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U.S Mission on the Prevention and Fight Against Genocide

U.S. Mission to the United Nations: Remarks at a Security Council Briefing on the Prevention and Fight Against Genocide

Thank you Madame President. I thank the Government of Nigeria for organizing this important briefing. Thank you, Mr. Deputy Secretary General, for your remarks and your commitment and the UN’s commitment to doing better. My appreciation, as well, to Ambassador Keating for sharing with us his experience and many insights. All of us privileged to serve on the Security Council must learn from what we, the world, let happen in 1994 and Ambassador Keating, you help us to do that. Nigeria, New Zealand, Spain and the Czech Republic were given special praise last week by the Rwandan Government for their efforts during the genocide. Now, thanks to Ambassador Keating, we can add Argentina and Djibouti to the list, the short list, of those who were up-standers, not bystanders, during the worst horrors since the Holocaust.

Nine days ago, I had the privilege to join representatives from across the globe in Kigali to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, we bowed our heads in remembrance of the more than 800,000 men, women and children who were so ruthlessly deprived of life. We rededicated ourselves to assisting in the still unfinished tasks of recovery, reconciliation, and reintegration. And we joined with President Kagame in saluting “the unbreakable Rwandan spirit” as he put it, which has enabled the people of that beautiful land to build a better future without forgetting the past.

As dignitaries sat solemnly at the ceremony, though, we began to hear the screams and wails of Rwandan women – mothers, wives, daughters, sisters – who gave haunting voice to what every survivor must feel – and not just on anniversaries. Every single day, the people of Rwanda – including many at the Rwandan Mission here in New York and their families – live without those that matter most to them. Two hundred people had to be carried out of Amahoro Stadium, last week, convulsed by grief. Millions more live with that daily despair. The stadium itself, where we sat, was the stadium during the genocide that sheltered 12,000 people who lived in complete squalor under the eye of General Dallaire’s dwindling force. The stadium itself will always be a a reminder of what the UN might have been able to accomplish if its top officials and if the United States and other leading members had sent UN reinforcements rather than extracting most of the peacekeepers on the ground. As President Clinton has said, many times, “The U.S. failure to act during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda is his greatest regret.” All of us, whether we were in Government or not, in the Security Council or not, must look inward to consider what more we might have done.

Today we consider again the paramount question of lessons learned – learned, not just in theory or on paper – but truly understood, felt, and applied in practice. In so doing, we benefit from instruments that did not exist two decades ago. These include the UN’s Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide; the High Commissioner for Human Rights; the International Criminal Court; the Responsibility to Protect doctrine; improvements in regional peacekeeping capabilities – and here I would note particularly, with the addition of Rwandan peacekeepers who perform exceptionally, admirably, in the cause of the atrocity prevention in the Central African Republic and elsewhere – more nimble deployment of accountability mechanisms; and a welcome surge within civil society of anti-genocide awareness and activism.

I mentioned this last dimension in particular because during the genocide in Rwanda while 800,000 people were killed, one American member of Congress, Patricia Schroeder, explained our response – the U.S. response – by noting that her home state of Colorado was home to a research organization that studied Rwanda’s imperiled gorilla population. As she puzzled publicly over the U.S. response and described U.S. citizen engagement she said, “There are some nongovernmental groups terribly concerned about the gorillas, but it sounds terrible people just don’t know what can be done about the people.” All of the political pressures cut in favor of avoiding action rather than creatively responding to help a people in desperate need. Political calculus’ should not dictate our response.

As a global community, we recognize that mass atrocities may emerge from a variety of scenarios. We’ve begun to identify telltale patterns and indicators. We’ve agreed on the value of vigilance to prevent unstable situations from unraveling. We have affirmed, all of us, the duty of each government to protect its citizens from mass atrocities. And we have stated our preparedness, under the UN Charter, to respond when states require help in fulfilling that duty.

In some cases – from Timor-Leste and Liberia to Sierra Leone, Libya, Kenya, and Ivory Coast – we have joined with local partners to end or deter violence. Recently, we’ve made progress in assisting the Democratic Republic of Congo and strengthening the UN in their fight against those militia who continue to attack and rape civilians. We have intensified diplomatic efforts to restore peace in South Sudan and the UN there has not only provided emergency supplies to populations displaced by the recent fighting, but it has importantly open its doors in an unprecedented way allowing its bases to become islands of protection. The Africans and French deployed to try to prevent mass atrocities in the Central African Republic. We have quickly authorized a Commission of Inquiry and now we have authorizd a UN peace operation to address the unfolding catastrophe. We must get African, European and UN forces deployed urgently.

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. Yesterday, many of us attended an Arria session, in which we saw graphic photographs taken in Syrian prisons showing the systematic, industrial-style slaughter and forced starvation killings of approximately 11,000 detainees. And those photos were taken in just three of the 50 Syrian-run detention centers, in Syria. And to that we can add the Syrian victims of chemical weapons attacks, the children felled by barrel bombs and those being starved to death in besieged towns and villages, or those executed by terrorist groups. Twenty years from now, how will we reflect on this Council’s failure to help those people? How will we explain Council disunity on Syria twenty years after Rwanda?

Too often, we have done too little, waited too long, or been caught unprepared by events that should not have surprised us. Moving forward, we have to do a better job confronting and defeating the practitioners of hate. Part of protecting against mass atrocities is preventing the conditions that allow them: rampant discrimination, the denial of human dignity, and the codification of bigotry. No one should be targeted for violence simply because of who they are or what they believe.

In our collective effort to prevent mass atrocities, we must make creative use of every tool we have: human rights monitoring; diplomatic missions; technical assistance; arms embargos; smart sanctions; peace operations; judicial inquiries; truth commissions; courts; and other measures designed to influence the calculations of perpetrators who every day are deciding how far they are going to go – every day they are doing a cost benefit analysis in their head about whether the cost of moving forward exceed the benefits from their often warped perspective.

We must also be innovative in taking advantage of new technology like the UAV’s now being deployed in the Democratic Republic of Congo – even text messaging which is being used to raise alarms, track the movement of outlaw groups, gather evidence of criminal violations, and we of course must always deliver aid to those in desperate need.

We must remember, as well, that preventing mass atrocities is a global responsibility requiring robust contributions from all. In particular, we need to train and equip peacekeepers who head into harm’s way. And more countries should do their share – whether through soldiers, civilians, enablers, or other contributions. I echo my Rwandan colleague’s point that twenty years after Rwanda – the Rwandan genocide – we should have moved further beyond what he called, ‘crisis improvisation.”

Further, we must enhance the bonds of trust between ourselves. Historic differences within or between regional groups must neither lessen our capabilities nor diminish our willingness to act as one.

Finally, we must ask every state to consider whether there is more it can do to remove the political roadblocks that impede effective action. Again, with thousands of lives at stake in Syria and elsewhere, obstruction is untenable and cooperation is a moral and strategic imperative. Tomorrow afternoon, we will also have the chance to shine a spotlight on the horrors going on in the darkness of North Korea.

Madame President, and colleagues, our task is as straightforward as it is vital: to ensure that when our successors gather in this chamber two decades from now; they will not speak of more lost opportunities and failures. Instead, their words will be of respect – respect for the comprehensive anti-atrocity steps we took together. Let them say in their time that we, in our time, moved beyond deadlock to unity, beyond remembrance to mobilization, and beyond mere promises to the kind of bold and concrete actions that end wars and stop genocide before the searing pain it causes can be heard in the cries of those left behind.

Thank you.


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