Essays On Genocide And Humanitarian Interventionism

Humanitarian Intervention and the Rwandan Genocide

D.R.L. Ludlow
In these past few months a conviction has grown, among nations large and small, that an opportunity has been regained to achieve the great objectives of the Charter - a United Nations capable of maintaining international peace and security, of securing justice and human rights and of promoting, in the words of the Charter, "social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom."
Boutros Boutros-Ghali
An Agenda for Peace (1992)


In writing An Agenda for Peace, Boutros Boutros-Ghali captured the sense of growing optimism among many statesmen in the early 1990s that the international community had entered a new era where combined action by its members could reduce conflicts and alleviate the suffering of those affected by them. Yet, only two years after the Secretary-General wrote so confidently of new attitudes and possibilities, over a half a million people were brutally killed in the Rwandan genocide and civil war as the international community stood by and watched. Perhaps of all the recent cases for international intervention, Rwanda was the most striking and yet nothing was done. What went wrong? Why was there such a stark contrast between aspirations and reality?

This article will attempt to answer these questions. It will examine the obstacles to humanitarian intervention in international society1 today using the Rwandan genocide as a case study. It takes as its premise that there are four possible reasons why the international community fails to intervene in a given humanitarian crisis. These potential obstacles are:

  • that there is an absence of any internationally recognized justification, either in theory or practise, for humanitarian intervention;
  • that, even if there is a generally accepted right of humanitarian intervention, it is not recognized in that particular case;
  • that there is an inability within the international community to intervene in humanitarian crises in a timely manner; and
  • that there is an unwillingness on the part of members of the international community to intervene in order to save the lives of others.
This article will examine which of these obstacles caused the failure of the international community to intervene in Rwanda. It will be argued that while each of the above obstacles did pose a challenge to decisive intervention in Rwanda, by far the most significant was the last, that being an unwillingness on the part of state governments to take action solely on humanitarian grounds.

The article is divided into two sections. Part one discusses whether there is any clearly recognized principle for intervention on humanitarian grounds in international society. Drawing on solidarist and pluralist conceptions of international society, the arguments for and against humanitarian intervention will be examined, as well as how these arguments are supported by the United Nations (UN) Charter and international law. Finally, the issue of whether a norm of humanitarian intervention is evident in international practise will be examined. It will be argued that while there are clear theoretical and legal justifications for humanitarian intervention, these are only marginally recognized in recent practise of the international community.

Having examined general theory, the second part of the article will deal specifically with Rwanda. It will start by examining whether the principle of humanitarian intervention was advanced by the UN in response to the Rwandan crisis. Then the more practical obstacles to intervention in Rwanda will be discussed, examining the ability of the international community to respond to humanitarian crises and the willingness of its members to become involved. It will be argued that while a number of systemic weaknesses within the UN may have proven problematic, the real obstacle was the unwillingness of national governments to accept the risks of a military intervention in the absence of any clearly defined national interests.

The article will conclude by drawing on the lessons of Rwanda to make some general observations regarding humanitarian interventions in international society. Issues for further investigation and research will also be identified.


Before proceeding, it is necessary to define clearly what is meant by humanitarian intervention. The type of intervention under discussion is forced military intervention, sanctioned by the United Nations, in the affairs of a sovereign state, based primarily on humanitarian grounds. There are two key elements to this definition. First, there is a clear lack of consent on the part of the target state and, second, the intervention is motivated by humanitarian concerns, such as human suffering or a threat to lives.

Some have argued for a wide definition of humanitarian interventions in order to understand the best ways to deal with the increasingly complex humanitarian crises in the world today.2 This argument is based on the fact that humanitarian activities and international interventions today take many forms. Foreign aid and development programs by individual states, the UN and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), diplomatic and economic sanctions or attempts at third party mediation are all to be considered humanitarian interventions in this broad context. While this may be a valid approach, many such forms of intervention do not pose a direct challenge to state sovereignty and may be aimed at a variety of sources of human suffering.

This article is concerned with situations where armed conflict or the resident government itself is the cause of suffering or poses a threat to human lives. As armed intervention in a sovereign state must be seen as an extreme act under extreme conditions, actions less than military force may demonstrate less commitment and resolve on the part of the interveners. Thus, military interventions on humanitarian grounds will be our focus.


Several authors have noted how the principles of order and justice in international relations are most starkly contrasted over the question of humanitarian intervention.3 The requirement for international order demands respect of state sovereignty while calls for justice by alleviating human suffering and rights abuses disregard the "presumption of non-intervention." As James Mayall has noted, this dilemma of humanitarian intervention is best understood by juxtaposing solidarist and pluralist conceptions of international society.4 Each of these two approaches will be examined, together with how they are reflected in the UN Charter and international law.


A solidarist conception of international society is based on the belief that there is a community of mankind, current or potential, that transcends the society of sovereign states. This cosmopolitan society has its origins in the notion, best articulated by Immanuel Kant, that human beings are moral ends in themselves and not simply the objects of a state or means to its existence.5 A belief in the inherent value of individuals leads directly to a requirement for human rights. Human rights are best described as universal rights that all people have by virtue of being members of the human race:

. . . because being human cannot be renounced, lost or forfeited, human rights are inalienable. In practise not all people enjoy all their human rights, let alone enjoy them equally. Nonetheless, all human beings have the same human rights and hold them equally and inalienably.6
Such universality was recognized by the United Nations General Assembly in the preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, in stating that "the inherent dignity ... and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world."7

Human rights have two key elements associated with them. First, there is clearly a right to something. Human rights scholars have suggested a wide variety of approaches to defining the rights to which all humans are entitled.8 Clearly the consensus of all approaches is that the right to life must be considered foremost. Acceptance of the right to life necessarily implies others, such as the subsistence needs of food, water, shelter and security. Although scholars do not agree on a comprehensive or prioritized list of rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 is instructive in this regard. It lists, in order, the right to life, liberty and security of person, freedom from slavery or servitude and freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.9 While this list clearly does not reflect the rights that all people currently enjoy, they do represent an international consensus on the rights that all humans ought to enjoy.

The second key element of human rights is that there exists an obligation on the part of others to guarantee them. This obligation leads to the solidarist assertion that states are responsible mainly for the preservation and promotion of their citizens' welfare. While individuals have obligations to respect one another's rights, it is in the context of society, organized as a state, that humans are best able to realize their rights. Herein lies a great dilemma: "The . . . fundamental freedoms asserted by human rights law are very largely rights to be exercised against state power; yet it is state power itself which is expected to protect those rights."10

A solidarist conception of international society does not deny the necessity or legitimacy of the state's role in ordering the relations and pursuing the interests of its citizens. Rather, solidarists question whether a state has any moral legitimacy independent of the people within its borders: ". . . states qua states do not think or will or act in pursuit of ends; only people . . . alone or in groups, do these things. Unless some independent sense can be given to the idea of the state as a moral agent, this view cannot be very persuasive."11 The primary responsibility of the state is to organize society and provide for the welfare of its citizens and this is recognized in the concept of sovereignty. The sovereign authority of states implies that each enjoys autonomy and freedom from external interference in pursuing its interests. Solidarists argue, though, that this autonomy must not be seen as absolute, but rather within the context of human rights. They believe it is in order to protect the rights of its citizens, promote their welfare and pursue their common ends that a state requires freedom from external interference. If a state government is failing to meet its obligations in fulfilling the basic human rights of its citizens, solidarists suggest there is no reason to recognize its claim to sovereign authority as legitimate.

This is precisely the point Fernando Teson makes in asserting that "a government that engages in substantial violations of human rights betrays the very purpose for which it exists and so forfeits not only its domestic legitimacy, but its international legitimacy as well."12 If such a government loses its claim to legitimacy there are two important implications. First, it loses its claim to autonomy and freedom from external interference. Second, the obligation to protect the human rights of its citizens ultimately defaults to all of humanity. Given that the community of humans is for practical purposes organized into states, the policing of human rights abuses is best dealt with by the society of states.

Solidarists point to Chapter VII of the UN Charter as providing the legal basis for intervention in the event of gross human rights abuses. Article 42 of this chapter authorizes the Security Council to "take such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security."13 Under Article 43, "all members undertake to make available to the Security Council . . . armed forces"14 for the purposes of enforcement, although this task may be delegated to specific states to carry out on behalf of the UN. Of particular note is the 1948 Convention on Genocide which makes genocide a crime under international law and commits all members to "prevent and punish" it.15

Solidarists assert that human rights violations and widespread suffering cause instability and thereby threaten international peace. The authors of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights seem to acknowledge this in stating that "it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected."16 Since violent human rights abuses and large-scale human suffering threaten international peace and stability, the UN may intervene forcefully to preserve them.

A solidarist conception of international society, then, argues that all humans are ends in themselves and thus possess basic inalienable human rights. While human rights are best realized within the context of sovereign states, a state may lose its claim to non-interference if it fails to protect these basic rights for its citizens. The international community is justified, and the UN Security Council is authorized under international law, to intervene in a sovereign state to safeguard basic human rights. The maintenance of order does not preclude the pursuit of justice in international society; the former does not and must not always "trump" the latter. This is the solidarist argument in favor of humanitarian intervention.


