica massacre in 1996.It was a recognition that our 'responsibility to protect' can trump state sovereignty where a mass atrocity was imminent.
R2P was invoked in the deployment of peacekeeping troops to Darfur a year after the Rwandan genocide and has since been referenced if not directly used, in crisis and conflicts such as Libya, Ivory Coast, South Sudan, Yemen, Syria and the CAR.
Along with R2P, Rwanda also influenced greater codification of international norms on the Protection of Civilians (POC). Both POC and R2P share the same foundation of the protection of vulnerable human beings. POC applies to crimes against civilians, whereas R2P applies to crimes against populations (i.e. both civilians and combatants). In addition to greater provision and mandate for protection for affected civilians and populations, the Rwanda Genocide (along with Bosnia in 1995) also shifted some much needed focus towards the impact of primary and secondary trauma upon aid workers and humanitarians. Although it could be considered a significant number of years (decades?) later that support for the psychological health of, and duty of care for, field-based staff, has received the significant focus it truly requires.
The R2P principle is generally accepted today, although it still struggles to become a binding international legal 'norm'. Some view its use in Libya after Colonel Muammar Gaddafi threatened to hunt down and kill his own citizens like 'cockroaches' as a failure, while others ask why R2P was directly used in Libya, but not Syria where there was clear evidence of an attack on civilians with chemical weapons.
But there is no doubt that after Rwanda and Srebrenica, our 'responsibility to protect' civilians over states is now well understood, as well as the other components of the R2P principle - 'The Responsibility to Prevent' and the 'The Responsibility to Rebuild.'
The cold hard truth remains that prior to the Rwandan, the world did nothing to prevent a genocide. This lack of action still weighs heavy on the conscious of many Western donors and perhaps constrains criticisms of the Kagame government in Rwandan, which has been criticised by some for his autocratic style of government.
But it is notable that Kagame has himself ordered his own government to set a deadline on aid dependence.
Over this weekend, Kagame said that "Fear and anger have been replaced by the energy and purpose that drives us forward young and old... this history will not repeat. That is our firm commitment". Lest we forget also.