Civil Society Advocacy During the Rwandan Genocide

NGOs have played a significant role in shaping the Council’s response to the Rwandan genocide by approaching permanent and non-permanent members of the Council and running a mass publicity campaign. Although the response was too little and too late, without NGO advocacy it might have been absent altogether. The failure of the UN to take a timely and decisive action in Rwanda has prompted a series of important reforms, such as discussions on the strengthening of the organization’s early warning capacities, the creation of the Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, and the placing of the issue of the protection of civilians in armed conflict on the Council’s agenda.

The Context

In October 1993, the UN deployed a mission to Rwanda, UNAMIR, to oversee a power-sharing agreement between the Hutu government and Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front, which was supposed to end the Rwandan Civil War. When Hutu extremists began a killing campaign against Tutsis in early April 1994, UNAMIR, despite its limited mandate and resources, managed ‘to protect tens of thousands of foreign and Rwandan civilians who sought protection in hotels, hospitals and the Amahoro stadium’ (Findlay 2002, p. 278). After ten Belgian peacekeepers were brutally murdered, Belgium, the largest troop contributor to UNAMIR, recalled its contingent and began advocating a complete withdrawal of the mission. A perception developed that UNAMIR would not be able to protect civilians, although it ‘was actively engaged in such protection exercises, sometimes with as few as a handful of soldiers guarding thousands of individuals’ (Barnett and Finnemore 2004, p. 152).

Many powerful Security Council members, including the USA, initially supported the idea of a withdrawal. New Zealand, which held the rotating Council presidency in April 1994, opposed it, together with other small and middle powers on the Council, such as Argentina, the Czech

Republic, and Spain (Kovanda 2010, p. 200). On 21 April, the Council voted to reduce UNAMIR’s strength from 2,548 to 270 troops. Short of a complete pullout, it made it impossible for UNAMIR to continue its protection activities. The coalition of small and middle powers began a campaign for the mission’s reinforcement (Des Forges 1999, p. 968). On 17 May, the Council authorized a reinforced UNAMIR with a strength of 5,500 troops and mandate to contribute ‘to the security and protection of displaced persons, refugees and civilians at risk in Rwanda’ and ‘take action in self-defence against persons or groups who threaten protected sites and populations’ (UNSC 1994, p. 3). The reinforcements took months to arrive. The genocide ended in mid-July with a military victory for the Rwandan Patriotic Front.

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