A pluralist conception of international society denies the existence of basic human rights and is based on the belief that no common community of mankind exists. Pluralists argue that a variety of political cultures, based on different moral values, exists among the society of states. In order to protect these values and preserve the distinct ways of life of each state's citizens, pluralists believe the principles of sovereignty and non-intervention are key to both order and justice in the international community.

Pluralists do not deny that certain rights and duties exist in international society, but claim these only exist with regard to states and not peoples, noting that the members of the United Nations are undisputedly the former and not the latter. They point to Article 2(7) of the UN Charter which recognizes the sovereign equality of all states and declares "nothing [in the Charter] shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state."17 More to the point, they argue, the 1970 Declaration on Principles of International Law is proof of acceptance by the international community of the principle of non-intervention as a basis for stability: ". . . the practice of any form of intervention not only violates the spirit and the letter of the Charter, but also leads to the creation of situations which threaten international peace and security. . .."18

Based on the above, pluralists criticize the solidarist advocacy of humanitarian intervention on three main grounds: first, cultural relativism; second, the importance of maintaining order; and third, the effectiveness of humanitarian intervention. Each of these criticisms is serious and requires some consideration.

Cultural Relativism

The argument for cultural relativism is based on the assertion that there is no universal conception of human rights. Advocates of cultural relativism note that it is only Western democracies that place great emphasis on human rights, while in many other parts of the world individual freedoms rank below the needs of family or community. R.J. Vincent summarizes well the case for cultural relativism:

There is no universal morality, because the history of the world is the story of the plurality of cultures, and the attempt to assert universality . . . as a criterion of all morality, is a more or less well-disguised version of the imperial routine of trying to make the values of a particular culture general.19
One common explanation of the relative difference between cultures has the "first world" emphasizing civil and political rights, the "second world" (socialist) emphasizing economic and social rights and the "third world" emphasizing self-determination of peoples and economic development.20 None of these rights are mutually exclusive, but different societies do give them quite different priorities. In order to preserve and protect cultural distinctiveness, state sovereignty must be respected, thereby creating a "presumption against intervention."

However, as Simon Caney has noted, there are two weaknesses to this argument. First, it denies any commonality of values among the world's cultures when in fact some consistency does exist:

All cultures, be they Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, secular or Christian, value the sanctity of human life. Similarly, it is difficult to think of any culture that welcomes drought, famine, disease, murder and malnutrition. Consequently cosmopolitan principles of humanitarian intervention that seek to eradicate these are not imposing values on societies which those societies reject.21
No society asserts mass murder or the infliction of suffering on others as a cultural value. The second weakness is that it equates cultures with states, assuming that all governments promote pluralism and protect the cultural values of their citizens. Again, Caney suggests:
In some situations intervention may . . . be required in order to protect and foster diversity. Consider a situation in which a state is persecuting a cultural minority. In such a scenario humanitarian intervention can be justified if it prevents this state of affairs and protects the minority.22
Clearly, then, there is a basic level of human rights that all cultures value and which states are required to protect. Thus, states have no claim to absolute sovereignty on the basis of cultural uniqueness if they constantly abuse basic human rights.

Even if a basic set of human rights is accepted across all cultures, many argue that there is no international consensus on specifically what these rights are, what priority they have and which would have to be violated to justify intervention. This criticism is of a different nature because, while accepting that "in theory" there may be basic human rights, it argues that "in practise" they are not currently definable. Or as Adam Roberts writes:

Any attempt to devise a general justification for humanitarian intervention, even if such a doctrine were to limit intervention to very extreme circumstances, would run into difficulty. A blind humanitarianism, which fails to perceive the basic truth that different states perceive social and international problems very differently, can only lead into a blind alley. Indeed, advocacy of any general principle of humanitarian intervention could well make some states more nervous than before about international discussion of human rights, since they might see this as a stalking horse for intervention.23
This is a valid point, however, the difficulty of achieving a consensus should not preclude the international community from attempting such a project. Moreover, if talk of humanitarian intervention might encourage some states to withdraw from the discussion, a lack of international will to address the subject might encourage others to continue, or even increase, human rights abuses within their borders.

The argument for armed humanitarian intervention will always be made in extreme cases and will not develop into a general license to interfere in the domestic affairs of states:

Not every evil, nor every violation of human rights, therefore, merits external intervention, even when it takes such grotesque and unacceptable forms as apartheid, human sacrifice, bonded labour, female infanticide, untouchability, and racial or religious discrimination. In many cases, influencing the state by other means is enough to achieve the desired results.24
Thus, while there is great cultural diversity in the world, all cultures value the preservation of human life and freedom from serious suffering. This implies that intervention is justified when lives are threatened or there is human suffering on a large scale. The difficulty of defining conditions for international humanitarian intervention should not stop the international community from trying to do so. The arguments of cultural relativism, then, do not preclude intervention in the event of a humanitarian crisis; rather they make us cautious in proceeding.

Dangerous Precedents

Arguments against humanitarian intervention based on the dangers of establishing precedents raise concerns with regards to the collapse of international order and the potential for abuse or selectivity. Concern over the collapse of order due to an erosion of the principle of state sovereignty is at best alarmist. It fails to take into consideration that the concept of sovereignty has taken several centuries to develop and that it continues to evolve. It is reasonable to expect that norms of humanitarian intervention will also take considerable time to develop as international society continues to modify and adapt notions of state sovereignty.

Besides alarmism, the concern over dangerous precedents unjustifiably places an emphasis on issues of order and non-intervention over those of justice. The preference for order and the principle of sovereignty is wrongly presented as an objective, and thus more desirable, goal while justice and the principle of intervention are characterized as having bias toward a particular moral view.

. . . nonintervention is not, as Vincent put it, an 'amoral' principle. It is rooted in a substantive conception of how the world should be arranged of which a necessary element is the belief that there is no 'coherent and pervasive morality which transcends international frontiers and which might then inform and justify particular acts of intervention.' To one who holds a conflicting belief, the nonintervention principle would not be a neutral principle at all.25
Thus, while arguing that humanitarian interventions may establish destabilizing international precedents, advocates of this position neglect to consider the dangers of establishing precedents based on ignoring widespread human rights abuses. As Caney observes, "the problem is that it is not clear why international order is assumed to be unconditionally valuable . . . if a state of affairs is unjust and exploitive it is far from clear that stabilizing it is desirable."26 If the international community established precedents for intervening on humanitarian grounds in cases of gross human rights abuses or suffering, it is far from clear why this would be undesirable.

The second charge with regard to establishing dangerous precedents is that it is open to abuse or selectivity. Both of these concerns are valid and are based on the likelihood that states will intervene to serve their own interests and not humanitarian interests. If a general right of humanitarian intervention was recognized by the international community, it could be used as an excuse by any state to interfere in the affairs of another. Historically, such abuses have occurred. Michael Walzer has written that an historical study of interventions reveals: ". . . clear examples of what is called 'humanitarian interventions' are very rare. Indeed, I have not found any, but only mixed cases where the humanitarian motive is one among several."27

However, most such interventions have been unilateral and have been roundly condemned by the United Nations and its members.28 It must be remembered that the type of action under discussion in this article is armed intervention under the auspices of the United Nations. The requirement for an international consensus based on the support of the Security Council should prevent abuse of the principle by one or even several powers.

If the UN Security Council authorises an intervention, the risks of competitive chaos and insecurity and of pursuit of unilateral advantage may be greatly reduced. The role of the UN, especially the Security Council, has given a degree of international legitimacy to uses of force that might otherwise have been open to extensive criticism.29
Such multilateralism has long been associated with legitimacy and it must continue to be considered key for humanitarian interventions.30

Selectivity is a significant concern, particularly given the monopoly of control that the permanent members (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China) exercise over the Security Council. If a security or humanitarian crisis does not affect one or more of these great powers, it is unlikely to be given much emphasis in the Security Council agenda. Crises in more obscure regions of the world depend on the UN Secretariat's methodical but time-consuming process for identifying issues requiring international attention or action.31

With regard to selectivity, it can only be suggested that while every case of human rights abuse may not be treated in the same manner or resolved with the same determination by the international community, this does not mean all such attempts are futile. Selectivity is likely to exist for some time, however, if the aim is to deal one day with all human rights abuses, the first step is to deal with some, and eventually most, of the worst cases.

Arguments in favor of maintaining order, then, are overly alarmist and place too high a moral value on the principle of state sovereignty. Recognizing a right to humanitarian intervention will not result in international anarchy and sanctioning by the United Nations should prevent abuse and selectivity from becoming the norm.


A third criticism of humanitarian intervention is that it is largely ineffective. Military intervention, it is argued, is a simple and short-term solution to complex and long-term problems. In short, it is too little too late. No doubt, there is a great deal of truth to this criticism. Eradicating human suffering and firmly establishing basic human rights must be seen as a long-term project of economic and social development encouraged by international assistance to countries in need.

However, two points must be made regarding this argument. First, if long-term development is taken as the alternative to humanitarian intervention it is clear that the international community is failing in this regard:

If, as R.J. Vincent argues, seriousness about human rights is tested by success in addressing the human wrongs of poverty and starvation . . .'we liberals' are failing massively to address what Henry Shue calls the 'holocaust of neglect'. . . the 'silent genocide' of slow death through poverty and malnutrition of millions on this planet is seemingly accepted as a natural and inevitable condition of global politics.32
Second, even if the international community was committing serious effort and resources to long-term development programs, this would still not preclude short-term decisive action in the event of a major humanitarian crisis. In an examination of military responses to humanitarian crises Barry Posen, while arguing that armed intervention is highly problematic, claims that there is the potential to save lives given the right circumstances and a sufficient commitment of resources.33 If the ultimate goal is the protection and promotion of human rights, then clearly a variety of available means must be considered to achieve this end.

