Is Preventing Genocide Possible?

rwandan genocide - skulls of the victims

Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson addressed the issue of the failure to see early warning signs to prevent genocide at the event commemorating 20th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda.  The event is formerly called “Understanding Early Warnings of Mass Atrocities Twenty Years After the Genocide in Rwanda.”  During the Rwanda genocide, Hutu militants massacred more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus within a 100 days period.

During his speech, Mr. Eliasson pointed out that the consequences of failing to heed the warning signs are horrifying, and the world needs to respond early and take necessary precautions before it is too late like it was in Rwanda.  He emphasized that every time we repeat the phrase “never again,” we actually acknowledge a sign of our continued failure as a world community.

A now retired Canadian Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire, the head of the UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda at the time was also present at the event. During that time, he requested for the world to take action against the cruelty before it was too late, but his efforts were not successful enough to protect the people of Rwanda.  Mr. Eliasson showed him as an example and emphasized the fact that the only way to prevent future tragedies is to show that the leadership and courage necessary and make our voice to be heard in some way.  He further added how necessary for the UN is to act on immediately if the particular government does not take any action or fulfill its responsibilities accordingly.

Mr. Eliasson urged that the people of the world are questioning how successful the UN is in its efforts to protect human rights and civilian populations as never before. In this aspect, he pointed the importance of providing early warning and supporting all the efforts to protect civilians in such situations. Among many, he gave various examples of early warning signs, including the massive use of child soldiers, sexual abuse of girls and women, and basically putting civilians in danger with no precautions taken to protect them. When these kinds of events start to happen, they present considerable signs that “a society is about to implode and possibly degenerate into genocide.”  Mr. Eliasson cited Syria, CAR, Mali, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as examples where these events have taken place.

Even today, when the violence arises in one country, the international community seems to hesitate to act on it immediately or to make sure that basic human rights are not violated, and civilians are not killed for frivolous reasons. What do you think it should be done to prevent future tragedies like the one happened in Rwanda? Do you agree with Mr. Eliasson’s observations of the world response to such tragedies?  Do you think the UN is currently taking enough actions to protect Syrian civilians?




  1. The genocide in Rwanda is an infamous tragedy where more than 800,000 people were killed in a very short time period. The amount of people that died within a hundred day period is mind-boggling. The genocide in Rwanda is usually compared to the Holocaust and the Bosnian genocide, all heartbreaking events that occurred throughout the years. My family and I escaped from the Bosnian Genocide, and my family knows first hand that had the United Nations and the United States stepped in earlier less people would have died. I agree with Mr. Eliasson and I believe that had the United Nations reacted quicker more lives would have been saved. There were many warning signs, but unfortunately this “watch and wait” pattern occurred once again in Rwanda. It is very important that these mistakes are not repeated in the future. When civilians are in danger precautions must be immediately taken to protect them.

  2. Sadly, the Rwandan Genocide is a constant reminder to the international community of the dangers of not acting immediately, even to the smallest signals that point to genocide. I completely agree with Mr. Eliasson. I believe that all nations have a duty to act and protect all citizens of our world.
    Genocide does not take place suddenly and without warning. “It is in fact, a deliberate strategy”, writes the UN in its Genocide Prevention page.
    I do not think that we can quantify the work of the UN. I think that Genocide Prevention requires constant monitoring and immediate reactions. I just hope that the world, along with the UN, keeps its eyes wide open…

  3. The issue with preventing genocide I believe, is the notion of sovereignty. Depending on the issue, other countries and including our own United States, do not want to be the police man because our interests are not effected directly. For example, the Russians backed al-Assad and Syria because of a long relationship with one another and an arms deal worth in the billions. The U.S. and others did not want to rock the boat against other world powers on the issue, especially after some reports showed al-Qaeda affiliates working with the rebels.
    Only after does it become clearly evident of the atrocity, do people want to spring into action. Also, with the world moving out of or is out of (depending on your view) colonialism practices, developed nations more often than not do not want to go into a country and establish a long term presence. With genocides usually occurring in places with a power vacuum, there would need to be nation building. They don’t want to dictate how to run the country in this new age of a self determination attitude.
    I do believe that with keeping a close eye on these early warning signs and also placing basic human dignity and life to protect the oppressed in genocide situations over self-interest and sovereignty, genocides like the one in Rwanda can be limited by acting quickly and forcefully.

  4. The UN was established, in part, to prevent these very situations from occurring, yet far too often it seems the UN itself is to blame for allowing these atrocities to occur. The ability to use force under the UN Charter is very limited. A State may use force for self-defense, with UN Security Council authorization, or for humanitarian intervention. It is practically impossible to get anything through the Security Council – as it only takes one veto by a permanent member, and the permanent members (i.e., China, France, Russia, the UK, and the US) don’t agree on anything. And while there is a developing recognition of a third party State’s ability to intervene on humanitarian grounds, several conditions must first be met. Very few States are willing to act without Security Council authorization, and these conditions effectively discourage those that are willing. The moral compass of the UN needs to be recalibrated in order to allow it to deal more effectively with these atrocities.

  5. The United Nations must decide how they want to respond to situations of this nature. We need swift actions, not glacial discussion ending in resolutions that never get affirmed. The United Nations was created with the intent to end horrible events such as this from taking place in the world. However, the red tape and tension between countries, makes the progress slow. The charter of the United Nations lacks a true method for preventing atrocities through force. The only progress that ever seems to take effect, is when super power countries such as the United States take a moral stand and act on their own accord. However, the world has grown weary from the United States acting as the world’s police force. Truthfully, the American public too is tired of the rigors and stress that comes from military and diplomatic action on the part of the government. Obama has not jumped quickly into action for many international disputes. It is quite interesting to see that when America chooses not to get involved, no one else quickly steps up to the plate. The method for Security Council authorization is archaic and is based on an antiquated power distribution. While World War Two did change the modern world, it must be noticed that the world has changed and so have the problems. I think these seats of power on the security council should rotate every year. This will force the entire international community to act in accordance with contemporary reverence to the issues present in the world. Furthermore, if the seats of power rotate, there won’t be such an air of cynicism surrounding the United Nations. The super powers will be on the same level as other countries. However, this will probably never happen, unless we have another world war.

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