Society - Twenty years after the Rwanda genocide, the UN Deputy Secretary-General, Mr. Jan Eliasson on Wednesday warned that the international community must respond early to the risk of mass atrocities amid mounting religious and ethnic polarization and demonization.
'We must never forget the collective failure to prevent the Rwandan genocide. Repeating the phrase ‘never again’ is in itself a sign of continued failure,' Mr. Eliasson said at an event at the UN headquarters in New York.
The event, formally called 'Understanding early warning of mass atrocities twenty years after the genocide in Rwanda', was co-organized by the UN Department of Public Information (DPI), the Permanent Mission of Rwanda to the UN and the non-governmental Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.
The special event comes in the run-up to the 20th anniversary commemorations of Rwanda genocide, when in a mere 100 days beginning on 7 April, 1994, more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were massacred by Hutu militants.
Among those president at the event was retired Canadian Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire, the head of the UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda at the time, who had appealed in vain for the world to take action before it was too late.
The UN deputy scribe said the prevention of future tragedies required leadership and courage to speak out at every level – the kind of leadership and the kind of courage that Romeo Dallaire showed 20 years ago.
'It requires action by governments to uphold their fundamental responsibilities and by the international community when that does not happen.
'As never before, the people of the world are measuring the performance of the United Nations by our efforts to protect human rights and civilian populations,' Mr. Eliasson noted.
He stressed the importance of the role of civil society in preventing atrocities, improvements within the UN, including the 'responsibility to protect' concept endorsed in 2005.
The UN official also identified the commitment of many individuals, including UN staff in the field, who were providing early warning and supporting local and national efforts to protect human rights and stop conflicts from escalating.
'As a result, the United Nations and the international system are now better prepared to anticipate, prevent and, I would strongly hope, respond to crises.
'We need to look no further than South Sudan today for an example of dedication and innovation in protecting people,' he stated.
Mr. Elliasson said that in spite of a tragically great number of people being killed in the conflict, thousands of civilians were alive today because they had sought shelter inside United Nations facilities and had been provided with protection and assistance.
The UN said that some 65,000 civilians were currently being sheltered in 10 UN bases in South Sudan where well over 1,000 people, possibly thousands, have been killed and more than 400,000 driven from their homes since the conflict erupted about a month ago between President Salva Kiir’s forces and those of former deputy president Riek Machar.
Mr. Eliasson noted, however that the lessons learned over the years had not always been followed by action.
'Since the tragedy in Rwanda, hundreds of thousands of people have died in mass atrocities and tens of millions have been displaced,' he said.
'Over the last few weeks alone, men, women and children have been slaughtered not only in South Sudan but also in the Central African Republic (CAR) and in the nightmare of Syria.'
The UN deputy scribe stressed that the wider impact had been disastrous for peace, security and the economic and social development of entire regions.
'This is all the more so because of the deeply worrying and growing divisions along religious or ethnic lines that we are witnessing in many nations,' he warned.
Among the actions the UN is taking to prevent genocide, Mr. Eliasson cited the Secretary-General's 'Rights up Front' Action Plan to strengthen the organisation’s ability to prevent large-scale violations of human rights.
Others are the imperative for an early response to the risk of mass atrocities and the realization that prevention is a common responsibility of the entire UN system.
'We can best meet this responsibility when we in the United Nations system realise the potential of our combined mandates and roles and when we operate as ‘one’', he added.
He stressing the need for urgency to prevent the grave violations of human rights in the Central African Republic and South Sudan, in order not to turn into mass atrocities.