Solidarist and pluralist conceptions of international society have been examined with regard to humanitarian intervention. It has been suggested that, in keeping with a solidarist conception of humanity, all humans are ends in themselves and thus have a claim to basic human rights. It is in the context of sovereign states that humans are currently best able to realize their common rights. While respect for pluralism or the cultural uniqueness of different societies requires that states do not normally interfere in one another's affairs, this autonomy is not absolute. States which fail to provide for the most basic rights of their citizens lose their claim to complete autonomy and the international community must by default step in to protect human lives.

Humanitarian intervention can be criticized on grounds of cultural relativism, the threat it poses to international order and its overall effectiveness. However, these concerns do not rule out such international action but rather demonstrate the need for prudence and consideration on a case by case basis. The UN Charter and international law permit intervention under Chapter VII, if one accepts that human rights are not just a domestic affair and have implications for international peace and security as a whole. Even pluralists will acknowledge that "humanitarian intervention is justified when it is in response to acts 'that shock the moral conscience of mankind.'"34 It is simply unclear from their perspective how much "shock" is required to trigger an intervention.

Really, then, solidarist and pluralist conceptions of international society both admit to justifications for humanitarian intervention, albeit to quite different degrees. Solidarists forcefully advocate intervention to protect human rights and prevent suffering. Ultimately, pluralists recognize that occasionally intervention may be justified, but argue for extreme caution and prudence in so doing. Having established that intervention on humanitarian grounds is justified in cases of gross human rights abuses or catastrophic human suffering, it is necessary to determine whether this justification is recognized by the international community.

International Practice

While the debate over humanitarian intervention is centuries old, it has enjoyed a minor renaissance since the end of the Cold War. International crises that previously would have been viewed through the lenses of east-west rivalries are now being approached in a more pragmatic, if not cooperative, manner. However, if humanitarian intervention is justified in theory, as has been argued above, recognition of the principle in practise has been tenuous at best. A review of recent studies of humanitarian intervention demonstrates that there is only precarious acceptance of a norm for such action within the international community.

While there is a general consensus that there are some positive changes taking place in the international protection of human rights, the degree of change and its future direction are highly contested. Nicholas Hopkinson argues that "the view now prevailing is that the observance of fundamental human rights know no national boundaries and therefore should no longer be disregarded on account of state sovereignty."35 Significantly, W. Ofuatey-Kodje observes that:

. . . the Security Council stated explicitly that there is a connection between human rights violation and threats to peace and security, when it declared categorically that 'non-military sources of instability in the economic, social, humanitarian and ecological fields have become threats to peace and security' [UN Doc. S/PV 3046].36
Marrack Goulding, former Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, believes that the new willingness of the UN to use force in support of peace "could represent a decisive moment in the development of the organization."37

However, countering this apparent support for an "embryonic"38 norm of humanitarian intervention are protestations that recent examples of UN military action are largely inconclusive on the issue. Several recent studies of post-cold war UN actions reveal only marginal international acceptance of a principle of intervention on humanitarian grounds. While reviewing recent examples of intervention is beyond the scope of this article, it is worth summarizing the conclusions of some writers in this regard.

Studies of international intervention in Iraq, Yugoslavia and Somalia have suggested that while humanitarian concerns were raised in the respective Security Council Resolutions, none of these cases fits well the definition of humanitarian intervention.39 The intervention to aid the Kurds was humanitarian in focus but it was conducted with the reluctant acquiescence of the Iraqi government and must be viewed largely within the context of the Gulf War.

In the former Yugoslavia, the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) mission in Bosnia was no doubt humanitarian in its aims. However, even though the UNPROFOR mandate was renewed under Chapter VII, it was conducted largely with the consent of the warring factions.

It is generally agreed that among the three, by far the best example of humanitarian intervention was Somalia. There the United States-led Unified Task Force (UNITAF) was mandated under Chapter VII to employ "all necessary means to establish a secure environment for humanitarian relief operations in Somalia."40 While it has been suggested that UNITAF was not an "intervention" per se, because there was no national government in existence at the time, there can be no doubt it was a significant landmark in the willingness of the international community to employ force to fulfill humanitarian objectives.

Based on the above, it can be observed that, in spite of some convincing arguments and signs of progress, there is only marginal recognition of a principle of humanitarian intervention within the international community. Humanitarian concerns have proven to be important factors in recent UN actions, but far from the only ones. The absence of a well-established international norm of humanitarian intervention is thus a serious obstacle to the international community responding decisively to humanitarian crises. With this in mind, it is now necessary to look specifically at the case of Rwanda to determine if the embryonic norm of humanitarian intervention was advanced and what other obstacles may have prevented international action.


This section will examine the Rwandan genocide and civil war of 1994 and the failure of the international community to act in an effective and timely manner. It will be argued that the UN did eventually acknowledge a right to intervene in Rwanda on humanitarian grounds and that a number of other obstacles resulted in the failure to act decisively to stop the genocide.


Inter-ethnic conflict in Rwanda has a long history and originates in social and political divisions between the country's two main ethnic groups, the minority Tutsis and majority Hutus. Prior to the events of 1994, the Tutsis and Hutus comprised approximately 14 percent and 85 percent of the population respectively.41 Both the Tutsis and the Hutus have demonstrated a willingness to use the instruments of the nation-state to oppress one another when they enjoyed power.

Historically, the Tutsis occupied positions of power and influence in the country, a situation that was reinforced and codified under Belgian trusteeship following the First World War.42 Following independence in 1962, government by majority rule and, later, a military coup, ensured that Hutus controlled the country for the next three decades. In 1988, exiled Tutsis and opposition Hutus established the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a military and political group aimed at returning exiled citizens to Rwanda and establishing a national government based on power-sharing between the two main ethnic groups.43 Armed conflict between the RPF and the Hutu-dominated Rwandan Government Army ensued. On 4 August 1993, the RPF and Rwandan government signed the Arusha Accords and requested a UN peacekeeping force to assist with implementation of their negotiated peace agreement.

Security Council resolution 872, passed on 5 October 1993, established the United Nations Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), a peacekeeping force under Chapter VI of the UN Charter. UNAMIR tasks were to establish a secure environment for a transitional government and planned elections, monitor compliance with the Arusha Accords and coordinate humanitarian activities. From the outset UNAMIR was plagued by problems, due in large part to insufficient resources and a lack of cooperation from the parties involved, notably in their efforts to establish a transitional government.44 In a country where the government usually served as a tool for one ethnic group to exercise power over another, cooperation was difficult to achieve. Moreover, reports were received from the field that Hutu militia extremists affiliated with the government, known as the Interahamwe, were arming themselves and were plotting to kill large number of Tutsis in Kigali.45

On 6 April 1994, one day after the Security Council had extended the mandate of UNAMIR, the Presidents of Rwanda and Burundi were killed when their plane was shot out of the air with a rocket as it approached the Kigali airport. Within an hour, the government controlled Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines was calling on the Hutu population to seek revenge on the Tutsis. What followed proved to be a well-orchestrated slaughter of all identified Tutsis and opposition moderate Hutu in Kigali by the Rwandan Government Army and Interahamwe, actions that soon spread to other towns and the countryside. A day after the assassination of the president, fighting resumed between the RPF and RGA. This is the background to the Rwandan crisis which, between April and June 1994, was to see an estimated 500,000 people die as a result of the genocide and civil war.46

UN Response

The initial reaction of the Security Council, when confronted with the deteriorating conditions in Rwanda, was to drastically reduce the size of UNAMIR in late April 1994. The remnants of the UNAMIR force, eventually dwindling to 444 poorly equipped and supported troops, attempted to negotiate local truces and provided protection for some 20,000 Rwandan citizens from both ethnic groups in a variety of locations.47 However, as circumstances became increasingly grave, the Council did eventually act with the creation of UNAMIR II and, later, with the authorization of the French-led OPERATION TURQUOISE. It is important to understand the basis on which the Security Council acted in carrying out both these decisions, in order to determine whether Rwanda served as a precedent for humanitarian intervention.

Based on the language of United Nations correspondence and Security Council resolutions, it is clear that humanitarian concerns were the prime justification for international intervention. The Secretary-General, writing to the Security Council on 29 April 1994 and requesting that members re-examine their decision to downsize UNAMIR, estimated that 200,000 people were already dead, noted that the massacres were continuing and suggested evidence was becoming available of plans for a new wave of killings. Boutros-Ghali concluded "this humanitarian catastrophe is rightly a matter of growing anguish in Africa and the rest of the world and demands urgent action by the international community."48 The seriousness of the humanitarian problem, and in particular the brutal massacres, was acknowledged by and was the main focus of a formal statement by the president of the Security Council the following day.49

In response to a request from the Security Council to provide a plan for more effective UN involvement, the Secretary-General submitted a contingency plan for an expanded mission, UNAMIR II, on 13 May 1994. The report noted that widespread killings continued and that "a major humanitarian crisis" had developed with more than 1 million displaced persons and refugees in need of food, water and basic medical care.50 The contingency plan for UNAMIR II called for 5,500 troops to be deployed to provide security for humanitarian organizations and establish safe conditions for civilians in need. The rules of engagement were to be defensive rather than based on "enforcement action"; however, in proposing that UN forces be permitted "to take action in self-defence against persons or groups who threaten protected sites and populations,"51 UNAMIR II troops could act in a limited way to save lives. This focus on humanitarian based action was echoed by the Security Council in its approval of UNAMIR II.

