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Rwanda: Never Again All Over Again

Apr 7, 2014

I would like to share with you comments I sent to Anna Maria Tremonti following her interview today on the topic of the twentieth anniversary of the first of 100 days of the Rwandan genocide.

Romeo Dallaire

Dear Anna Maria,
Recently I attended a multi-lateral meeting in Costa Rica on the topic of mass atrocity crimes. Fifty-six states were present (Canada notable by its absence, giving free rein to ‘What gives with Canada these days?’ sorts of conversational entrées) as well as a handful of civil society organisation representatives like me.  Present at the meeting as well were dozens of those employed in the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ industry.  It was our own Lloyd Axworthy who, following Rwanda and the return of the battered and traumatised Roméo Dallaire, who took a lead in urging the world community to figure out where we went wrong.  Out of the 2001 International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty issued ‘Responsibility to Protect’.  The doctrine of ‘R2P’ was adopted unanimously in the UN World Summit  Outcome Document of 2005, mandating international action to “protect a state’s population from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing”.

Father mourns injured son in Syria.

Along with the phalanx of those carrying R2P cards, there were Rwandans, amongst several others, with a constant refrain:  So what have you done? What have we learned?  Even as you plan for future genocides, what about this old one, this present one?  Or, as Irwin Cotler writes today in HuffPo, ‘…if mass atrocities in Syria are not a case for R2P, there is no R2P.’

Genocide art installation

My participation at the conference was about ‘Building community resilience as a preventive strategy against mass atrocity crimes’.  And I talked about Sudan/South Sudan, where I have a spent a month a year since 2005: that R2P has little-to-no relevance in states where the perpetrators ARE the state or its agents and that what is happening in South Sudan is absolutely heart-breaking and completely predictable.  Just as your guests said this morning, we knew: the evidence was all there for the seeing and the responding. 

Soldiers in South Sudan Civil War

In the case of South Sudan where the second lowest literacy rate in the world, the extreme derogation and commodification of women, an economy whose prices have been driven skyward by the arrival in Juba of the entire UN/multi-lateral/humanitarian aid community on its doorstep and in need of everything yesterday, and the distribution of oil wealth and new power along lines of identity that leaves a few with new gated mansions and SUVs and the many without employment, clean water, infrastructure that works, housing, food, education, health…  – have all combined with the historically anti-statistical probability that insurgency movements are able to form successful governments, to lay the groundwork for mass atrocity crimes.  Having signed and ratified every UN treaty going, the government had opened itself to the contradictions of intervention/sovereignty, sovereignty/accountability and the world community stood by once more, helpless, ‘Never Again’ all over again.

Sudan Civil War refugees

How to get past hate? Lower barriers of disparity between and amongst/within groups, societies and countries; prioritise peace, development and rights education work that builds community resilience; make better use of multilateral organisations and agreements to hold governments account from both without and within, empowering local grassroots organisations to be their own early-warning systems; hold nation states accountable to the instruments they have already signed – on economic, social and cultural rights, women, children, etc., etc.; ask ourselves why, if we can globalise the rules, benefits and punishments, of trade, the rules of human rights cannot also be similarly universalised.  Dump the fiction that trade and human rights/democracy promotion are somehow coterminous.  Create new extraterritorial legal frameworks that require of the corporation more than profit-maximisation to the shareholder and remove rights of corporations to sue governments that stand in their way.  Reform the Security Council.

Guatemalan women protest quashing of Rios Montt's 80-year sentence for genocide.
Guatemalan women protest quashing of Rios Montt’s 80-year sentence for genocide.

Where’s the next genocide?  What are we going to do about it?  How do we intervene in those already under way?  What went wrong in, arguably, R2P’s sole deployment (Libya)?  In Costa Rica, people talked about Guatemala, and truth and reconciliation commission whose findings and rulings were promptly overturned by Guatemalan women protest quashing of Rios Montt’s 80-year sentence for genocide. The government, short-circuiting healing; people talked about Ukraine; people talked about Uganda, about Zimbabwe – and the impossibility, in the minds of many in attendance, of peaceful transitions to new governments in the case of Museveni and Mugabe, respectively.  A few even talked about approaching environmental catastrophes and the inevitability of mass movements driven by water shortages, crop failures and violent weather events – and the impact on hate-driven atrocities.  While conflict is part of the human condition, an indicator of issues in need of addressing that, if left unaddressed, can lead to violence and war, hate arises out of primordial conditioning, a form of bullying that can lead to genocide, mass atrocity crimes, ethnic cleansing.  They intersect when civil war provides a cover for genocide, when social disintegration unleashes hatred.

Thank you for this powerful interview.  It reminded me once more of the need to do more than talk, to require of our nation states to untie their own hands of ceded potency and begin to construct a different ethics for our world community before it is truly too late.

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