On remembrance day for Rwanda’s genocide victims, UN urges action on Darfur

7 April 2006
UN Special Adviser Juan Méndez

Marking 12 years since the horrific genocide in Rwanda, when at least 800,000 people were massacred, mostly butchered with machetes, for being ethnic Tutsis or Hutu moderates, the United Nations adviser on preventing such crimes today warned of similarities with what is happening in Sudan’s Darfur region, as he urged the global community to do more to stop the increasing bloodshed there.

The Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, Juan E. Mendez, said the international community had failed by allowing the events of Rwanda to happen, and while stopping short of describing events in Darfur as genocide, he highlighted the increasing killings going on and said the situation had deteriorated markedly over the past year.

“Remembering Rwanda, debates about troop strength on the ground and about mandate of our troops on the ground are very eerily reminiscent of what happened then and we’re still debating today,” Mr. Mendez told reporters in New York, referring to ongoing discussions on how to stop the killings in Darfur, by possibly strengthening the African Union force there or putting in a UN mission.

“There’s definitely ethnic cleansing, there’s definitely crimes against humanity, there’s definitely war crimes and attacks on civilian population; all of those things should prompt the action of the international community, whether we call it genocide or not,” he added.

Since becoming the Special Adviser in July 2004, Mr. Mendez has visited Darfur twice, and made various recommendations to the Secretary-General and to the Security Council about what needs to be done in the strife-torn region, consisting of four main themes that he says should be addressed simultaneously as much as possible.

“One is protection, meaning physical protection from harm of vulnerable populations…the second one is humanitarian assistance…the third is accountability: the cycle of impunity has to be broken before the victims can expect to find conditions of security that will allow them to return…and the fourth is support for the peace process.”

Echoing today’s remarks to reporters, Mr. Mendez also wrote an Op-Ed on the 12th year commemoration that was published by several European and Asian newspapers, in which he also stressed that despite international obligations – such as the 1948 Genocide Convention – the global response continues to fall short of what is required.

“We cannot claim to have learned the lessons of the 1994 Rwandan genocide if our action in the face of genocidal violence remains half-hearted. Action is particularly needed in Darfur, where the threat of genocide continues to loom large,” he wrote.

Elsewhere in the world commemorations to mark the Rwandan massacres took on a similar sombre tone, including a minute’s silence for the victims in a gathering at the UN Office in Nairobi, Kenya, and further calls to the world community to make sure such horror never gets repeated.

“If the international community had acted promptly and with determination, it could have stopped most of the killing. But the political will was not there, nor were the troops,” the Deputy Executive Director of UN Habitat, Inga Björk-Klevby, told UN and other officials, echoing the words of the Secretary-General in a speech he made in 2004 marking the Memorial Conference on the Rwanda Genocide.

“If the United Nations, government officials, the international media and other observers had paid more attention to the gathering signs of disaster, and taken timely action, it might have been averted.”

In Geneva, the UN Under-Secretary-General Sergei Ordzhonikidze expressed similar sentiments at a ceremony at the Palais des Nations, describing the events of 1994 as a “stark reminder to the world, of the dangers that prejudice and discrimination can breed.”


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