NGOs and Public Opinion

In parallel to the efforts to pressure the Security Council, civil society continued to call public attention to the events in Rwanda. Both before and after UNAMIR’s downsizing, ‘[n]ewspaper editorials and opinion pieces (“op-eds”) by human rights workers or aid agency officials advocated UN intervention to stop the killing’ (Hilsum 2007, p. 173). The overseas director of Oxfam wrote in The Guardian on 16 April that while the Council focused on protecting civilians in Bosnia, under-resourced UNAMIR troops ‘have to look away while people are hacked to death’. On 20 April, the executive director of Human Rights Watch called for a stronger UN response to the violence in Rwanda in a letter to The New York Times. On 1 May, the executive director of Amnesty International condemned the fact that while Bosnia was in the spotlight, ‘the massacres of tens of thousands in an African country is met with a collective denial of responsibility and a hasty retreat’ (all cited in Melvern 2007, p. 208). The mass publicity campaign continued after the decision to reinforce UNAMIR. On 23 May, the Secretary-General of MSF argued in a New York Times article that since a reinforced UNAMIR was not given a ‘clear mandate’ to protect civilians and without a prompt deployment of a sufficient number of troops, UNAMIR soldiers could ‘end up being mere observers of the cold-blooded massacres of defenseless women and children, allowed to take action only in “self-defense”’ (Destexhe 1994). Therefore, civil society actors not only targeted Security Council diplomats but also ran a campaign in the press to attract public attention to the genocide.

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