Rwanda’s Lessons Yet to be Learned
Don Cheadle and John Prendergast have a stirring piece in today’s Boston Globe entilted, “Rwanda’s lessons yet to be learned.” Sparked by the forthcoming film, “Hotel Rwanda,” they plea for international intervention in Sudan and Congo.
The failure to act forcefully in Sudan and Congo highlights how little progress the world has made since the events of 1994. These debacles also remind us that the world body chargged with leading the response to crises of this kind — the United Nations Security Council — remains unwilling or unable to confront the perpetrators of mass atrocities in the world’s peripheral zones. Divisions within the Security Council over whether to act remain huge, and the divisions themselves become an excuse for inaction. The main difference, however, between 1994 and today is that we still have time to act to help save lives in Congo and Sudan. Millions of lives. The death tolls have mounted in slow motion in Congo and Sudan compared to Rwanda, where 800,000 were killed in a hundred days, the fastest rate of killing in recorded history. It is not too late to act.
Let’s go back to the lessons of the Rwandan genocide. It was perpetrated with ease by the Rwandan government and its militias because there was no accountability for the killing and no protection for the targets. These two ingredients — accountability and protection — are precisely what are missing from today’s response in Congo and Sudan.
First, accountability. The message needs to be sent to the perpetrators and orchestrators of the killing that the days of impunity are over. That can be accomplished through a number of tools: international prosecution for war crimes, arms embargos, travel bans, and asset freezes, all focused on those that are most responsible.
Second, protection. When a government abdicates its responsibility to protect its own citizens, then all international efforts must go toward protecting those people. In both Sudan and Congo, international forces have been deployed to observe tenuous cease-fires. But the real problem is predatory militias (like the Sudan government-backed Janjaweed, or “devils on horseback”) that prey upon civilians and carry out the political objectives of their patrons in nearby capitals.
While intervening to protect the innocents in Sudan and Congo would be infinitely just, the reasons that we haven’t “learned” the “lessons” of Rwanda is that it’s just not that easy. The history of foreign intervention in civil wars is long. The list of successes is short indeed. The United States and others should be willing to help out financially. Expending the blood of our soldiers in what is likely to be a futile effort, however, is not something to be undertaken likely.
As harsh as it may be, the fact of the matter is that the genocides in those countries has virtually zero impact on the security of the West. The mass killings are tragic but home grown. Unlike the tsunamis that have devastated the Indian Ocean region, they are man made. The responsibility of the West to intervene is limited, at best.