The international community has collectively failed to act on the lessons of the Rwandan genocide, said Amnesty International today as the world marks the 20th anniversary of the human catastrophe which left around 800,000 dead.
“In 1994, the world was shamed when it turned a blind eye to the desperate cries for help coming from Rwanda. Africa and the rest of the international community wrung their hands as hundreds of thousands were slaughtered,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
“The message is clear – this must never be allowed to happen again. Yet while leaders have accepted their mistakes, 20 years on it’s evident that the lessons have not been put into practice. Governments are still failing to take action to protect those in need in the looming catastrophes we face today.”
Twenty years later, echoes of the events in Rwanda are reverberating in the Central African Republic (CAR) and South Sudan - and beyond.
“Recent events in the Central African Republic and South Sudan underscore the continued failure of regional and international efforts to deal with current conflicts in Africa. In the Central African Republic, we see ethnic cleansing on a massive scale. In South Sudan too, individuals have been killed or raped because of their ethnicity and assumed political affiliation,” said Salil Shetty.
“Failing to deliver more robust peacekeeping operations and ensure accountability for grave crimes in Africa only enables new tragedies of catastrophic proportions.”
Since December 2013, Amnesty International has been investigating war crimes and crimes against humanity that continue in the CAR despite the presence of African Union and French peacekeeping forces. Extra-judicial killings, rape and other forms of torture are committed daily. Ethnic cleansing has forced hundreds of thousands of Muslims to flee to neighbouring countries where refugees live in dire conditions as another humanitarian crisis unfolds.
“Our researchers have investigated and reported on the wide-scale ethnic cleansing that is sweeping across the Central African Republic. Men, women and children are being slaughtered, with peacekeepers nowhere to be seen,” said Salil Shetty.
“It is unacceptable that in the corridors of power in the United Nations, Europe and the African Union, bureaucratic prevarication and political power plays have scuppered repeated efforts to deploy additional UN peacekeeping troops in the Central African Republic fast enough. The horrific results are plain to see – death and destitution.”
In South Sudan, thousands of civilians have been killed over the past few months and more than one million people have been forced to flee their homes after conflict broke out in December 2013. Here, too, war crimes and crimes against humanity continue to destroy lives while perpetrators remain at large.
In response to the violence, the UN Security Council unanimously agreed to increase peacekeeping force levels in South Sudan so that it could better carry out its mandate to protect civilians. However, despite the lessons learned in Rwanda, deployment has been slow.
Extra-judicial killings, rape and other human rights abuses continue, often along ethnic and assumed political lines. Both government and opposition forces have engaged in the wanton destruction of property, attacks on hospitals and churches, and widespread looting leaving towns abandoned. Thousands of civilians continue to flee the country while hundreds of thousands remain displaced within South Sudan. With the rainy season imminent, a humanitarian catastrophe looms unless humanitarian assistance can reach civilians without delay.
“Time is running out for the millions of men, women and children who are in desperate need of help in the Central African Republic and South Sudan. The world needs to act now,” said Salil Shetty.
The Rwanda genocide took place during the war which began in October 1990 between Rwandan government forces and the predominantly Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), based in Uganda. The RPF had been formed by Tutsi exiled in Uganda after they or their parents fled ethnic massacres including in 1959 and 1963.
As the conflict escalated, the Rwandan government called on its supporters to help to attack anyone identified as a supporter or potential supporter of the RPF. This became a deliberate strategy to kill Tutsi in order to maintain power.
On 6 April 1994, a plane carrying the Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana and the Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down over Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, triggering ethnic killings on an unprecedented scale. Tutsi and Hutu who opposed the organized killing and the forces that orchestrated it were massacred.
The government trained and distributed arms, including machetes, to its supporters from the ruling party, the National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development (MRND). This included its youth wing, the interahamwe (“those who attack together”), its ally, the Coalition for the Defence of the Republic (CDR) and its youth wing.
On 21 April 1994, despite reports of the ongoing massacres in Rwanda, the UN Security Council voted to reduce the UN mission present in the country from around 2,500 to 270 military personnel.
A powerless UN mission stood by as tens of thousands of Rwandans were killed each week. In the following three months, around 800,000 Rwandan Tutsi and Hutu opposed to the government were killed.
The genocide stopped in July 1994 when the RPF defeated government forces. Mass human rights abuses were also committed by the RPF in the immediate aftermath of the genocide and in the conflict that followed.
Twenty years on, many perpetrators of the genocide have been tried before Rwandan national courts and community courts, known as gacaca, by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and by courts in Europe and North America. Investigations continue into scores of genocide suspects living outside Rwanda. Killings by the RPF remain largely unprosecuted.