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UN Security Council and US Senate Pass Resolutions on the Prevention of Genocide

Colin Keating, former permanent representative of New Zealand to the UN and president of the Security Council for the month of April 1994, briefs the Security Council at its recent meeting on the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. “This briefing provides a fitting opportunity for me, in my capacity as former president of the Council, to apologize for what we failed to do in 1994,” he said. —UN Photo/Evan Schneider

In a landmark decision, and to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda, the UN Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 2150 (2014) (external link) on April 9, calling on states to recommit themselves to the prevention of and fight against genocide and other serious atrocity crimes under international law.

The resolution focuses on applying lessons learned from the 1994 Rwandan genocide and emphasizes the importance of education in order to prevent such atrocities in the future. In regard to the genocide in Rwanda, the resolution “condemns without any reservation any denial” of the genocide and calls upon states to “investigate, arrest, prosecute or extradite” and end impunity for those individuals accused of genocide who may be currently residing in their territories.

Additionally, Resolution 2150 requests greater cooperation and coordination of existing early warning mechanisms in order to better “detect, assess and respond” to areas and populations of the world that may be particularly vulnerable to mass atrocities. The resolution also reaffirms the UN’s commitment to the Responsibility to Protect. Finally, it calls upon states who have not yet signed the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide to place a high priority on doing so.

Prior to the vote, the Council heard opening remarks from the deputy secretary-general of the UN, Jan Eliasson, as well as from Colin Keating, the former permanent representative of New Zealand and the president of the Security Council in April 1994 when the genocide took place. As he addressed the Council, Eliasson described the international community’s collective failure to act on the warning signs of an impending genocide. He observed that genocide is not just a single event but a series of decisions undertaken in a planned process that can be prevented with “information and mobilization, as well as courage and political will.”

Keating began his remarks by remembering all those who perished in the genocide, as well as the survivors. He then asked that New Zealand’s apology for the failure of the international community to effectively intervene be inscribed into the formal records of the Security Council.

Subsequent statements from members of the Security Council reiterated a number of important lessons learned and remaining challenges. One of the key messages was the need not just to raise the alarm to mass atrocities but also to create enough political will to act efficiently and quickly to stop them. The members also stressed the importance for the UN to continue taking steps to increase its institutional capacities and international coordination efforts, so as to better understand emerging threats and fight the culture of impunity.

Many members noted the lack of action to stop the genocide in Rwanda as one of the organization’s “darkest failures,” and that while the UN has made progress toward preventing future atrocities through mechanisms like the Responsibility to Protect, there is still more to do. The US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, stated, “Overall, however, it is both fair and profoundly unsatisfying to admit that our successes have been partial and the crimes against humanity that persist are devastating.” A glaring example, as acknowledged by many of the representatives, has been the failure to end the ongoing violence in places like Syria, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan.

The Security Council is not the only body to pass such a resolution in remembrance of the genocide in Rwanda. On April 7, US Senators Robert Menendez, Chris Coons, and Jeff Flake introduced Senate Resolution 413 (PDF) affirming the national interest of the United States to “prevent and mitigate acts of genocide and mass atrocities” and condemning the ongoing violence perpetrated against innocent civilians around the globe.

This resolution urges the president to confer with Congress about the priorities and objectives of the Atrocities Prevention Board (external link) as well as about strengthening the ability of the United States to identify and rapidly respond to genocide and mass atrocities. Similar to the Security Council resolution, it states its support of ongoing domestic and international efforts to strengthen peacekeeping capabilities, protect innocent civilians, and ensure measures of accountability for perpetrators.

In its final point, the Senate resolution recognizes the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and states its support for strengthening US and international institutions in their work to “document, identify and prevent mass atrocities and inspire citizens and leaders worldwide to confront hatred and prevent genocide.”

As the international community reflects on the tragic events that took place 20 years ago in Rwanda, we recognize the progress since made but also the work still ahead to ensure that genocide and other mass atrocities are prevented in the future.