The UN's Chance to Act on Genocide

Published: 1 November 2005

To the Editor: Re: "Bolton Pushes UN on Change as U.S. Objects to Draft Plan" (news article, Aug. 25): After the horror of the Rwandan genocide, in which some 800,000 Rwandans were slaughtered in just 100 days, the world vowed "never again." Because the United Nations Security Council members demonstrated inexcusable apathy and wasted time debating semantics on whether or not genocide was taking place, I and my small United Nations peacekeeping contingent were forced to watch the slaughter up close with no mandate to intervene.

To the Editor:
Re: "Bolton Pushes UN on Change as U.S. Objects to Draft Plan" (news article, Aug. 25):
After the horror of the Rwandan genocide, in which some 800,000 Rwandans were slaughtered in just 100 days, the world vowed "never again." Because the United Nations Security Council members demonstrated inexcusable apathy and wasted time debating semantics on whether or not genocide was taking place, I and my small United Nations peacekeeping contingent were forced to watch the slaughter up close with no mandate to intervene.

Eleven years later, little has changed. Yet in just two weeks, governments of the world have the chance at the United Nations world summit meeting in New York to make "never again" a reality by agreeing to accept their responsibility to protect civilians in the face of mass murder. They would agree to act in situations where the national government was unwilling or unable to do so.

If implemented, this historic measure could put an end to politicking, posturing and inaction and save millions of lives. The agreement would mean that all states share the "responsibility to take collective action in a timely and decisive manner" to protect civilians from large-scale killings, including ethnic cleansing, genocide and crimes against humanity.

This would be a historic shift, but negotiations at the United Nations are on a knife's edge, and the United States has still not committed itself to backing it fully.

Having seen what the failure to protect means on the ground, I urge the United States to seize the opportunity to show global leadership and help drive this agreement that could save the lives of millions.

Roméo Dallaire

Quebec, Aug. 29, 2005

The writer, a retired lieutenant general, was commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda.