During an 100-day period beginning April 6, 1994, genocide in Rwanda claimed the lives of at least 800,000 people while the outside world made little effort to stop the killings. Though the U.N. Security Council and the United States in particular have done a better job recognizing the escalation of violence in the Darfur region of Sudan, the conflict there is far from over and current estimates put the number of dead around 100,000, and displaced close to 2 million.
Despite the lessons of Rwanda, outside forces remain reluctant to intervene in humanitarian crises and to bring justice to human rights violators. The powerful nations of the world are still shackled to narrow-minded definitions of national interest, and U.N. intervention efforts are susceptible to political wrangling in the Security Council. The U.S., while the first nation to label the violence in Darfur “genocide,” now sabotages its own efforts by failing to support the most appropriate avenue to justice: the new International Criminal Court. Paul Rusesabagina, the temporary manager of the Hotel Mille Collines in Kigali and hero of the recent movie “Hotel Rwanda,” touched on these issues and reminded an overflowing crowd at the Yale Law School last night that such continued hedging of intervention for self-interest has real costs for people around the world.
Evidence available through the National Security Archive makes clear President Clinton was aware of the human rights disaster in Rwanda, if not the extent of the genocide. But by the spring of 1994, Clinton had grown weary of peacekeeping operations — involvement in Haiti, Somalia and Bosnia had proved costly and used up the media’s attention for human rights issues. In May of 1994, Clinton issued Presidential Decision Directive 25, whose rigorous “selective and effective” criteria for humanitarian intervention hobbled even sympathetic State Department officials from taking action. In the words of Alison Des Forges, Human Rights Watch’s lead researcher for Rwanda, Rwanda’s problem was that it was too “small, poor and African” to demand U.S. attention.
Clinton’s officials even feared terming the violence genocide, given that such a finding could compel the U.S. government, as a signatory of the 1948 Genocide Convention, to support intervention. “Be careful,” a May 1, 1994, discussion paper from the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle East/Africa Region warned. “Legal at State was worried about this yesterday — Genocide finding could commit USG to actually ‘do something.'”
While the U.S. government was afraid to do anything in Rwanda, individual men and women acted heroically to save the lives of family, friends and even strangers threatened by the ethnic violence. Mr. Rusesabagina was one of those heroes. His story has become famous recently, thanks to a 1998 book by Philip Gourevitch and the Oscar-nominated “Hotel Rwanda.” Both the book and the movie outline Rusesabagina’s work to save the lives of Tutsis who had taken refuge in the Milles Collines. Ruseasbagina used his smarts and the hotel’s liquor supply to buy protection from the military against the genocidal gangs of “Interahamwe” who were trying to ethnically cleanse the nation of all Tutsi “cockroaches.”
Though Rusesabagina’s description last night of the genocide was captivating, the most important function of his lecture was to refocus U.S. attention on the ongoing genocide in Darfur. Granted, the U.S. government has been more involved in this crisis, but there remain vast amounts of work to be done to minimize the numbers of those killed and displaced.
Peace talks between the government in Khartoum, responsible for the actions of the genocidal “janjaweed” militia, and the rebels in Darfur are currently stalled, though set to resume at the end of the month. Military intervention remains weak, with a force of only 3,500 African Union soldiers responsible for controlling a region the size of France. Roughly 20,000 peacekeepers, on the other hand, were sent to Kosovo in 1999.
Frustratingly, the U.S., along with China and Russia, are opposed to sending Darfur’s war criminals to the International Criminal Court, one of the few instruments that groups like Human Rights Watch believe may prevent more violence from taking place. Impunity, Rusesabagina said, was one of the major factors behind the speed with which the genocide occurred in Rwanda. The Bush Administration considers the ICC unacceptable because of its potential jurisdiction over U.S. soldiers and diplomats. However, even the Economist newsmagazine believes the U.S. has nothing to fear from re-signing and ratifying the ICC.
The U.S. does not buy these arguments and has instead supported prosecution of Darfur’s criminals in a new ad hoc tribunal or in the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). However, setting up a new tribunal or using the ICTR would not only require a longer time to prosecute both the Darfur and Rwanda criminals, but would also mean higher costs for the world community.
While the Security Council and governments of the world argue over the political issues at stake in calling Darfur “genocide” and prosecuting the war criminals in the ICC, individuals from around the world must remain committed to pressuring the government into action.
The Swarthmore chapter of Students Taking Action Now-Darfur (STAND) has founded the Genocide Intervention Fund, which calls “100 Days of Action.” From April 6, 2005, GIF will begin a 100-day awareness campaign, aimed at raising $100,000 in support of the GIF and writing 100,000 letters to government officials urging them to help end the genocide in Darfur. GIF is asking for the participation of organizations and individuals across America. The Yale STAND chapter has promised to support GIF and its 100-day campaign and hopes all members of the Yale community take part. Until the policymakers resolve to prevent, mitigate and prosecute genocide, it will be up to people like Paul Rusesabagina, the media and even college students to actually “do something” to prevent genocide from reoccurring.
Claire Kenny, a senior in Branford College and former News staff reporter, is a member of the Yale chapter of STAND.