‘The World Stood by for Too Long’

Around the world, commemoration of the ten year anniversary of the Rwandan genocide has taken a variety of turns. Some, particularly within the US and Europe, have used the opportunity to recognize that the failure to intervene was a profound failure of foreign policy. To some, however, "Never again" rings empty after 800,000 people were killed in 100 days. Others, in Africa especially, have called on the world to not dismiss genocide as "not very important" when it happens in Africa instead of Europe. Racism should never be allowed to justify foreign impotence, they argue. Another track of thinking has called the genocide an example of problems associated with the "pseudo-nation-states that are the legacy of colonialism". In other words, the deep-seated problems of ethnic conflict in post-colonial societies must be recognized within the larger context of the repercussions of colonialism. No matter what approach is taken when remembering the victims, all the papers surveyed here seem to agree that the lasting legacy ought to be a global reexamination of responsibility and the perceived right of sovereign powers. – YaleGlobal

'The World Stood by for Too Long'

Ten years after the genocide, the papers wonder what lessons can be learnt
Thursday, April 8, 2004

This Day - Editorial, Nigeria, April 5

"The Rwandan tragedy still rankles, because after the Jewish holocaust of the 1940s it seemed as though such criminality could never happen in any part of the world again. But the Tutsi genocide clearly demonstrated how easily a careless world could allow history to repeat itself ... The world watched idly as the genocide went on ... Such was the indifference of the world that in just 100 days, 800,000 people had been killed ...

"The Rwandan tragedy aptly dramatised the world's slow response to tragedies taking place in regions of less strategic importance to the west."

Emmanuel Dongala - New York Times, April 6

"The genocide happened in Rwanda, but it could have taken place in any of the many pseudo-nation-states that are the legacy of colonialism - states in which the people are more loyal to their ethnic communities than to a faraway central government ...

"This situation demands a radical rethinking. States must be rebuilt by taking the different ethnic groups into account so that no group feels ostracised and all share the country's resources. Transforming the state along these lines will bring security to all citizens. It is this security, more than a museum or commemorative speeches, that will be the greatest homage we can pay to the victims of the Rwandan genocide."

Star - Editorial, South Africa, April 6

"As we spare a moment to honour the victims of the worst form of man's inhumanity to man, we should pause and ask ourselves: why did this catastrophe happen? How did the international community allow a slaughter of this magnitude? ...

"As we search for answers to these complex questions, perhaps we should also look internally, to Africa itself, for solutions. The killings in Rwanda may have had their roots in colonialism and the underdevelopment visited upon the continent, but the actual murders were committed by Rwandans. It was brother killing brother."

Boubacar Boris Diop - Le Quotidien, Senegal, April 6

"As soon as it was understood that this savagery was African, it allowed [Europeans] to pontificate at leisure. How else can one explain the infamous phrase, said to have been uttered by François Mitterrand [then French president] that 'in those countries, genocide is not very important' ... Unfortunately, the most common response of African intellectuals - to both the Rwandan genocide and other African tragedies - is bizarrely identical to those of racists everywhere. It can be summed up thus: 'It is hard to swallow, but that is the way we are.'"

Arab News - Editorial, Saudi Arabia, April 7

"The racist argument that Rwanda is an ill-educated and primitive society does not wash. Both Germans and Serbians were advanced and apparently civilised people, yet from their midst there stepped forward large numbers of individuals prepared to perpetrate these enormities ... But there is one lesson that can be learned by all decent people who recoil at such cruelty. It is that history has shown time and again that the outside world has stood by for far too long before intervening in these ethnic bloodbaths."

Stephen Smith - Le Monde, France, April 6

"The international community failed. It is guilty of having not foreseen the genocide or tried to stop it. It even went so far as to deny it was happening, in order to get out of its obligation to intervene, as inscribed in the UN charter ...

"Belgium withdrew its UN force after 10 of its men were ... killed in the first days of the slaughter. The US, traumatised by a similar drama in Somalia, abandoned this other African killing field. France, incurably colonial, supported the ethnically-biased regime of President Juvénal Habyarimana right up to the end."

Mick Hume - Times, April 7

"Everybody agrees that western leaders should hang their heads in shame [over] the Rwandan genocide ... [But] the self-flagellation about our failure to act against evil is at the same time a form of self-flattery. Despite its enlightened liberal pretensions, it still rests on the assumption that the west has a mission to save the 'savages' from themselves. But from Rwanda to the Balkans, interventions have perpetuated and intensified, not solved, conflicts ... The west's breastbeating about its failure to go to the rescue is in danger of drowning out the minute's silence for Rwanda's dead. Are we really so vain that we think somebody else's genocide commemorations are about us?"

Times of Zambia - Editorial, April 6

"It is not an insurmountable hurdle to build a united Rwanda that will accommodate people from various ethnic backgrounds. But for the Rwandans to do this, they need constant help from the international community ...

"Often nations engaged in crimes against their own citizens have gotten away on the pretext of solving an internal issue and always regard international intervention as interference in the internal affairs of an independent nation. This cannot be allowed any more."

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004