Today, 7 April 2014, marks 20 years since the beginning of the genocide in Rwanda. Some 800,000 Rwandans were killed and thousands remain scarred by 100 days of slaughter that took place in 1994 in a planned attempt to exterminate the Tutsis and those who stood to protect them.
Genocide does not happen spontaneously; it is a crime that takes significant planning. Like any crime, it can be deterred and, to some extent, prevented.
The inhumanity of the events in Rwanda in 1994 played a part in motivating UN member states to endorse the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) at the 2005 World Summit, in which states acknowledged their obligation to prevent, and protect populations from, atrocity crimes. Sadly, atrocities remain prevalent in countries such as Syria, the Central African Republic, the Republic of Sudan, South Sudan and Burma, as well as in other cases.
An important way to ensure states act on their commitment to prevent atrocities is to appoint a member of staff in the government to act as a Focal Point on R2P, who can promote R2P at the national level and support international cooperation through the global Focal Points network, currently made up of 36 other states.
While the UK Government has said that it participates in the Focal Points network, UNA-UK is uncertain about the role, remit and activities of the UK Focal Point.
UNA-UK is calling on its members and supporters to sign a letter to Rt Hon Mark Simmonds MP, Minister for Conflict Issues, asking the UK to clarify the status and mandate of the UK’s R2P Focal Point and to encourage the UK to ensure the position is effective.
A proactive and well-established Focal Point would help to improve the UK’s capacity to implement R2P and live up to its promise to the victims of genocide that they would “never again” allow such horror to be repeated.
Photo: Survivor looks for his lost children. Copyright ICRC / Benno Neeleman