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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Rwanda/Burundi: Recent Documents, 2
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Rwanda/Burundi: Recent Documents, 2
Date Distributed (ymd): 960404



Geneva, Nairobi, New York, 12 March 1996

RWANDA: International Response to Conflict and Genocide

The killing of 500,000 - 800,000 Rwandese men, women, and
children in about 3 months in 1994 was the 4th genocide this
century following the slaughter of Armenians, Jews and
Cambodians. And it was the second during the life of the
United Nations which was created to avoid exactly this
happening. The tragedy in Rwanda shook the world by its
brutality and speed and by the sheer number of people killed
and feeing as well as by the large number of people
participating in the genocide.

The international response to the conflict and genocide in
Rwanda has been subject to an unprecedented, self-critical
evaluation sponsored and financed jointly by a Steering
Committee comprising 37 countries, bilateral, international,
multilateral and non-governmental organizations led by Danida,
the development wing of the Danish Ministry of Foreign
Affairs. The report is titled:

The International Response to Conflict and Genocide: Lessons
from the Rwanda Experience

The report was written by a team of 52 independent experts
(principal authors mentioned at end). The agencies and
organizations commissioning the evaluation have commented
extensively on drafts of the report, but the responsibility
for the content is solely that of the evaluation teams.

The evaluation report draws a number of important lessons for
the international community. Unfortunately few of these
lessons are new, many should have been learned in Somalia and
in former Yugoslavia. But the Rwandese tragedy, by its
swiftness, brutality and magnitude put the weakness - and
strengths of the international community in relief.

If the world community cannot learn from Rwanda, it cannot
learn at all.

The major conclusions of the report are:

When the extent of the flight of people from Rwanda became
clear, the international humanitarian assistance system
launched an impressive and, on the whole, effective relief
operation. In spite of the extreme difficulties the
international response saved many lives and mitigated large
scale suffering.

However, just as war is the extension of failed diplomatic
efforts, Humanitarian Aid was a substitute for political
action in Rwanda. There were significant signs that Hutu
extremist forces in Rwanda were preparing the climate and
structures for a genocide of Tutsi and moderate Hutus, but the
states, international organizations and other parties who,
following the Arusha Peace Accord ofn 1993, had assumed some
responsibility for regulating the Rwandese conflict ignored,
discounted or misinterpreted these signs, thereby indicating
an inability or unwillingness to intervene.

The international community hardly reacted to the genocide:
most of UN peace keeping forces in Rwanda were pulled out by
the Security Council two weeks after the killings started on
the 7th April 1994, the media stayed aways, and the few
humanitarian aid agencies who remained in Rwanda were not
heard. When the UN Secretary General finally made it clear
that forceful action was needed (on 29 April - only one week
after the peace keeping force had been withdrawn) the members
of the Security Council - in particular the major western
powers - were unwilling to commit troops or funds to finance
troops offered from several African countries. Through this
vacillation the international community failed to prevent,
stop or stem the genocide and thus shares responsibility for
the extent of it.

Only when the television screens showed the massive influx of
Hutu refugees to Tanzania in late April 1994 and, in
particular, to Zaire in mid-July 1994, was the international
donor community galvanized into action. UN agencies, the Red
Cross and Red Crescent movements, military logistic and
medical contingents, civil defence and disaster response
agencies, and more than 200 NGOs poured into the area; over
the period April to December 1994 approximately US$ 1.4
billion was allocated by the international community to assist
refugees and internally displaced. By now more than US$ 2.5
billion have been spent.

The response was extraordinary and contained highly
commendable efforts and was marked by the courage and
commitment shown by personnel from all agencies in extremely
difficult and often dangerous situations.

The key messages from evaluation are that:

Humanitarian action cannot substitute for political action.
The failure to recognize the genocide; conflicting interests
and/or relative lack of interest among Security Council
members; inadequate strategy formulation within the
Secretariat and inadequate communication with the Security
Council concerning options; and disjointed relationships
between UN Headquarters and field, in short a lack of policy
and operational coherence, all contributed to the failure to
stern the genocide.

In this policy vacuum there was an impressive overall
performance of humanitarian agencies in assisting the
unprecedented flow of refugees however, there are problem
areas that need to be addressed:

Coordination among UN agencies and between UN, bilateral and
NGO agencies was inadequate. Collaboration and coordination
between UN agencies was affected by overlapping mandates,
unclear division of responsibilities, and a regrettable
rivalry. The report puts forward several options intended to
reform the international humanitarian system and address the
weaknesses of the system. (Synth. C-3, p.57 and Sty. III,

The performance of NGOs was very mixed. A number delivered
high quality services and behaved professionally. But others
performed in an unprofessional and irresponsible manner that
resulted not only in duplication and wasted resources but, in
a few egregious cases, in unnecessary loss of lives. The NGO
community - and the donors who fund most - of it must
establish a Code of Conduct - and ensure adherence to it.
(Synth. C-4, p.59 and Sty III, p.152).

