What's In Blue

Prevention and Fight Against Genocide Briefing

Tomorrow (16 April), the Council will hold a briefing on “threats to international peace and security: prevention and fight against genocide”, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda. The briefers will be Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson and former Permanent Representative of New Zealand to the UN, Colin Keating, who served as Council president in April 1994 when the genocide started. A resolution, which was been put in blue today, is expected to be adopted during the meeting.

Switzerland, on behalf of the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency (ACT) initiative, requested on 11 April that the briefing’s format be changed to an open debate to allow the participation of the wider membership. (ACT is a cross-regional initiative of 23 small and medium states launched in May 2013 with the aim of enhancing the effectiveness of the Security Council through the improvement of its working methods). However, at press time, it appeared that the format of the meeting would remain a briefing with just Council members speaking.

Rwanda circulated a concept note in early April which provides the historical context for the briefing, discusses the failings of the UN in preventing genocide, and describes some of the tools and concepts that have been developed to help prevent genocide. The paper suggests that Council members may wish to reflect on a number of issues during the briefing including the evolution of the UN’s preventive capacities since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda; the UN’s potential for longer-term structural prevention; the responsibility and capacity of states to prevent genocide; and justice and accountability mechanisms.

Keating is expected to focus on his personal experience while on the Council in dealing with this issue and to discuss actions the Council did and did not take in response to the unfolding genocide in Rwanda. He is also likely to address lessons learned from the failure of the Security Council (and the UN system, more broadly) to prevent and respond effectively to the genocide, while also focusing on how to prevent such situations from occurring again. Eliasson is likely to cover the preventive capacities developed throughout the UN system in the past 20 years, while highlighting the remaining gaps and challenges that need to be addressed in order for the Council, the UN, and its member states to prevent and respond effectively to genocide in the future.

Members of the Council are also likely to talk about how the genocide could have been prevented and the importance of lessons learned. A possible focus for some members may be whether the UN is able to react better now to warning signs and what can be done to improve the UN system’s response capacity. In this context, some members may also raise the issue of whether there exists a threat of genocide in any current situations on the agenda, such as in the Central African Republic or Burundi. Other areas that may be covered include accountability, reconciliation and healing and international tribunals, as well as responsibility to protect and early warning mechanisms.

The draft resolution to be adopted tomorrow focuses on prevention and accountability for serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law and condemns “without reservation” any denial of the genocide. It calls on all states to prevent and fight against genocide, recognises the contribution to reconciliation and the fight against impunity by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and calls upon all states to cooperate with the ICTR, the International Residual Mechanism for the Tribunals and the government of Rwanda in arresting and prosecuting the remaining nine ICTR indicted fugitives.

The draft resolution also contains several significant references to the responsibility to protect. It recalls the primary responsibility of states to respect and ensure human rights within their territory. It recalls that the role of the Secretary-General’s Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect includes serving as early warning mechanisms to prevent situations that could devolve into genocide or other serious crimes. It also reaffirms paragraphs 138 and 139 of the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document (A/60/L.1) on the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crime, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
Council members held two meetings to read through and negotiate the draft resolution. Prior to that, Rwanda, the penholder on the resolution, engaged bilaterally with Council members to assess their views on the initial draft text. As a result, negotiations appear to have gone relatively smoothly.

One addition to the initial text was a reference to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The initial draft did not include any reference to the ICC, but during the negotiations, several Council members pushed for this. Eventually agreement was reached on including previously agreed language from earlier this year, recognising the contribution of the ICC towards accountability in accordance with the principle of complementarity to national criminal jurisdictions.

The draft resolution refers to the genocide that occurred in Rwanda in ways that may have wider implications. Over the last two decades, the Council has repeatedly referred to the events that occurred in 1994 as the ”genocide in Rwanda”. When establishing the ICTR and its Statute in resolution 955, the Council was mindful not to single out any particular group or crime, granting the ICTR jurisdiction over crimes committed in Rwanda and by Rwandan citizens in the territory of neighbouring states between 1 January and 31 December 1994.

The draft resolution circulated by Rwanda refers to “perpetrators of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, during which Hutu and others who opposed the genocide were also killed”. (The same language had been used, at Rwanda’s insistence, in two DRC resolutions earlier this year. For more information on the negotiations of these two resolutions please see Security Council Report’s April 2014 Monthly Forecast and the 27 March What’s in Blue story on the renewal of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC). The draft also refers to the judicial notice issued by the ICTR Appeals Chamber, which found that it is “common knowledge” that there was a genocide which was a campaign of mass killing intended to destroy, in whole or at least in very large part, Rwanda’s Tutsi population . (ICTR-98-44-AR-73(C)). .
Rwanda views the current resolution as an important opportunity during its tenure on the Council, to rectify the historical record of the UN and to highlight the fact that the genocide targeted the Tutsi population. It views the more neutral language as dismissive of this.

Several Council members are wary of changing the customary language on the “genocide in Rwanda” as has been UN practice. They feel that the language that has been used over the years is preferable, as it is inclusive of the atrocities committed in Rwanda during that conflict, does not lessen the deplorable actions of all the perpetrators of atrocities against both Hutu and Tutsi, and protects the interests and memory of all victims of the conflict. They are also concerned that the new language on genocide may diminish acts of violence committed against Hutus during and subsequent to the genocide and could be counterproductive to reconciliation between the communities. Furthermore, some members see the language proposed by Rwanda as part of a wider political agenda related to its involvement in the eastern DRC, and the destabilising effect on the DRC. In spite of these misgivings, Council members appear to have been sensitive to the fact that this is the first resolution of the Council on genocide as a standalone issue, and chose not push back on this issue or suggest compromise language.

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