The preamble to Resolution 918 clearly advances the humanitarian nature of UNAMIR II and is worth quoting at length:

Strongly condemning the ongoing violence in Rwanda and particularly condemning the very numerous killings of civilians . . .

Deeply concerned that the situation in Rwanda . . . constitutes a humanitarian crisis of enormous proportions . . .

Expressing once again alarm at continuing reports of systematic, widespread and flagrant violations of humanitarian law . . .

Desiring in this context to expand the mandate of the Mission for humanitarian purposes . . .

Deeply disturbed by the magnitude of the human suffering caused by the conflict, and concerned that the continuation of the situation in Rwanda constitutes a threat to peace and security in the region . . .52

It is only in the last paragraph of the preamble that the traditional Security Council concerns of international peace and security are raised and, even then, it is within the context of the humanitarian crisis. In mandating UNAMIR II to "contribute to the security and protection of displaced persons, refugees and civilians at risk . . . including the establishment . . . where feasible of secure humanitarian areas,"53 it is important to note that this was still authorized within the original Chapter VI mission of UNAMIR I.

The Security Council was guilty here of committing a rather convenient ambiguity since, as Adam Roberts has observed, "these new roles were not based explicitly on the consent of government, because it was the government of Rwanda that was instigating or tolerating the mass killings."54 By maintaining the Rwandan operation under Chapter VI of the Charter and by stipulating that force was to be used in "self-defence," the Security Council avoided addressing directly whether this constituted outright intervention. The desired result was not entirely the same and thus it makes for a weak precedent. Such ambiguity was not, however, evident in the subsequent resolution authorizing OPERATION TURQUOISE.

The international response to the call for UNAMIR II troops was underwhelming. No major powers came forward to support the operation and none of 19 governments that had troop standby arrangements with the UN agreed to participate.55 As a result of estimates that the new mission could take up to three months to establish in theatre, the Secretary-General recommended to the Security Council that it consider an offer from France to deploy immediately a task force under Chapter VII to deal with the humanitarian crisis until a handover could be affected with UNAMIR II. Citing the deployment of UNITAF in Somalia as a precedent, Boutros-Ghali suggested, on 20 June, that the French-led multinational operation be authorized under Chapter VII "to assure the security and protection of displaced persons and civilians at risk in Rwanda."56

The Security Council responded quickly to the Secretary-General's proposal, passing resolution 929 on 22 June 1994. The language of the resolution was dominated by humanitarian concerns:

. . . stressing the strictly humanitarian character of this operation . . . Deeply concerned by the continuation of systematic and widespread killings of the civilian population . . . Recognizing that the current situation in Rwanda constitutes a unique case which demands an urgent response by the international community . . . Determining that the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis in Rwanda constitutes a threat to peace and security in the region . . . [the Security Council] authorizes Member States . . . to conduct the operation...using all available means to achieve the humanitarian objectives . . .57
Again, while a threat to international peace and security is alluded to, the motivation for and purpose of the operation are clearly humanitarian.

The language of UN correspondence and Security Council resolutions makes it clear that humanitarian concerns were the prime consideration for authorizing UNAMIR II and OPERATION TURQUOISE. The UNAMIR II mandate was aimed at saving lives but relied on the passive support of the Rwandan government. However, in approving OPERATION TURQUOISE, the Security Council was explicitly authorizing armed intervention on humanitarian grounds. As will be discussed later, it has been argued that, in spite of the best intentions of Resolution 929, OPERATION TURQUOISE was also serving French interests. Even if this is true, though, the fact remains that intervention in a sovereign state to save human lives was eventually authorized by the UN.

Having established that the norm of humanitarian intervention was advanced by the Security Council in dealing with Rwanda, it is necessary to examine other obstacles to decisive action being taken. These obstacles could be an inability to respond, due to insufficient warning or military incapacity, or an unwillingness to act. Each of these obstacles will be examined to determine which were relevant in the case of Rwanda.

Information and Early Warning

Certainly if the Security Council was not aware of what was happening in Rwanda its members can be excused for their belated response to the genocide. There is a good argument to be made for the failure of the UN to collect relevant information and analyse it with a view to identifying an international crisis. This was precisely the conclusion of two authoritative studies of the UN system examining the Rwandan crisis. The first, conducted by the Lessons Learned Unit of the UN Department of Peace-keeping Operations (DPKO), identified shortcomings in information collection and analysis both prior to and during the UNAMIR operation. The study determined that the UN understood poorly the nature of the conflict in Rwanda.58 This lack of understanding at the Security Council level was further aggravated by the traditional reluctance of the UN to conduct organized intelligence operations in the field. Within UNAMIR, "no capability was established to collect, analyse and disseminate information,"59 and thus, even if UN Headquarters had the ability to properly deal with field intelligence, none was reaching it in a systematic manner.

These problems were echoed in an earlier study conducted by the Joint Evaluation of Emergency Assistance to Rwanda (JEEAR). The report identified the inability of the United Nations as a whole to recognize the warning signs of international crises:

The UN was poorly organized to collect and flag information about human rights violations and certainly genocide. There was a failure in both the UN system and the NGO community to link human rights reports to dynamic analyses of social conflict so as to provide strategic policy choices.60
Without a proper system for identifying signs of crises and anticipating possible UN involvement, the Security Council is hindered in its ability to respond. The current system is too loose and dependent on the sporadic warnings of NGOs or the intelligence estimates of specific members of the Security Council, which are clearly open to biased interpretation and selectivity. Thus, the Secretary-General and the Security Council have a need to receive independent or "unfiltered" strategic analyses of international events.

However, while reforms in the UN information collection and analysis process must be looked upon favorably, it is necessary to approach purported shortcomings in the system in the case of Rwanda with some skepticism. There can be little doubt that, regardless of deficiencies in the UN information system, the international community was well aware of the seriousness and nature of the crisis early on in Rwanda. The JEEAR study stated that:

In the months immediately preceding the genocide, many additional signs indicated that the implementation of the Arusha Accords was faltering and that massive violence was being planned . . .. Detailed intelligence reports were passed to New York and the Belgian military authorities by the unofficial UNAMIR intelligence unit documenting the military training of militias, hidden arms caches, and plans for violent action. Unequivocal warnings reached the UN Secretariat in January regarding a planned coup, an assault on the UN forces to drive them out, provocations to resume the civil war, and even detailed plans for carrying out genocidal killings in the capital.61
The report concluded that "information on the genocide under way was already available when the final decision was made to reduce the force dramatically"62 on 21 April 1994.

This conclusion is consistent with much of the language of Security Council statements and resolutions as the crisis developed. In his statement on 30 April 1994, the president of the Security Council pointedly remarked that "the killings of members of an ethnic group with the intention of destroying such a group in whole or in part constitutes a crime punishable under international law."63 When he wrote to the Security Council on 13 May 1994, recommending the establishment of UNAMIR II, the Secretary-General stated that the international community had "witnessed with horror and disbelief the slaughter and suffering of innocent civilians," describing the effects as "atrocious."64 In approving UNAMIR II on 17 May 1994, the Security Council noted in the resolution preamble that "the killing of members of an ethnic group with the intention of destroying such a group, in whole or in part, constitutes a crime punishable under international law."65

Any claims that the Security Council and its members were not aware of the nature of the crisis in Rwanda are difficult to believe; the language used in official UN statements and resolutions talk of genocide in all but name. Yet it was not until 31 May 1994 that the Secretary-General, in an update brief to the Security Council, concluded that "there can be little doubt that it [the killings] constitutes genocide."66 Only on 1 July did the Security Council express concern about reports of human rights violations, "including acts of genocide."67

Claims that an inefficient early-warning system prohibited timely reaction in the case of Rwanda must be viewed with some doubt. While the UN information collection and analysis process clearly failed to anticipate the killings, sufficient information was available as the crisis unfolded to act decisively. Even if this information was not available from the UN, which it was, individual members of the Security Council were able to draw their own conclusions. As Kofi Annan, then Director of DPKO and currently the Secretary-General, has stated, it is "difficult to accept that member states with more intelligence-gathering capabilities than the UN did not know what was happening."68 It was clear to members of the Security Council early on that the massive human rights abuses and slaughter violated international law and probably constituted genocide by any conventional definition. Thus, the argument that the international community did not intervene because it was not aware of what was really going on in Rwanda is not a strong one.


A second possibility for why the international community did not respond is that it was simply unable to take any effective action in a timely manner. This is perhaps a stronger argument and is based on the proposition that military intervention would not have been effective and that there was insufficient time to plan and execute an intervention.

