By JONATHAN LOBEL
The Institute for African Development honored the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide with a roundtable discussion Thursday, whose speakers included Adama Dieng, the United Nation Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide, Consolee Nishimwe, a survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, and several Cornell professors.
Prof. Kifle Gebremedhin, biological and environmental engineering, opened the event as the moderator and referenced a recently published article in GlobalPost that claimed the world learned “nothing from the 800,000 men, women and children [who] were slaughtered in the course of 100 days in 1994 [in Rwanda].”
“Rwanda remains a scar on the conscience of humanity,” Dieng said.
He added that the possibility of genocide today is still “high and real.” Vast human rights violations are occurring in Darfur, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Syria as millions have perished in these countries, he said.
While the United Nations recognizes the sanctity of states, according to Dieng, this does not grant states the right to treat their populations in whatever manner they desire.
Dieng added the language of the United Nations charter — which states that external intervention “shall not be used in the [protection of] common interest” — is ambiguous and leaves many questions unanswered.
However, he said that states acknowledged their responsibilities to prevent genocide and ethnic cleansing, declaring this to be a “legal and political duty” to their populations at the 2005 World Summit.
Dieng closed his address, saying the best lesson people can draw from the Rwandan genocide is that “prevention is a better strategy than intervention after the fact.”
“[Countries need a commitment] to build and strengthen existing institutions to prepare and act,” he said.
According to Prof. Muna Ndulo, law, one of the main problems in Rwanda was the lack of an international response. He said there was a need for countries to improve their domestic and international policies in this regard.
“[Countries] have a responsibility to protect other peoples,” Ndulo said. “Atrocities continue to happen, so clearly the world still has to learn [many] lessons.”
According to Ndulo, states need “early warnings” to aid them in preventing the conditions that make genocide possible.
“It is much easier to prevent genocide than to intervene once it is already happening,” he said. “Action is highly unlikely without early warning.”
Prof. Nicolas Van de Walle, government, addressed changes in the world that have occurred since the Rwandan genocide — such as economic improvement in the African Great Lakes region, which van de Walle said was a “regional mess” 20 years ago.
Though van de Walle said conditions in certain places in Africa such as the Sahel region have deteriorated, he also said the African Union is a much “sounder” organization than it was 20 years ago.
Democracy has become much more legitimate in Africa and military rule has become much more illegitimate, van de Walle said. He also said there has been “real progress” in Africa, noting the rapid technological and economic growth occurring there.