Rwanda ten years on
by HPN March 2004

The tenth anniversary of the start of the Rwanda genocide is on 7 April 2004. The events that ensued represented one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes of recent times. Up to a million people were killed in the genocide and civil war; over two million Rwandans became refugees and more than a million were internally displaced. An estimated 80,000 died in camps in Zaire, Tanzania and Rwanda.

The genocide revealed terrible failings in the international community and weaknesses in the international humanitarian system. Humanitarian organisations were criticised for a lack of professionalism, efficiency and accountability. But the critical failings lay not in the humanitarian domain; instead, they were political, diplomatic and military. ‘It is highly significant,’ said the Joint Evaluation of Emergency Assistance to Rwanda, ‘that the number who died as a result of causes that could be considered avoidable had the humanitarian response been more effective was many times lower than those who died as a result of the genocide and conflict.’

The special feature of this issue of Humanitarian Exchange focuses on Rwanda ten years on. It begins by revisiting the horror of spring 1994 in Rwanda, with the moving testimony of a woman who survived the genocide. The feature also looks at what went wrong in 1994, how international response has evolved since, and where further change is needed. Ramesh Thakur was a member of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, which produced the report The Responsibility to Protect. He discusses the responsibility of states for the protection of civilian populations – their responsibility to protect their own citizens and, if they are unwilling or unable to do so, the responsibility of the broader community of states to intervene. That genocide was being planned was known by the UN Secretariat and some Permanent Members of the Security Council, and UN forces were present, albeit in insufficient numbers. Randolph Kent looks at the UN’s failure to address the genocide, and asks what might happen if such a catastrophe happened again. Sadiki Byombuka looks back over the last ten years from the point of view of a Congolese NGO, and charts changes in the humanitarian capacity of local organisations. John Borton, a member of the team that carried out the unprecedented Joint Evaluation of Emergency Assistance to Rwanda, reviews the evaluation and the follow-up process, and reflects on its impact.

A wide range of other humanitarian policy and practice issues are also discussed in this issue. As always, we welcome submissions for publication and your feedback on our publications.