As argued earlier, the effectiveness of any military intervention must be judged on a case by case basis. Here it is simply worth making a few observations. By far the most significant is the judgement of the senior military officer on the ground, Major-General Romeo Dallaire, Commander of UNAMIR:

UNAMIR could have saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. As evidence, with the 450 men under my command during this interim, we saved and directly protected over 25,000 people and moved tens of thousands between the contact lines. What could a force of 5,000 personnel have prevented? Perhaps the most obvious answer is that they would have prevented the massacres in the southern and western parts of the country because they didn't start until early May nearly a month after the war had started.69
This assertion seems to be vindicated by the recognized success of OPERATION TURQUOISE, a force of some 2,800 troops, in saving thousands of lives.70 As the Synthesis Report of the JEEAR concluded, "while there are arguments on both sides, a case can be made that with a modest expansion of peacekeeping forces with a clear mandate to protect civilians, the international community could have halted or at least substantially checked the killings, especially during the first weeks."71 Thus, in the case of Rwanda, military action could have been effective in saving many lives. Given the good chances of success in saving lives, did the international community have the ability to respond on what was clearly not just short but immediate notice?

Certainly much has been made of the inability of the United Nations to deploy troops rapidly in times of crisis. This inability arises in part from weaknesses in the UN staff system which fails to provide timely staff coordination for military operations. It is commonly accepted that military operations must be planned at the strategic, operational and tactical levels, yet the Secretariat and Security Council are poorly organized for both such tasks. Recent reforms within DPKO have made substantial improvements at the operational planning level.72 However, weaknesses continue in the provision of strategic military advice to the Secretary-General and in the considerable time lag in matching operational level headquarters for specific operations to their tactical units.

To alleviate these staff, organizational and deployment shortcomings, considerable attention has been given to the establishment of a Rapid Reaction Force (RRF) capability at the disposal of the UN.73 To this end, several countries have committed to establishing the UN Standby Forces High-Readiness Brigade (SHIRBRIG), a vanguard force of about 5,000 troops ready to deploy on short notice in times of crisis. However, the absence of such a force in 1994 cannot be seen as a significant obstacle to a rapid international response to the Rwandan crisis. A Canadian Government study in 1995 noted that several countries, as well as the NATO alliance, maintain "standby" troops capable of deploying anywhere in the world in a matter of days.74 Certainly the greatest illustration of the rapid response capability of some members of the international community was the French deployment of troops in support of OPERATION TURQUOISE. French troops arrived in theatre within hours of the Security Council approving the operation and the brigade was fully deployed within 24 hours.75

Thus, the assertion that the international community was incapable of intervening in a timely manner to save thousands of lives must also be viewed with a large degree of skepticism. Certainly the UN process for planning, mounting and deploying troops needs to become more streamlined and efficient. However, given the profundity of the crisis, there was the capability within the international community to deploy substantial military forces quickly to halt the tide of killings sweeping across Rwanda. Which brings the discussion to the last obstacle to the deployment of such a force unwillingness on the part of states to take decisive action.

Unwillingness to Respond

Unwillingness by members of the international community to respond to an international crisis is caused by either a lack of clearly defined national interests in the area or a lack of public pressure on governments to act. In a study of recent UN involvement in international emergencies, Peter Jakobsen concluded that countries were far more likely to intervene in humanitarian crises if there was a perception of national interest involved and if media coverage generated public sympathy, resulting in what is often referred to as the "CNN effect."76 Both of these factors are key to understanding why the international community and the Security Council were slow and unenthusiastic in responding to the deteriorating events in Rwanda.

The fact of the matter is that there was little international interest in Rwanda both before and during the genocide crisis. Only two countries, Belgium and France, had anything approaching direct interests in the area; even then these interests were more "traditional" than extant.

Aside from its trusteeship of Rwanda following World War One, Belgium was an early sponsor of negotiations leading to the Arusha Accords and it had deployed a battalion of infantry in support of the original UNAMIR operation. However, when it became clear that Belgian troops were gravely at risk, following the killing of ten paratroopers at the outbreak of violence, the government and public quickly lost their commitment to the mission and their contingent was withdrawn in the second week of April 1994.77

France was the only permanent member of the Security Council with any direct interests in Rwanda. The French had been a long-time supporter of the Hutu regime and were concerned that victory by the RPF would undermine French influence in the Great Lakes Region.78 It has been suggested that these concerns help explain France's support for the UNAMIR mission, as it would have helped maintain the existing regime and create a "buffer" of UN troops to hamper the progress of the RPF.79

It has been argued also that, in spite of the best intentions of Resolution 929, OPERATION TURQUOISE was merely serving French interests. The safe-havens established under the French were only in the west and south-west of the country in territory held by RGA forces, thereby blocking, at least temporarily, the advance of the RPF. Since the RPF opted not to enter the safe zones, many soldiers of the RGA and perpetrators of the genocide were able to escape across the border of Zaire and into the refugee camps.80

These arguments must be balanced against the thousands of lives saved by the French operation. While French motives were likely mixed, OPERATION TURQUOISE clearly served UN humanitarian objectives.

Other than Belgium and France, then, few countries, besides Rwanda's neighbours, appeared to have any interest in the country or the outcome of the crisis. The composition of the Security Council at the time is revealing in this regard. Besides the five permanent members, Brazil, Argentina, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Spain, the Czech Republic, Oman, Djibouti and, ironically, Rwanda, were sitting on the Council during the crisis.81 The presence of only two other African states on the Council, combined with the general neglect of sub-Saharan Africa in the foreign policies of most nations,82 limited the body's interest in Rwanda. Certainly there was no desire among the permanent members to become involved. As the JEEAR report observes: "Apart from France, the major powers on the [Security] Council were uninterested in a small Central African country that was marginal to their economic or political concerns, and peripheral to international strategic rivalries."83

The same could not be said for other international trouble spots where the UN was actively engaged in the spring and summer of 1994. Yugoslavia and Haiti both had wider implications for regional stability or were in areas of interest to one or more of the permanent members of the Security Council.

It is hardly surprising, then, that the international community suffered from a degree of "strategic distraction" as events were unfolding in Rwanda. The lack of interests meant that those countries best able to provide troops and resources to intervene were not forthcoming, even after UNAMIR II was authorized. In fact, past experiences and ongoing commitments with other more high profile operations meant that many states were decidedly cool to supporting action in Rwanda: "After Somalia, there was no enthusiasm among the US or other Western members of the Security Council to risk their soldiers in another messy and open-ended civil war . . .."84

Thus, in spite of an obvious humanitarian crisis, gross violations of international law and an international consensus on the need to act, a lack of national interests proved a major factor in the decision of individual governments not to take decisive action. States only began to commit to taking action once public outcry, caused by extensive media coverage, made it impossible for them to remain inactive.

There can be little doubt that the media plays a major role in mobilizing public, and thus political, support for humanitarian interventions. As Jakobsen observes: "That no conflict has been put on the international agenda without sustained television coverage supports the finding that the CNN effect can be regarded as a necessary condition for humanitarian enforcement."85

The lack of media coverage of events in Rwanda helps explain, in part, why state governments were less inclined to become involved. The JEEAR report concluded that "inadequate and inaccurate reporting by international media on the genocide itself contributed to international indifference and inaction."86 Conversely, increased media coverage of the human suffering in Rwanda helped create French public support for OPERATION TURQUOISE, particularly once it became clear that the perpetrators of the genocide had earlier received military support from France.87 Intense media coverage and public outcry over the crisis in the refugee camps in the wake of the genocide, helps explain why aid money and Western military support were eventually forthcoming.

Rwanda demonstrates that, in the absence of perceived national interests, many governments only reluctantly become involved in humanitarian intervention under pressure from citizens concerned at the suffering they see through the eyes of the international media. Public concern forces governments to expand national interests to include preventing mass deaths and human suffering. While this broadening of interests violates traditional conceptions of foreign policy objectives, "countries are made up of individuals, and in democracies their wishes are meant to be reflected."88 The broadening of national interests to encompass the preservation of life and reduction of human suffering will, more than any factor, help to establish the norm of humanitarian intervention.


The death of a half a million people in the Rwandan genocide of 1994 must be viewed as an abysmal failure on the part of the international community to respond to a humanitarian crisis of proportions rarely seen. This article set out to examine why this failure occurred. It argued that there is both theoretical and legal justification for humanitarian intervention but suggested that such a principle is only marginally recognized in international practice. Rwanda, in this regard, serves as a precedent and has helped advance an embryonic norm of humanitarian intervention. However, the unwillingness of members of the international community to commit military forces to prevent the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Rwandans, in the absence of clear national interests, also demonstrates how far there is to go in establishing a general principle or practice of humanitarian intervention.

The case of Rwanda raises a number of other issues for consideration. First, some thought must be given to determining the types of humanitarian crises which might "trigger" UN intervention. While the effort to define such triggers will be resisted by many states, it may serve to confirm in the minds of others the conditions that demand international action.

Second, governments, particularly in the West, must confront the fact that they likely will face increased public pressure to take action during humanitarian emergencies in the future. An expansion of national interests to include more international humanitarian and development issues may help prevent unstable regions of the world exploding into crises. The preservation of basic human rights and promotion of other humanitarian objectives require not only political and military stability, but social and economic stability as well.

Third, the composition and concerns of the Security Council require examination. If the Council is to properly fulfill its mandate of maintaining international peace and security, it must remain vigilant over all regions of the world. Recent proposals to increase the size of the Security Council by adding new non-permanent members from Africa and other regions may, if implemented, expand the body's agenda to include previously marginalized members of the international community.89 Likewise, Council members must recognize the returns provided from modest investments in peace initiatives and operations. The millions of dollars required to effectively support the original UNAMIR mission pale in comparison to the billions spent on humanitarian aid in the Great Lake Regions since the genocide.