Preparedness and contingency planning was weak and there is a
need for a integrated humanitarian early warning system as
well as willingness of donors to provide up-front funding for
preparedness. (Synth. A-6, p.51).

Accountability to the taxpayers who foot the bill, and to the
beneficiaries, whose voice is seldom heard, is inadequate. The
availability and quality of data and reporting from donors, UN
agencies and NGOs is highly variable and a tendency to
emphasize or inflate positive accomplishments and play down or
ignore problems result in distorted information (Synth. C-6,

Military contingents from OECD countries have played
increasingly significant roles in support of humanitarian
operations. The report raises questions about the
predictability, effectiveness, costs and ability of the
military to participate collaboratively in humanitarian
operations. The role of the military needs to be thoroughly
assessed. (Synth. C-5, p.60 and Sty III, p.57-62).

Reconciliation and Repatriation will be a long term process
with many reversals along the way. An initial misunderstanding
of the implications and effects of the genocide led to
unrealistic pressure from the international community (with
the notable exception of UNHCR) for immediate repatriation of
the over 2 million refugees camped on Rwanda's borders. Today,
over 18 months after the genocide, almost 2 million refugees
remain, despite attempts by international agencies and asylum
countries to encourage them to return.

Among the main barriers to repatriation have been intimidation
from extremist leadership in the camps; refugees concerns
about retaliation against them inside Rwanda and over their
inability to reclaim property. The report identifies the lack
of functioning system of justice in Rwanda as a critical
barrier both to repatriation and to the beginning of
reconciliation and healing. Particularly important is the need
to formulate clearly degrees of guilt and punishment of those
who participated in the genocide and to accelerate due process
to law for determining the fate of the over 65,000 detainees
held under harsh conditions in Rwandese jails. The report
identifies actions donors should support to promote justice,
repatriation and reconciliation. Women's groups are singled
out as deserving further support in order to assist a
particularly vulnerable group severally affected by the
genocide, but which also has the potential for the healing
process. (Synth. D1-2-3, p.63-66).

The international media played a mixed role in the Rwanda
crisis. While the media were a major factor in generating
worldwide humanitarian relief support for refugees, distorted
reporting on events leading to the genocide itself was a
contributing factor to the failure of the international
community to take more effective action to stem the genocide.
The distorted reporting reflected inadequate knowledge of
Rwandese culture and politics as well as low editorial
priority. The report recommends that the media conducts its
own self critical evaluation of the adequacy and impartiality
of its reporting of complex emergencies in the developing
world and draw lessons for more responsible reporting. (Synth.
E, p.66).

The regional dimension and Burundi: The regional dimension
will be a crucial element in any sustainable solution to the
Rwanda crisis. Moreover, the current crisis in neighbouring
Burundi shares many of the same features and causes as in
Rwanda. Recurring violent conflict in one or the other of
these two countries over the last several decades has often
triggered violence in the other country. The two major ethnic
groups in Rwanda are also found in Burundi and neighbouring
regions of Zaire, Uganda, and, to a lesser extent, Tanzania.

The report identifies a number of recommendations that are
also applicable to the Burundi crisis, including strengthening
the OAU and other measures to put pressure on the perpetrators
of the violence, strengthen the justice system and alleviate
the suffering of innocent victims. Recognizing that sustained
economic development of the region, accompanied by human and
civil rights for all population groups, offers a main hope for
stability and the end to the cycles of violence, the report
recommends several elements leading to the formulation and
implementation of an internationally supported long-term
development effort for the Great Lakes Region. (Synth.

A precondition for any solution to the crisis - in the entire
region - is that the international community shows resolve and
willingness to stop the killings, to halt the supply of
weapons to the region and bring the killers to justice. The
lessons from Rwanda shows that such actions are crucial. BUT,
the recent (5 march, 1996) decisions by the Security Council
indicate that even the horror of Rwanda is not sufficient to
teach the lessons. Again the international community
sidestepped action and requested the UN to prepare for a
"rapid humanitarian response in the event of a serious
deterioration in the situation and wide spread violence".

As we prepared for another genocide?

Chairman of the Steering Committee for the Joint Evaluation of
Emergency Assistance to Rwanda: Niels Dabelstein, Danida
Evaluation Unit Tel: +453392 0917

This document was distributed via the UN Department
Humanitarian Affairs Integrated Regional Information Network
(IRIN). Tel: +254 2 444338; fax: +254 2 448816; e-mail: The IRIN provides both a daily mailing
list and a less frequent digest mailing list concerning the
current situation in the Great Lakes region. For information
on how to subscribe, send an e-mail message to

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the
Africa Policy Information Center (APIC). APIC's primary
objective is to widen the policy debate in the United States
around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa, by
concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant
information and analysis usable by a wide range of groups and
individuals. APIC is affiliated with the Washington Office on
Africa (WOA), a not-for-profit church, trade union and civil
rights group supported organization that works with Congress
on Africa-related legislation.


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