By Iris Jungmin Seo, STAND Canada Blog Writer    

We have committed ourselves to the principles of ‘never again!’, but history has been repeating itself in unfortunate ways. The Genocide Convention 1948, also known as the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, was the first human rights treaty adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in response to the terrors committed during World War 2. According to the United Nations, the adoption of the convention “marked a crucial step towards the development of international human rights and international criminal law as we know it today.” Ultimately, the convention obligates the States to take measures to prevent and punish the crime of genocide.

Did the Genocide Convention perfectly prevent crimes of genocide from occurring after World War 2? Not at all.

25 years ago from today, approximately 800,000 Tutsi minority people had been intentionally cleansed by the Hutu majority in Rwanda in the short span of 100 days. The ethnic tension between the Tutsi and Hutu people had been accumulating for decades. 85% of Rwandans were made of an ethnic group known as “Hutus” but the minority ethnic group known as “Tutsi” have long dominated Rwanda through a monarchy system. The Hutu Revolution in 1959 forced 300,000 Tutsis to flee the country which made them a smaller minority than they already were. This led a group of exiled Tutsis to form a rebel group known as Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and invaded Rwanda between 1990-1993 until a peace deal have been reached. A transformative event occurred in April 1994 when a plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi, who were both Hutus, was shot down and killed everyone onboard. This event triggered the Hutu extremists to immediately blame the RPF and to start a “well-organized campaign of slaughter” of Tutsis for ethnic cleansing; the Hutu militias set up roadblocks and checked IDs to slaughter the Tutsis and thousands of Tutsi women had been taken away as sex slaves.

The Rwandan Genocide also marks the failure of the international community to respond to such crimes because the States have largely remained on the sidelines during the atrocities. UNSC vote in April 1994 has led to a withdrawal of most UN Peacekeeping Operations and by the next vote in May 1994 when they finally agreed to supply more troops, the genocide had been over. Furthermore, a separate French intervention entered Rwanda around June 1994 and limited their intervention to a “humanitarian zone” set up in southwestern Rwanda. This helped to save many Tutsi lives but also “helped some of the genocide’s plotters (allies of French) to escape.”

In response to the international community’s failure to act on the Rwandan Genocide, United Nation adopted a global political commitment known as Responsibility to Protect (R2P) which was signed by all member states of United Nation in 2005. R2P claims that “when a state fails to protect its people from genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and ethnic cleansing, the international community has the responsibility to do so”. Then, did the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine succeed in its original intentions of sharing the responsibility as an international community to protect the people and prevent genocide? 

According to the Rohingya Refugee Crisis Report 2018, it has been estimated that approximately 905,000 Rohingya Muslim minorities have forcefully fled from the destruction of their homes and persecution, and approximately 10,000 people have been slaughtered as a result of yet another ethnic cleansing. Myanmar is a predominantly Buddhist country and religious differences triggered the Rohingya Genocide. The Rohingya are one of the many ethnic minorities representing the largest percentage of Muslims in Myanmar but the Government of Myanmar denies the Rohingya citizenship and even excluded them from the 2014 census. Similar to the Rwandan Genocide, the Rohingya Genocide began in August 2017 after an accumulation of ethnic tensions and a triggering event where Rohingya militants launched deadly attacks on 30 police posts.

Also similar to the Rwandan Genocide, the alarming situation in Myanmar has been faced by an “awkward silence” from the international community. According to Amnesty International, “lack of political will, not a lack of evidence, is at the root of the international community’s inaction. It is undeniable that Myanmar’s security forces committed crimes against humanity against the Rohingya. While the international community drags its feet deciding what to do about it, vital evidence risks disappearing or being destroyed.”

From the Holocaust to the Rwandan Genocide to the Rohingya Genocide, each story takes place in different eras with varying degrees of international law enforcement, but it is questionable whether we are advancing in the name of humanity or just walking in the same place.

What are we learning from these tragedies? Why are we making the same mistakes? These critical questions must be raised and we must not fail another tragedy.

To read more about STAND Canada’s policy recommendations, click here!

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