Finally, statesmen must ask themselves whether there is not an underlying bias in international peace and security initiatives. If a half a million people were threatened with murder and suffering in Europe or the Americas, would so many governments have been so hesitant in responding in an effective and timely manner?


Thanks are due to Major-General Romeo Dallaire, Brigadier-General (retd) Ian Douglas, Colonel (retd) Doug Fraser, Colonel Michael Snell, Lieutenant-Colonel Ernie Reumiller and Dr. James Hendry for their valuable observations and insights. Much appreciation also goes to Nick Bisley for necessary criticisms and editorial advice.

1. Throughout the article the term "international society" will be used as defined by Hedley Bull and other members of the "English school." See Hedley Bull, The Anarchical Society(London: Macmillan, 1977), pp 65-74. This view sees the international system as being based on sovereign states which primarily pursue their own interests but also recognize norms and institutions constraining their behaviour.
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2. Bruce Jones, "Intervention Without Borders: Humanitarian Intervention in Rwanda 1990- 94," Millenium, 24, no 2 (Summer 1995).
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3. See N. Wheeler, "Pluralist or Solidarist Conceptions of International Society: Bull and Vincent on Humanitarian Intervention," Millenium, 21, no 3 (Winter 1992); and N. Wheeler and J. Morris, "Humanitarian Intervention and State Practise at the End of the Cold War," in Rick Fawn and Jeremy Lankins, eds., International Society After the Cold War: Anarchy and Order Reconsidered (London: Macmillan, 1996).
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4. James Mayall, ed., The New Interventionism 1991-1994 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 3.
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5. H. Reiss, ed., Kant: Political Writings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 18.
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6. J. Donnelly, International Human Rights (Oxford: Westview,1993), p. 19.
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7. The United Nations and Human Rights (New York: UN Department of Public Information, 1995), p. 153.
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8. See Donnelly, International Human Rights, pp. 24-28; and R. Vincent, Human Rights and International Relations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), pp. 11-14.
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9. UN, The United Nations and Human Rights, pp. 153-54.
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10. G. Best, "Justice, International Relations and Human Rights," International Affairs, 71, no. 4 (October 1995), p. 788.
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11. Charles Beitz, Political Theory and International Relations (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1979), p. 76.
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12. Fernando Teson, Humanitarian Intervention: An Inquiry Into Law and Morality (New York: Transnational, 1988), p. 15.
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13. The United Nations Charter (New York: UN Department of Public Information, 1991), p. 23.
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14. Ibid., pp. 23-24.
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15. UN, The United Nations and Human Rights, p. 151.
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16. Ibid., p. 153.
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17. UN, The United Nations Charter, p. 5.
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18. Quoted in Adam Roberts, "Humanitarian War: Military Intervention and Human Rights," International Affairs, 69, no. 3 (July 1993), p. 433.
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19. Vincent, Human Rights and International Relations, pp. 37-38.
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20. Donnelly, International Human Rights, p. 33.
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21. Simon Caney, "Human Rights and the Rights of States: Terry Nardin on Nonintervention," International Political Science Review, 18, no. 1 (1997), p. 34.
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22. Ibid., p. 29.
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23. Roberts, "Humanitarian War," p. 448.
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24. B. Parekh, "Rethinking Humanitarian Intervention," International Political Science Review, 18, no. 1 (1997), p. 65.
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25. Beitz, Political Theory and International Relations, p. 89.
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26. Caney, "Human Rights," p. 30.
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27. Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars (USA: Basicbooks, 1992), p. 101.
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28. See Wheeler and Morris, "Humanitarian Intervention," pp. 142-44. The authors cite as examples India's intervention in East Pakistan (1971), Tanzania's intervention in Uganda (1978) and Vietnam's intervention in Cambodia (1979).
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29. Adam Roberts, "Humanitarian Action in War," Adelphi Paper, No. 305 (December 1996), p. 21.
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30. P. Malanczuk, Humanitarian Intervention and the Legitimacy of the Use of Force (Amsterdam: 1993), p. 9.
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31. Interview with Bridadier-General (retired) Ian Douglas (Black Bear Consultants), Ottawa, 10 January 1997. The General described a detailed, methodical, multistep process that Secretariat staff employ to anticipate future crises, prepare options for dealing with them and launch UN missions.
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32. N. Wheeler, "Agency, Humanitarianism and Intervention," International Political Science Review, 18, no. 1, p. 20.
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33. Barry Posen, "Military Responses to Refugee Disasters," International Security, 21, no. 1 (Summer 1996). The author examines the effectiveness of aerial bombings, large safe zones, safe havens, enforcement of truces and general warfare.
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34. Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, p. 107.
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35. Nicolas Hopkinson, "Humanitarian Intervention," Wilton Park Papers, no. 110 (1996), p. 7.
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36. W. Ofuatey-Kodjoe, "The United Nations and the Protection of Individual and Group Rights," International Social Science Journal, no. 144 (June 1995), p. 320.
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37. Marrack Goulding, "The Evolution of United Nations Peacekeeping," International Security, 69, no. 3 (July 1993), p. 461.
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38. The term is borrowed from Wheeler and Morris, "Humanitarian Intervention," p. 147.
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39. See Malanczuk, Humanitarian Intervention; James Mayall, "Intervention Revisited? Non-intervention, Self-determination and the 'New World Order,'" Millenium, vol 67, no. 3 (July 1991); Roberts, "Humanitarian Action"; D. Sarooshi, "Humanitarian Intervention and International Humanitarian Assistance: Law and Practise," Wilton Park Paper, no. 86 (1994); and Wheeler and Morris, "Humanitarian Intervention."
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40. The United Nations and Somalia 1992-1996 (New York: UN Department of Public Information, 1996), p. 216.
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41. The United Nations and Rwanda 1993-1996 (New York: UN Department of Public Information, 1996), p. 7.
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42. Ibid., p. 8.
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43. Ibid., p. 12.
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44. Romeo Dallaire and Bruce Poulin, "Rwanda: From Peace Agreement to Genocide," Canadian Defence Quarterly, (March 1995), pp. 2-3.
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45. For detailed accounts of these activities refer to UN, The UN and Rwanda; Linda Melvern, "The UN and Rwanda," London Review of Books, (12 December 1996); and J. Eriksson, ed., The International Response to Conflict and Genocide: Lessons Learned from the Rwanda Experience (Copenhagen 1996).
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46. UN, The UN and Rwanda, p. 61.
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47. Dallaire and Poulin, "Rwanda," p. 3.
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48. Ibid., p. 270.
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49. Ibid., pp. 271-72.
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50. Ibid., p. 278.
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51. Ibid., p. 279.
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52. Ibid., pp. 282-83.
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53. Ibid., p. 283.
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54. Roberts, "Humanitarian Action", p. 22.
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55. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, An Agenda for Peace 2nd ed. (New York: UN Department of Public Information, 1995), p. 18.
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56. UN, The UN and Rwanda, p. 306.
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57. Ibid., p. 308.
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58. Comprehensive Report on Lessons Learned from UNAMIR (New York: UN DPKO Lessons Learned Unit, 1996), p. 3.
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59. Ibid., p. 4.
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60. Eriksson, International Response, p. 21.
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61. Ibid., p. 19.
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62. Ibid., p. 20.
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63. UN, The UN and Rwanda, p. 271.
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64. Ibid., p. 281.
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65. Ibid., p. 283.
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66. Ibid., p. 296.
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67. Ibid., p. 309.
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68. Melvern, "The UN and Rwanda," p. 11.
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69. Quoted in Adam Roberts, "Proposals for UN Standing Forces," in David Cox and Albert Legault, eds., UN Rapid Reaction Capabilities: Requirements and Prospects (Clementsport, NS: Canadian Peacekeeping Press, 1995), p. 56. This position was reiterated by General Dallaire in an interview with author, 8 January 1997.
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70. Eriksson, International Response, p. 26.
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71. Ibid., p. 48.
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72. This assessment based largely on interviews with Colonel (retired) Doug Fraser (Executive Director, Canadian Council for International Peace and Security); Lieutenant-Colonel Ernie Reumiller (Staff Officer Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Government of Canada) and Colonel Michael Snell (Permanent Canadian Mission to the United Nations), all on 8 January 1997.
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73. See Cox and Legault, eds., UN Rapid Reaction Capabilities; and Towards a Rapid Reaction Capability for the United Nations (Ottawa: Government of Canada, 1995).
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74. Government of Canada, Towards a Rapid Reaction Capability, pp 17-21. The examples given are: first, the US CENTCOM XVIII Airborne Corps, a 150,000 strong force which can begin deployment within 18 hours of notice and have a light brigade deployed within four days; second, the French Force d'Action Rapide, a 55,000 strong formation capable of deploying within days; and third, NATO's ACE Mobile Force (Land), a 5,500 strong brigade capable of deploying and commencing operations within six days.
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75. UN, The UN and Rwanda, p. 55; and Government of Canada, Towards a Rapid Reaction Capability, p. 18.
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76. Peter Jakobsen, "National Interest, Humanitarianism or CNN: What Triggers UN Peace Enforcement After the Cold War?", Journal of Peace Research, 33, no. 2 (May 1996).
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77. Melvern, "The UN and Rwanda," p. 12.
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78. Wheeler and Morris, "Humanitarian Intervention," pp. 158-59.
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79. Melvern, "The UN and Rwanda," p. 11.
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80. UN, The UN and Rwanda, p. 56.
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81. In fact, because of the lack of a properly accredited representative during the crisis, Rwanda did not actually occupy its seat during the period April - August 1994. See UN, The UN and Rwanda, pp. 59-60.
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82. See Anonymous, "Sub-Saharan Africa: So little done, so much to do," supplement to The Economist, 7 September 1996, p. 4; and Jeffrey Herbst, "Responding to State Failure in Africa," in Michael Brown, Owen Cote, Sean Lynn-Jones and Steven Miller, eds., Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1997), p. 378. The Economist states that sub-Saharan Africa received only 3 percent of foreign investment in 1995, compared to 20 percent for Latin America and the Caribbean and 59 percent for east Asia and the Pacific Region. Jeffrey Herbst notes the decline of foreign aid and economic assistance to sub-Saharan Africa and the resulting instability of many states in the region.
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83. Eriksson, International Response, p. 22.
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84. Wheeler and Morris, "Humanitarian Intervention," pp. 156.
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85. Jakobsen, "National Interest, Humanitarianism of CNN," p. 212.
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86. Eriksson, International Response, p. 66.
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87. Jakobsen, "National Interest, Humanitarianism or CNN," p. 210.
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88. Anonymous, "A Suitable Target for Foreign Policy," The Economist, 12 April 1997, p. 15.
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89. Anonymous, "The Axworthy Agenda," The National Post, 6 April 1999, p. A9. Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy proposes adding five new non-permanent seats one each for Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Middle East.
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Humanitarian intervention: united nations in rwanda

