Wanted: Global actions to prevent future genocides

06Apr 2021
Editor
The Guardian
Wanted: Global actions to prevent future genocides

Genocide is the intentional action to destroy a people—usually defined as an ethnic, national, racial, or religious group—in whole or in part. A term coined by Raphael Lemkin in his 1944 book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe,  the hybrid word geno-cide is a combination of the Greek word-

- (genos, ‘race, people’) and the Latin suffix -caedo (‘act of killing’).  

The United Nations Genocide Convention, which was established in 1948, defines genocide as "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such" including the killing of its members, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately imposing living conditions that seek to "bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part", preventing births, or forcibly transferring children out of the group to another group. Victims have to be deliberately, not randomly, targeted because of their real or perceived membership of one of the four groups outlined in the above definition.  

The political instability task force estimated that, between 1956 and 2016, a total of 43 genocides took place, causing the death of about 50 million people.  The UNHCR estimated that a further 50 million had been displaced by such episodes of violence up to 2008.  The word genocide has also come to signify a value judgment as it is widely considered the epitome of human evil.  

The Rwandan genocide occurred between 7 April and 15 July 1994 during the Rwandan Civil War.  During this period of around 100 days, members of the Tutsi minority ethnic group, as well as some moderate Hutu, were slaughtered by armed militias. The most widely accepted scholarly estimates are around 500,000 to 600,000 Tutsi deaths.  

In 1990, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a rebel group composed of Tutsi refugees, invaded northern Rwanda from their base in Uganda, initiating the Rwandan Civil War. Neither side was able to gain a decisive advantage in the war, and the Rwandan government led by President Juvénal Habyarimana  signed the Arusha Accords with the RPF or Rwanda Patriotic Front on 4 August 1993. Many historians argue that a genocide against the Tutsi had been planned for at least a year.  However, Habyarimana's assassination on April 6 1994 created a power vacuum and ended peace accords. Genocidal killings began the following day when soldiers, police, and militia executed key Tutsi and moderate Hutu military and political leaders.

The scale and brutality of the massacre caused shock worldwide, but no country intervened to forcefully stop the killings.  Most of the victims were killed in their own villages or towns, many by their neighbours and fellow villagers. Hutu gangs searched out victims hiding in churches and school buildings. The militia murdered victims with machetes and rifles.  Sexual violence was rife, with an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 women raped during the genocide.  The RPF quickly resumed the civil war once the genocide started and captured all government territory, ending the genocide and forcing the government and genocidaires into Zaire.

The genocide had lasting and profound effects on Rwanda and neighbouring countries. In 1996, the RPF-led Rwandan government launched an offensive into Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), home to exiled leaders of the former Rwandan government and many Hutu refugees, starting the First Congo War and killing an estimated 200,000 people. Today, Rwanda has two public holidays to mourn the genocide, and "genocide ideology" and "divisionism" are criminal offences.[11][12] Although the Constitution of Rwanda claims that more than 1 million people perished in the genocide, researchers state that this number is scientifically impossible and exaggerated for political reasons.  

April 7, 2004 was  therefore recognised an international observance the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Rwandan genocide by the United Nations. Commemorative events were held in several major cities including Kigali, Rwanda; New York City, United States; Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania; and Geneva, Switzerland.

All member states of the UN were invited to join in one minute of silence in memory of the victims.

In a speech given by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan given at the Assembly Hall of the Palais des Nations, he called for actions to prevent future genocides.

Top Stories