From Paralysis in Rwanda to Bold Moves in Libya: Emergence of the "Responsibility to Protect" Norm under International Law - Is the International Community Ready for It?

By Nanda, Ved P. | Houston Journal of International Law, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

From Paralysis in Rwanda to Bold Moves in Libya: Emergence of the "Responsibility to Protect" Norm under International Law - Is the International Community Ready for It?


Nanda, Ved P., Houston Journal of International Law


I.   INTRODUCTION

II.  THE GENOCIDE IN RWANDA AND THE LACK OF
     EFFECTIVE ACTION BY THE UNITED NATIONS
     A. Events Leading Up to the Genocide
     B. The Tragic Events Between April 6 and July 18,
        1994
III. INACTION BY THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY
     A. The United Nations
     B. The Roles of the OAU, Belgium, France, and the
        United States
     C. Appraisal

IV.  EVOLUTION OF THE RESPONSIBILITY TO
     PROTECT
     A. 2005 World Summit's Endorsement of
        Responsibility to Protect
     B. R2P's Evolution and Development Since 2005

V.   THE RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT AND LIBYA

VI.  APPRAISAL AND RECOMMENDATIONS
     A. Scope and Function
     B. Institutional Arrangements
     C. Current Status of the Responsibility to Protect
     D. Inconsistent Application of R2P in Practice
     E. Is the International Community Ready to Embrace
        the Responsibility to Protect?

I. INTRODUCTION

The international community lacked neither the resources nor the capacity to prevent genocide in Rwanda in which approximately 800,000 men, women, and children were brutally slaughtered by fellow Rwandans in about 100 days from April through July 1994. (1) What happened can only be attributed to "a persistent lack of political will by Member States to act, or to act with enough assertiveness" which affected the decision-making and response by the United Nations Security Council and Secretariat. (2)

In its December 1999 report, a United Nations (UN) commission instructed then Secretary-General Kofi Annan to conduct an independent inquiry into the UN's actions during the Rwandan genocide, ultimately finding "a failure by the United Nations system as a whole." (3) On receiving the Commission's report Kofi Annan said that what happened in Rwanda was indeed "genocide in its purest and most evil form." (4) A similar high-level commission comprising "Eminent Personalities" that was established by African Heads of States and Governments stated in its report: "Almost the entire world stood by and watched the genocide happen. Influential outsiders worked closely with the perpetrators. The victims were betrayed repeatedly by the international community, often for the most craven of reasons." (5)

This essay discusses the soul-searching of the international community in the ensuing years and the lessons of the Rwanda tragedy. Part II briefly provides a context for the genocide in Rwanda and recounts the tragic events. Part II also documents the lack of effective action by the United Nations which led to the tragedy. Part III highlights the evolution of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) concept from its early stages, when there was little enthusiasm for it, to its wider acceptance as an operating principle. Part IV discusses its invocation by the Security Council in Libya and, pursuant to the Council's action, NATO's use of force to protect citizens in Libya. Part V concludes with appraisal and recommendations.

II. THE GENOCIDE IN RWANDA AND THE LACK OF EFFECTIVE ACTION BY THE UNITED NATIONS

The initial inaction by the world community to prevent and subsequently to halt the genocide was examined by numerous studies and reports in the aftermath of the genocide. (6) Two reports are especially important: one by a commission established by the United Nations (7) and the other by the Organization of African Unity (OAU). (8) Because context is essential to fully understand and appreciate the tragic events of 1994, included here is a brief look at the preceding events, especially those beginning in 1990.

A. Events Leading Up to the Genocide

The OAU study traces the roots of the crisis to 1959 and details the history from 1959 on to the genocide. (9) As the Hutu took over the government in Rwanda in the early 1960s, Tutsis became victims of pogroms. (10) Hundreds of thousands of Rwandans fled and became refugees in neighboring countries, including Uganda. …

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