Humanitarian Intervention: United Nations in Rwanda


The concept of humanitarian intervention can be traced back to medieval theorists like Thomas Aquinas and international legal theorists such as Vitoria and Grotius. According to these thinkers, a prince's right to rule his people could be breached if human wellbeing was severely compromised due to natural disasters or the prince's own depravity (Morgenthau 1967). Under these situations, foreign princes had a right or, rather, an obligation, to intervene in order to alleviate human suffering, by force if need be. As the notion of state sovereignty came increasingly to dominate International Law after 1648, humanitarian intervention fell out of favour. But in the post-Cold War order, the concept appears to have emerged once again, so much so that some have declared that 'sovereignty is no longer sacrosanct' (Copra and Weiss 1992 cited in Ayoob 2002: 84; Krasner 1995).

Since its establishment more than fifty years ago, the United Nations (UN) has organised and deployed numerous operations in response to crises throughout the world. In establishing and managing these operations, the UN has demonstrated remarkable institutional innovation and political resilience, developing a variety of institutions, structures, functions, and procedures to surmount obstacles in the Security Council and deal with the diverse causes and complex nature of inter-state and intra-state conflict. There is no explicit legal framework within the UN Charter authorising the undertaking of these operations, but rather an ambiguous and ambitious program for coercive collective security (United Nations 2008; Murphy 2007). However, this essay will demonstrate that UN as an organisation can only deal with what it has in terms of troops, resources and political will at its disposal, in tackling each case of intervention. This essay aims to demonstrate the failures of UN in handling the Rwanda situation but emphasises that the reasons for this are based on external and internal factors.

Some UN humanitarian missions are looked upon as successes (e.g. El Salvador and Sierra Leone) while other missions are considered failures, such as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Somalia and Rwanda (Bratt 1996). Early studies identified that factors for success and failure were extracted from literature to explicate the disparities contributed by UN humanitarian missions, and after conducted research, of various cases, nine factors for success and failure were derived from them (Bratt 1996; Lijn 2008). According to these nine factors the likelihood that a humanitarian mission makes a positive contribution to resilient peace enhances if: the parties involved are willing and sincerely cooperating with the implementation of the mission; the mission is capable of providing ample security to the parties; there is sufficient awareness for the causes of the conflict in depth and in breadth; the mission receives cooperation from significant external forces; the mission is timely deployed and at the right time (Kriesberg 1987); is implemented by competent personnel under skilled leadership, and with clear command structures; the mission is part of a long term approach; the policy tools implemented are coordinated within the operation, as well as externally; and the operation provides ownership (Seybolt 2007; Lijn 2008; Feil 1998).

Rwanda's Case

For Rwanda, the partial success of the Arusha Accords and the establishment of UNAMIR I may be attributed to employing a combination of strategies that were well suited to the situation (United Nations Security Council 1993: Resolution 872). While pressure was used to bring the disputants to the negotiating table, once there was a peace to keep, the UN deployed a peacekeeping force to monitor the cease-fire. This intervention reflects an accurate assessment of the conflict at that time (Barnett 2002). The problems later encountered by UNAMIR I developed as a result of hesitancy of the UN to change the operational mandate and rules of engagement to fit the rapidly changing conditions on the ground (Feil 1998).

The downfall of UNAMIR I was due to the assumption that there would be sustained collaboration amid the parties and the UN in carrying out their commitments under the Arusha Accords. Deeply entrenched distrust, delaying strategies and constantly shifting political alignments, however, undermined implementation of the transitional arrangements (Barnett 2002; 1997). Moreover, UNAMIR I faced serious problems from its establishment, primarily its Chapter VI mandate, which restricted UN troops from forcibly responding to occasional violations of the cease-fire agreement (Lessons Learned Unit, Department of Peacekeeping Operations 1996; Dallaire and Bruce 1995).

The characteristics of a successful UN mission is distinguished by various principles, including that it is sent to areas where peace has been recognised or when war has not yet broken out, or is deployed early after the outbreak of civil war; the host state is democratic, ethnically polarised, and very poor; it has been deployed for a considerable period of time; and the force commander is not from the region of the conflict. UNAMIR I failed in most of these imperative aspects. It was sent to a country where peace was not secured in a strained civil war. Rwanda was not a democratic society, and UNAMIR I had only been deployed for a short period of time. It can therefore be questioned whether UNAMIR I truly had an chance to succeed considering the malign milieu it was deployed in (Khan 1996; Barnett 2002; Kuperman 2001).

Still, these explanations do not address more fundamental questions on the actions of the UN, both the UN headquarters and UNAMIR I, during the Rwandan genocide. At least three questions need to be evaluated in terms of UN response to the genocide. Firstly, pro-action (before the genocide plot was implemented on April 6, 1994) (Bernett 2002; Khan 1999); were UNAMIR I and the UN headquarters proactive enough in dealing with the genocide that arose among the Hutu extremists before the genocide was implemented? Secondly, prevention (before April 6 but after the deployment of UNAMIR I in October 1993) (Barnett 2002; Kuperman 2001; Khan 1999); why did UNAMIR I fail to prevent the genocide once it had begun to be implemented and when information of such a plot was beginning to reach the UN headquarters? Finally, intervention (during and shortly after April 6) (Barnett 2002; Kuperman 2001; Khan 1999); did the UN headquarters seriously attempt to intervene to stop the genocide once it had actually started? The international community missed all these three opportunities to contain the genocide.

The prevailing causes of the failure were, on the one hand, the lack of resources of UNAMIR in field, and, on the other, the limited political will and commitment of UN member states and international community to act (Murphy 2007: 296, Seybolt 2007: 73 Rall 1996; Barnett 1997). The mandate of UNAMIR I appear to have been based on an over-optimistic judgment of the peace process at the time, and thus insufficient to meet the needs of the condition in Rwanda (Dallaire et al 1995). There were also problems of command and control due to a lack of precise communications between the UN headquarters and UNAMIR I (Barnett 1997; Feil 1998). Additionally, UNAMIR I was often called an orphan operation, one which suffered from being created in the aftermath of Somalia (Carlsson 2000). UN member states, fearing for the lives of their solders, were reluctant to send their forces to Rwanda. As a result, UNAMIR I was unable to assemble the quantity and quality of troops it required. Furthermore, the lack of coordination and discipline, confusion over the rules of engagement, and insufficient planning were constant impediments to UNAMIR I from the beginning of its deployment (Barnett 2002; 1997).

When the genocide began, UNAMIR was a UNPKO1 numbering 2,500 personnel that should have been able to prevent or at least limit the genocide. A few weeks after the killing began, the Security Council withdrew all, except 270 forces from Rwanda. This decision was taken regardless of clear evidence of genocide and the collapse of the Arusha Peace Agreement (United Nations Security Council 1994: Resolution 912; Hindell 1996). The lack of political will of member states to send troops and material is another major cause of failure (Murphy 2007: 296; Seybolt 2007: 73; Kuperman 2001). Most member states appeared mainly concerned about their troops, and the potential domestic political ramification of deceased soldiers returning to their respective countries (Barnett 1997). Even after May 17, 1994, when the Security Council decided to put a halt to the genocide, it was intricate for the UN Secretariat to receive troop contributions from member states. Furthermore, none of the member states were willing to take a lead in providing aid or preventing further deterioration of crises, since such humanitarian actions (e.g. the provision of relief to civilians and the protection of their basic human rights) are costly.

