Magazine article New Internationalist

A Waste of Hope: There Are No Adequate Answers to Genocide, but, Argue Rakiya Omaar and Alex De Waal, the UN Response in Rwanda Has Been Counter-Productive

Magazine article New Internationalist

A Waste of Hope: There Are No Adequate Answers to Genocide, but, Argue Rakiya Omaar and Alex De Waal, the UN Response in Rwanda Has Been Counter-Productive

Article excerpt

As the people of Rwanda struggled to come to terms with the catastrophe visited upon their nation by the genocide of April-July 1994, the creation of the United Nations Human Rights Field Operation in Rwanda (HRFOR) represented a moment of hope.

Formed with a model mandate that included assisting the investigation into the genocide, monitoring respect for human rights and helping to re-establish the basic institutions of a judiciary, police force and prison service, HRFOR appeared to be a tangible expression of international solidarity with the people of Rwanda. It was also an opportunity for the UN, whose reputation in Rwanda has been blighted by a succession of debacles, to redeem itself. Official statements still give the impression that all is proceeding according to plan.

Sadly, the truth is rather different. The evidence gathered over three months by African Rights is comprehensive and damning. One of the HRFOR monitors described the mission as 'a waste of time, energy and money. But worst of all, it is a waste of hope.'

No approach to human rights can establish-let alone retain-integrity and credibility without first investigating the genocide that colours every individual and every event in Rwanda. Such investigations were briefly on the agenda, but now they have been designated as the exclusive responsibility of the International Tribunal-set up to investigate the genocide-and the Rwandese judiciary. This forces HRFOR monitors into an extremely partial, even partisan role: their mandate is to prevent revenge attacks and protect those who are the targets of such attacks, sometimes impeding the Government's own investigation.

The problem of neglecting the genocide is compounded by inadequate attention to the normal procedures of human-rights investigation, such as protecting the anonymity of witnesses and scrupulous checking of facts. One monitor described the HRFOR teams as 'amateurs masquerading as professionals' and went on to describe a characteristic incident: 'I remember a meeting in which a monitor came back from Butare and described Butare as a region "in the grip of terrorism". He proceeded to narrate some of the stories he had been told. The reaction around the table reminded me of my first year as a criminal-law student. …

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