The lessons of Rwanda

by Irwin Cotler
April 8, 2014

As we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda, where approximately one million Rwandans – mostly ethnic Tutsis – were murdered in less than 100 days – we must ask ourselves: What have we learned?

In the aftermath of the 65th anniversary of the Genocide Convention – sometimes spoken of as the “Never Again” convention – but which has been violated again and again – we must ask ourselves: What must we do?

The horror of the events in Rwanda – and other genocides of the twentieth century, such as the Holocaust and killing fields of Pol Pot’s Cambodia – and the role of the international community as bystander – gave rise to the Responsibility to Protect principle (R2P), regarded as one of the most important international normative doctrines since the Genocide Convention itself. The R2P doctrine – unanimously adopted at the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document by the largest ever gathering of heads of state and government – mandates international action to “protect a state’s population from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.”

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