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Hague Conference Examines International Community’s Failure to Prevent Rwandan Genocide

May 30, 2014

ConferenceCover_cleanLeading decision makers from the United Nations, Africa, the United States, and Europe will gather in The Hague from June 1 to 3 to consider the failure of the international community to prevent or effectively respond to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and to explore whether and how the tragedy might have been averted.

This rare convening of former officials and eyewitnesses, jointly sponsored by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and The Hague Institute for Global Justice, in cooperation with the National Security Archive (George Washington University), coincides with the 20th anniversary of the genocide, a deliberate campaign of killing that took the lives of as many as one million Rwandans, predominantly Tutsis, between April and July 1994.

Thousands of pages of newly declassified documents have been made available online by the conveners as part of a broader initiative to shed new light on the failed response to the genocide. Declassification requests that the National Security Archive and the Holocaust Museum made in four countries have resulted, most recently, in the release of nearly 300 formerly secret diplomatic cables that provide fresh insights into closed UN Security Council sessions in the days and weeks leading up to the genocide. These newly released documents, which will be available on the National Security Archive and Holocaust Museum websites starting Monday, June 2, include reporting from key players in the Security Council debates, in addition to previously withheld US diplomatic traffic. They include cables from three officials who will attend the conference: New Zealand envoy Colin Keating, president of the Security Council in April 1994; Sir David Hannay, the British permanent representative to the UN; and Karel Kovanda of the Czech Republic, who was the first UN ambassador to use the term “genocide” to describe the events in Rwanda.

Tom Blanton, director of the Archive, said, “The remarkable new documentation obtained by our project pulls back the curtain over UN deliberations in 1994 and goes right to the question of why and how the international community failed to respond and to protect Rwandans. Now, thanks to the Holocaust Museum and The Hague Institute, this remarkable group of former officials and eyewitnesses is coming together to learn from each other, and from the new evidence, to prevent future catastrophes like Rwanda.”

International Humanitarian Aid, Rwanda, circa September 1994. Photo from personal collection of Prudence Bushnell.

International Humanitarian Aid, Rwanda, circa September 1994. Photo from personal collection of Prudence Bushnell.

Participants in the conference, International Decision Making in the Age of Genocide: Rwanda 1990-1994, include architects of the 1992-93 Arusha Accords; the leadership of UNAMIR, the UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda; four former members of the UN Security Council; senior officials from the United Nations, Africa, the United States, and Europe; and former diplomats, human rights activists, academics, and journalists present in Kigali before and during the genocide. Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire, leader of the ill-fated UN peacekeeping mission in Rwanda and recipient of the 2014 Elie Wiesel Award — the Holocaust Museum’s highest honor — for his bravery and moral courage in helping save some 30,000 lives, will also participate.

The conference is modeled on a series of “critical oral history” gatherings co-organized by the National Security Archive over the past 25 years that have dramatically expanded public and scholarly knowledge of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War, the end of the Cold War, and US-Iran relations, among other topics. This conference will focus on: the lead-up to the genocide between October 1990 and April 1994, asking such questions as whether the international community might have been able to foresee and prevent the gathering catastrophe in Rwanda; the international response to the genocide, with special attention paid to the role of the UN Security Council; and the similarities and differences between Rwanda and other contemporary mass atrocities.

This conference is made possible in part by the generous support of the Sudikoff Family Foundation, which funds the Holocaust Museum’s Sudikoff Annual Interdisciplinary Seminar on Genocide Prevention, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which helps to underwrite the National Security Archive’s genocide documentation efforts.

Please visit the National Security Archive for more information.

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