Another critical issue relating to Rwanda was that the UNAMIR I mandate did not keep pace with the development and was neither accurate nor relevant to the existing circumstances. Once the killing was in progress, UNAMIR I did not function as an organised operation. The UN failed to realise that genocide and civil war occurred concurrently in the country. The Security Council only provided the conventional prescription for civil wars (Dallaire et al 1995). For instance, there was a Chapter VI mandate that called for a cease-fire, reconciliation and return to the Arusha Accords when the imminence of genocide required a heavily armed, peace-enforcing Chapter VII presence Finally, in July 1994, the Council approved a Chapter VII presence for Operation Turquoise, the French-led multinational operation, but by then, the genocide had been virtually completed and the civil war was over as the FPR2 had defeated the government (Khan 1999; United Nations Security Council 1994: Resolution 929; Seybolt 2007: 73; Hindell 1996).

The partial success of Operation Turquoise may be attributed to the fact that military force was used to achieve limited goals and the endeavour to conduct the mission as impartially as possible (Seybolt 2007:75; Hindell 1996). France did not hesitate to use force when it saw its objectives threatened; those military goals, however, were limited in geographic scope. The safe area established by France primarily affected the FPR's ability to advance, but France refused the Hutu government's appeal to use the French forces for military gain (Seybolt 2007). France did not permit itself to be drawn into the conflict, nor did it see the pursuit of a development of national reconciliation as one of its goals (New York Times 1994a). Instead, it used military force in a limited, effectual fashion to address human rights concerns (Hindell 1996). UNAMIR I had no such mandate and consequently, their influence was far less than that of Operation Turquoise (Seybolt 2007; Bonner 1994; Dallaire et al 1995).

The limitation of Operation Turquoise arose from the desire by the intervening force to minimise its contribution both in terms of the scope of activities undertaken and the extent of the mission. By establishing a safe zone (McQueen 2005) in just the south-western division of Rwanda and declaring that troops would be there for only two months, the impact of the intervention on the protection of civilians and the formation of conditions for national reconciliation was drastically reduced (Seybolt 2007; Hindell 1996; Kuperman 2001).

France left Rwanda at a time when millions of people remained displaced, when the newly recognised government had yet to establish effective mechanisms for peace and stability and when Hutu extremists had fled to the mountains or to neighbouring countries while remaining a powerful guerrilla threat. Not only was the humanitarian crisis far from over, but the French withdrawal itself fostered a greater sense of insecurity among the Rwandans that had sought shelter in the safe zone (Hindell 1996; Kuperman 2001; McQueen 2005); it also provoked a wave of refugee flows into neighbouring countries. As a consequence, while the strategy of peace enforcement was a partial success, its short duration and restricted scope limited the effectiveness of the intervention.

The scale and speed of the Rwandan genocide raises the interrelated problems of how timing and strategy could have been combined more effectively to stem the tide of violence (Seybolt 2007; Kriesberg 1987). Information was available that would have permitted policy makers to draw the conclusion that genocide might occur (Barnett 2002).

The failure of early warning is attributable to many factors. Firstly, the UN was poorly organised to gather and assess information about human rights violations and genocide. Secondly, a predisposition existed among a number of key actors to deny the possibility of genocide, because facing up to it would have required them to alter their course of action. Thirdly, the focus of success of the Arusha accords and the failure in Somalia together cast long shadows and distorted an objective analysis of Rwanda. Fourthly, crises occurring in other areas of the world preoccupied world leaders (Feil 1998, Barnett 2001). Finally, a general desensitisation developed regarding the mass slaughters in Rwanda, and the possibility of genocide essentially occurring appeared inconceivable.

Furthermore, UN lacked a system for drawing on existing information sources, in the region and outside, from specialist in state agencies, academic institutions, human rights monitoring organisations, and the various bodies of the UN itself (Feil 1998). The UN lacked a specialised unit, without operational responsibilities for analysing such information and translating this knowledge into evolving strategies options that could be channeled directly to the secretary-general (Hindell 1996).

Two lessons can be drawn from the Rwandan tragedy. First, there can be no neutrality in the face of the threat of genocide or massive violations of human rights. The UN and its peacekeepers must be allowed as well as required to react by shifting from peacekeeping to peace enforcement without requiring a new mandate. Nevertheless, it must be recognised that for this purpose the concept of genocide must beclarified in order to provide the international community with a clear guideline of when such a shift is warranted. Second, it is crucial to recognise that the presence of a UNPKO, whether or not its mandate includes the protection of civilians, will create an expectation of security among the civilian population that they will be protected by the UN. In this context, the issues before the UN are how it reconciles with Rwandan people who cannot understand why most of the UNAMIR I forces would withdraw while people were being massacred and what happened in Rwanda must never occur again.

Cambodia: success or failure?

On the contrary, the Security Council characterised the Cambodia mission at its conclusion as a major achievement for the United Nation. Judged in terms of its mandate, the resources allocated to it and the difficulties under which it operated, UNTAC3 can at the very least be said to have been a qualified success (Doyle 1995; Sorpong 2000; Hughes 1996). Its triumphs were the organisation and conduct of the May election (which were 'free and fair', although the election campaign was not), its refugee repatriation programme and its promotion (although not its protection) of human rights (Doyle 1995). UNTAC's Electoral Component and UNHCR deserve special mention as examples of what the UN can do with adequate resources and planning (Doyle 1995; Frost 1996: 9). Other elements of UNTAC's mandate were fulfilled satisfactorily. It verified the Vietnamese departure, thus satisfying Chinese and United States concerns. It cantoned and disarmed those military forces to which it was given access and began the process of reconstructing Cambodia's infrastructure, administration and economy. It employed tens of thousands of Cambodians, who gained important skills that can be applied to reconstruction and development (Doyle 1995; Findlay 1995; Sorpong 2000; Farris 1994).

UNTAC set in place the rudiments of a civil society, leaving Cambodia with a more open political process, a free press and a more politically aware populace than when it arrived (Call and Cooks 2003: 242; Suntharalingham 1997: 102; Jeldres 1993). In place of an unelected, authoritarian regime originally imposed on the country by a foreign power, it left a democratically elected legislature and coalition government of the three most favoured political parties in the country (Doyle 1995; Jeldres 1993).

UNTAC also avoided some of the failures of previous and coexisting peacekeeping operations. It avoided being drawn into a shooting war with obstinate parties, using force only in self-defence and even then with great restraint, largely preserved its impartiality, suffered no catastrophic administrative disasters and came in under budget (Doyle 1995;Song 1997; Findlay 1995; Sorpong 2000).

However, the Paris Accords failed to bring peace to Cambodia. In the implementation of the Accords, its major failures were its incapability to control and supervise the SOC4 Administration (Hughes 1996); its reluctance to deal forcibly with human rights infringements, especially because of its unwillingness to establish a system of justice to deal with the most egregious of these; and its management failures, including poor management and co-operation (Doyle 1995, Sorpong 2000). Aspects of UNTAC's performance which were not entirely within its control but in which it could have done better were the slowness of its deployment and installation; its strategic planning; the poor performance of its CivPols; initial neglect of the adverse economic effects of its own presence and the slowness of its rehabilitation and demining programmes (Doyle 1995, Sorpong 2000).

In Cambodia's decentralised, traditional society, democracy must be a long term project rather than an 18 month, immense, internationally imposed undertaking. The commencement of proper democracy in Cambodia must allow people to become more confident to articulate their own opinions, acknowledge disagreement peacefully and enjoy the freedom to oppose traditional leaders. One of the biggest problems with the UN sponsored democratisation approach has been a general disregard of the target state's existing political structure, history and culture (Doyle 1995). The UN attempted to establish one sanctioned form of democracy across a widely disparate group of states. It assumed this electoralist model could be successful because the organisation had come to accept the tenets of the New Orthodoxy. UN attempts at democratisation in peace building contexts met with varying degrees of success (Doyle 1995). In Cambodia however, neglecting the specifics of the case doomed the exercise to failure.


The most obvious lesson from this Rwanda is that the capacity of the UN in the field of peacekeeping needs improvement. Success depends on being given the resources and political will necessary to fulfill their mandates. Over the past decade, much has been said regarding the need to improve its capacity for prevention. The real challenge will be to bring the lessons into the everyday planning and implementation for peacekeeping. Learning the lessons from Rwanda is a question of putting prevention into practice; and of combining the will to act in time with the capacity to do so (Kriesberg 1987). For this, the UN should show the same determination to exercise its responsibility to comply with international law, to promote peace and security in individual conflicts, to mobilise the political will of member states, and to discourage short term budgetary or other financial and political consideration from overshadowing acute needs in conflict zones.

Rwanda is an example of the complicated and disjointed policy making process that often dictates the timing, strategy and outcome of intervention efforts by third parties. The aftermath of the genocide in Rwanda has continued to present complex problems for the country, the region and multitude of international actors. The Rwanda government is faced with the task of broadening its constituency and establishing its legitimacy both with the majority population and international donors in order to garner the human and material resources necessary to rebuild the country. The international community must carry out its commitment to break the cycle of violence.

Each peacekeeping mission is different and Rwanda was unique in its size, cost and complexity. The world views Cambodia as a success for completing the elections and establishing a legitimate government, yet it failed to fully implement democracy, as it did not acknowledge the historical and political culture and tensions existent in Cambodia. By realising the extent of intricacies of individual nations, the United Nations attempt at peace keeping and building should not be refuted, as this organisation has helped as much as it could with the available resources, to minimise the impact of the conflicts it was confronted with. The reflection of its effectiveness would be to know the true impact of such genocides and conflicts among nations and the outcome it would have achieved had there been no UN intervention.


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