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UN Special Representative on Genocide needed to prevent another Rwanda

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Ten years after the Rwandan genocide could the international community prevent the systematic slaughter of hundreds of thousands of women, men and children happening again? Unless urgent changes take place the answer is ‘no’, according to minority rights and conflict resolution experts in a briefing released today by Minority Rights Group International (MRG).1

MRG’s research shows that it is minorities that are overwhelmingly likely to be the victims of genocide. As this new briefing argues, minority communities are the targets of policies of social and economic exclusion, humiliation and repression in which the roots of conflict and genocide lie. But the only UN body specifically addressing minority issues is severely under-resourced, and UN capacity to collect and analyse information which could sound alarms and help protect vulnerable groups is limited.

Although the international community has expressed concern about stopping violent conflict which could lead to genocide, this has focused on armed intervention. Such action, argues MRG, is typically a last ditch effort and can be ineffective and have negative repercussions. Alternative efforts directed toward non-coercive and preventive mechanisms are needed to help create sustainable, peaceful societies for minorities and majorities.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has recognized the need for change and is expected to announce imminently new mechanisms to help prevent genocide. MRG welcomes this, and recommends in its briefing the appointment of a Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Minorities and the Prevention of Genocide. This person should be mandated to provide early warning of potential genocide, have the capacity to receive and collect information from any source in the UN system, engage in preventive diplomacy and, crucially, have a direct line of communication with the Secretary-General and the Security Council. Unless urgent steps are taken, there is a real risk that the world will again witness the genocide of women, men and children, and the important lessons will not have been learned from history, or from the events which began on 7 April 1994 in Rwanda.

Notes for editors

  1. Genocide and Minorities: Preventing the Preventable‘ by John Packer and Erik Friberg. Published 2 April 2004 by Minority Rights Group International.

For more information, contact the MRG Press Office on press@minorityrights.org.

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