A Historical Moment For Genocide

Our newest blog series is about to start–Get Educated, One Topic At A Time!  Learn about a variety of global issues and countries around the world as we highlight each week the work of one of our Education Department Interns , who are hard at work creating Topic Guides covering everything from Child Poverty to Foreign Direct Investment for our classroom-based Model UN program.  Check out the first post below and check back each Monday for the next post in the series.

While the International Criminal Court (ICC) is making headlines today for issuing an arrest warrant for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, international law and justice reached another milestone recently. On Friday, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda issued the first conviction of a woman on the charge of genocide under international law.

The woman, Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, served as family minister for the Rwandan government during the Rwandan Genocideof 1994. Nyiramasuhuko directed and aided militia groups in attacking members of Rwanda’s Tutsi minority.

The genocide, which the Rwandan government covertly supported at the time, took place over the course of 100 days in 1994 (April-July) and resulted in the deaths of about 800,000 individuals. The relationship between Rwanda’s two ethnic groups – the Hutu and the Tutsi – had been violent and contentious for decades. Prior to European involvement in sub-Saharan Africa, the minority Tutsi population dominated the Rwandan elite and established a monarchy. The Germans and Belgians, who administered Rwanda before and after World War I respectively, preserved this system and limited the opportunities available to the majority Hutu population for decades.

However, after World War II and the beginning of decolonization, the Belgians pushed for reform in Rwanda but faced resistance from the Tutsi. By the late 1950’s, the Belgians had called for elections in Rwanda, which led to the rise to power of the majority Hutu. Following independence from Belgium in 1962, the dynamic between the two groups reversed as the Hutu dominated the political elite via their huge majority. Under Hutu rule, Tutsis were required to carry identification cards (eerily reminiscent of the Nazi policy of Jewish identification), were limited to a small percentage of public sector jobs, and faced widespread discrimination in the private sector.

From the 1960’s to the 1990’s, anti-Tutsi violence routinely broke out in Rwanda, resulting in thousands of deaths and a massive flow of Tutsi refugees to Rwanda’s neighboring countries. Although the Rwandan government officially condemned this violence, evidence suggests that it actually supported it in some cases. By the 1990’s, evidence suggests that the Hutu-dominated Rwandan government began covertly training and arming Hutu militias (known as the Interahamwe, “those who stand together”) to attack Tutsis inside Rwanda. The anti-Tutsi Rwandan Genocide in 1994 was largely carried out by such groups and it is these groups that Nyiramasuhuko has been convicted of aiding.

The United Nations faced enormous criticism regarding its response to the genocide. Despite the fact that the UN had 2,500 armed peacekeepers in Rwanda in 1994, they did not intervene to stop the violence. In fact, members of the UN Security Council (including the United States) actually voted to reduce the number of UN troops in Rwanda in response to the violence. The resulting devastation marked what is quite possibly the UN’s greatest failure. Today, a Tutsi leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which fought the Rwandan government and ended the genocide, is President of Rwanda. He has controversially banned the use of the terms “Hutu” and “Tutsi” in any official capacity to avoid inflaming past tensions.

Ever since, the UN has gone to great lengths to learn from its mistakes in Rwanda rather than hide from them. International intervention since Rwanda has been more frequent and more effective. Most recently, the UN Security Council approved measures to protect civilians from government-led massacres in Libya, which NATO has taken responsibility for carrying out. In addition, the UN created the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), which has convicted over two dozen individuals for their roles in the genocide. Nyiramasuhuko is the latest Rwandan official to be convicted. The ICTR demonstrated that international tribunals can be effective, and influenced the creation of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has jurisdiction over all its member states to convict individuals for crimes against humanity, in 2002. Although the United States is not a member of the ICC, it did support a UN resolution that referred Moammar Gadhafi to the ICC, which has since indicted him.

Although the Rwandan Genocide will forever live on as a painful stain on history, its legacy serves as a constant reminder of the tragedy of genocide and how the international community should respond to prevent them in the future. Next year, the UNA-GB will help further the UN’s mission to educate the public about genocide with a simulation of the crisis leading up to the Rwandan Genocide at our annual Regional Model United Nations conference.

– Nicholas Blake, Education Intern

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About UNA-GB

Founded over sixty years ago, the United Nations Association of Greater Boston (UNA-GB) is dedicated to building understanding of and support for the ideals and work of the UN among the Greater Boston community. We serve as a resource on the broad agenda of critical global issues addressed by the United Nations and its agencies: peacekeeping, human rights, humanitarian relief, economic development, and education.

Posted on June 27, 2011, in Global Learning and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

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