Ten years after more than 800,000 Rwandan Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered by their fellow countrymen, Secretary-General Kofi Annan today unveiled a five-point plan for the United Nations to prevent future genocides while calling particular attention to the crisis unfolding now in the Darfur region of Sudan.
Addressing the Geneva-based UN Commission on Human Rights, Mr. Annan voiced his “grave concern” over reported human rights abuses in Darfur, citing a recent warning by the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator of "ethnic cleansing" in the area.
“Such reports leave me with a deep sense of foreboding,” said the Secretary-General. “Whatever terms it uses to describe the situation, the international community cannot stand idle.”
With the backing of the Sudanese Government, he proposed sending a high-level team to Darfur to examine the crisis, and to seek improved access to those in need of help and protection. “It is vital that international humanitarian workers and human rights experts be given full access to the region, and to the victims, without further delay,” he said. “If that is denied, the international community must be prepared to take swift and appropriate action,” he warned.
The Secretary-General shared his personal reflections on the issue of genocide, and said decisive action in response would be “the only fitting memorial” the UN can offer to those who perished in the hundred-day frenzy of ethnic violence that overtook Rwanda in 1994.
“If there is one legacy I would most wish to leave to my successors, it is an Organization both better equipped to prevent genocide, and able to act decisively to stop it when prevention fails,” said Mr. Annan, who headed the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations in 1994 and said his thoughts since then had been “dominated” by questions about what more could have been done to stop the bloodshed.
His speech was just one of many events planned by the UN around the globe to commemorate the mass killings, including the observance of a minute of silence at noon throughout the world’s time zones and a special meeting in New York of the UN General Assembly and Security Council.
In outlining his Action Plan to Prevent Genocide, Mr. Annan said the first step must be to prevent armed conflict by addressing the issues that cause it. “We must attack the roots of violence and genocide: hatred, intolerance, racism, tyranny, and the dehumanizing public discourse that denies whole groups of people their dignity and their rights,” he said.
Protecting civilians during war is a second step in thwarting potential genocides, the Secretary-General said. He noted that in more and more conflicts non-combatants, including women and children, are no longer just “caught in the crossfire” but have become the direct targets of violence and rape.
“Wherever civilians are deliberately targeted because they belong to a particular community, we are in the presence of potential, if not actual, genocide,” he said, warning the international community that it could no longer afford to be blind to this grim dynamic.
A third step, the Secretary-General said, is to end impunity for those who have committed such crimes. He recalled the work of the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the landmark verdicts it has handed down – the first conviction for genocide of a former head of government, the first to determine that rape was used as an act of genocide, and the first to find that journalists who incite the population to genocide are themselves guilty of that crime.
He said his plan calls for greater efforts to achieve wide ratification of the Rome Statute, so that the new International Criminal Court “can deal effectively with crimes against humanity, whenever national courts are unable or unwilling to do so.”
In an attempt to establish a mechanism for an “early and clear warning” about potential genocides, the Secretary-General noted his decision to appoint a Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, who will report through him to the Security Council and the General Assembly, as well as the Commission.
The adviser will work closely with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to collect information on potential or existing situations or threats of genocide, he said, serve as an early-warning mechanism to the Security Council and other parts of the UN system, and make recommendations to the Council on actions to be taken to prevent or halt genocide.
As for the fifth pillar of his plan, the Secretary-General called for “swift and decisive action” in response to warnings of genocide. “Anyone who embarks on genocide commits a crime against humanity. Humanity must respond by taking action in its own defence. Humanity’s instrument for that purpose must be the United Nations, and specifically the Security Council,” he said, adding that military action should be used as an extreme measure.
“Let us not wait until the worst has happened, or is already happening,” the Secretary-General concluded. “Let us not wait until the only alternatives to military action are futile hand-wringing or callous indifference. Let us be serious about preventing genocide. Only so can we honour the victims whom we remember today. Only so can we save those who might be victims tomorrow.”
Video of the address [22mins]Photo Gallery:
at UN Headquarters on Reflection Day