Home | Comment & Analysis    Tuesday 18 January 2005

Rwanda’s lessons yet to be learned


By Don Cheadle and John Prendergast, The Boston Globe

Jan 8, 2005 — At a moment during the forthcoming film "Hotel Rwanda" when all hope for a meaningful international response to the 1994 genocide seems lost, the main character Paul Rusesabagina proclaims, "We must shame them into helping." Nothing else had worked. Pictures, pleas, facts, international conventions, and United Nations resolutions all had produced a cowardly retreat by a world unwilling to stand up to evil.

The point of such a scene and such a film is not just to document the story of what happened so that we can understand it better. It is much more about the future, so that the overused phrase "Never Again" might one day have some shred of meaning, some shred of truth.

The future is now. In Congo and Sudan, unspeakable atrocities are being committed in the context of civil wars which have taken the lives of approximately six million people. The parallels of this modern-day holocaust to 1994’s genocide in Rwanda are stark. Militias are doing most of the killing. Specific ethnic groups are targeted and inter-communal rivalries are stoked by governments. Hardliners are threatened by peace processes and commit crimes against humanity to promote instability.

The similarities in the international response to Rwanda then and to Congo and Sudan now are equally haunting. Lines of responsibility for war crimes continue to be muddied, in order to avoid making tough political choices about intervention or confrontation. Observing cease-fires that don’t really exist are still favored over the application of real force or sanctions against the perpetrators.

Deadlines and warnings continue to be issued, with little consequence. Humanitarian Band-Aids remain our tool of choice, as we cite the millions of dollars in food aid we send to exonerate ourselves for not intervening to protect people from being murdered.

The failure to act forcefully in Sudan and Congo highlights how little progress the world has made since the events of 1994. These debacles also remind us that the world body chargged with leading the response to crises of this kind — the United Nations Security Council — remains unwilling or unable to confront the perpetrators of mass atrocities in the world’s peripheral zones. Divisions within the Security Council over whether to act remain huge, and the divisions themselves become an excuse for inaction.

The main difference, however, between 1994 and today is that we still have time to act to help save lives in Congo and Sudan. Millions of lives. The death tolls have mounted in slow motion in Congo and Sudan compared to Rwanda, where 800,000 were killed in a hundred days, the fastest rate of killing in recorded history. It is not too late to act.

Let’s go back to the lessons of the Rwandan genocide. It was perpetrated with ease by the Rwandan government and its militias because there was no accountability for the killing and no protection for the targets. These two ingredients — accountability and protection — are precisely what are missing from today’s response in Congo and Sudan.

First, accountability. The message needs to be sent to the perpetrators and orchestrators of the killing that the days of impunity are over. That can be accomplished through a number of tools: international prosecution for war crimes, arms embargos, travel bans, and asset freezes, all focused on those that are most responsible.

Second, protection. When a government abdicates its responsibility to protect its own citizens, then all international efforts must go toward protecting those people. In both Sudan and Congo, international forces have been deployed to observe tenuous cease-fires. But the real problem is predatory militias (like the Sudan government-backed Janjaweed, or "devils on horseback") that prey upon civilians and carry out the political objectives of their patrons in nearby capitals.

The African Union force in Sudan and the UN force in Congo must both be greatly increased in size and have their mandates refocused on the protection of civilian life. To do that, the militias and their sponsors must be confronted. Leaving them free guarantees a continuation of the killing, and leaves the external forces with front row seats.

How the world responds to genocide and other crimes against humanity represents one of the greatest moral tests of our lifetime. Citizens all over the United States are mobilizing to tell our government that what is happening in Darfur is unacceptable. But that is only the beginning.

Let’s remember Paul Rusesabagina’s plea to shame the world into acting. Otherwise, just imagine the shame of 6 million more fresh graves.

Don Cheadle plays the role of Paul Rusesabagina in the film "Hotel Rwanda," for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe Award. John Prendergast is special adviser to the International Crisis Group. He also worked for President Clinton’s National Security Council.

The views expressed in the 'Comment and Analysis' section are solely the opinions of the writers. The veracity of any claims made are the responsibility of the author not Sudan Tribune.

If you want to submit an opinion piece or an analysis please email it to comment@sudantribune.com

Sudan Tribune reserves the right to edit articles before publication. Please include your full name, relevant personal information and political affiliations.
Comments on the Sudan Tribune website must abide by the following rules. Contravention of these rules will lead to the user losing their Sudan Tribune account with immediate effect.

- No inciting violence
- No inappropriate or offensive language
- No racism, tribalism or sectarianism
- No inappropriate or derogatory remarks
- No deviation from the topic of the article
- No advertising, spamming or links
- No incomprehensible comments

Due to the unprecedented amount of racist and offensive language on the site, Sudan Tribune tries to vet all comments on the site.

There is now also a limit of 400 words per comment. If you want to express yourself in more detail than this allows, please e-mail your comment as an article to comment@sudantribune.com

Kind regards,

The Sudan Tribune editorial team.

The following ads are provided by Google. SudanTribune has no authority on it.

Sudan Tribune

Promote your Page too

Latest Comments & Analysis

Why is South Sudan quiet while Ethiopia is at war? 2020-11-25 20:57:13 By Dak Buoth ‘‘Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better, the silence of the voice of justice when it (...)

SPLM/SPLA-IO: Alive in war, dead in peace 2020-11-24 20:32:42 By Deng Vanang Neutralized by an ineffective 2018 peace deal, with its head no longer the roaring beast of yesteryears, SPLM/SPLA-IO is now ensnared in the toughest dilemma to cross its shakiest (...)

COVID-19: A call for people-centred national security strategy in Africa 2020-11-19 09:12:07 by Luka Biong Deng Kuol Humanity has been extraordinarily challenged by the coronavirus with serious and unprecedented impacts on all aspects of human life and the ways states have been (...)


Latest Press Releases

Sudan: Performing arts is not a crime, assaulting women and artists is! 2020-09-20 08:54:28 The Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) Sudan is still struggling with militant Islamist ideology KHARTOUM: Central Khartoum Primary Court issued a verdict against five (...)

Civil Society Statement in Response to The Law of Various Amendments 2020-08-14 07:11:00 A Collaborative Civil Society Statement in Response to The Law of Various Amendments (Abolishing and Amending Provisions Restricting Freedom) – Exposing ‘a wolf in sheep’s clothing’ Sudanese women (...)

Remarks by SRF leaders at the Friend of Sudan meeting on peace 2020-08-13 07:58:58 Chairman of the Friends of Sudan Conference, Your Excellency, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, The Prime Minister of Sudan and the participating team from the (...)


Copyright © 2003-2020 SudanTribune - All rights reserved.