The International Day of Peace is celebrated worldwide on 21 September by NGOs, individuals and Governments. In 1981 the International Day of Peace was adopted by the United Nations through a unanimous Resolution aimed at “commemorating and strengthening the ideals of peace both within and among all nations and peoples.” The 2001 resolution established September 21 as a specific day each year to celebrate Peace Day. Resolution 55/282 of the United Nations General Assembly states that the day should be observed as a day of global ceasefire and non-violence, an invitation to all nations and people to honour a cessation of hostilities for the duration of the Day. This year’s International Peace Day is being commemorated under the theme: Together for Peace: Respect, Safety and Dignity for All. According to the United Nations, the theme honours the spirit of Together, a global initiative that promotes respect, safety and dignity for everyone forced to flee their homes in search of a better life.
After the holocaust in 1945, the international community vowed to “never again” but ever since then, it has looked the other way when genocides happen again and again in different parts of the world. In 2005 at the General Assembly commemorated the 60th Anniversary of Liberation of Nazi Death Camps, the following remarks were made; “We must be vigilant against all ideologies based on hatred and exclusion, whenever and wherever they appear.” On occasions such as this, rhetoric came easily. And while it was right to say “never again”, action was much harder. Since the Holocaust, the world, to its shame, had failed more than once to prevent or halt genocide -– in Cambodia, in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia’. In Rwanda, the world stood by as over a million people were massacred in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis. The genocide left a trail of destruction and highlighted challenges and weaknesses in the international system to prevent conflict. The UN failed in their responsibility to prevent genocide. The UN withdrew 2,500 peacekeepers in the country, after 10 Belgian soldiers had been killed. Furthermore, the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) failed to pass on to the Security Council information that could have led to the prevention of the genocide. Why was the international community complacent to the genocide? Did the genocide not warrant sufficient interest and value for the international community to intervene?
It has been indicated that there were sufficient warnings to have prevented the genocide – or to have at least reduced the number of victims. The main criticism of the UN was its complete failure to recognise that genocide was happening in Rwanda. However, I believe that there are many lessons learned from the genocide. After the genocide, the international community began to discuss mechanisms to prevent mass atrocities from happening. The Responsibility to Protect was born out of the lessons of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis and other mass atrocities thereafter. The Responsibility to Protect was adopted in 2005 and centres on preventing genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. The doctrine has been used in a number of cases since 2005, for example in Kenya 2007/2008, Ivory Coast 2011, Libya 2011 and Central African Republic (CAR) 2013. However, praise and criticisms have been levelled against the doctrine.
Although there has been elicited praise for the UN’s stepped-up commitment to put human rights at the centre of its work, there is still widespread criticism of its failure to prevent atrocities in Syria, South Sudan and other affected countries. All these violent conflicts have left thousands killed and millions displaced as the UN has either only called on respective governments to end the war or just looked on and absolutely did nothing. Now looking at the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, question is: is it because the world has not learned anything from its past? What is needed for the international community to recommit to prevent and fight against genocide and reaffirm their responsibility to protect people from crimes against humanity?
Recent media reports have indicated that more than 300,000 Rohingya Muslims have been forced to flee their homes in Myanmar’s western region of Rakhine amid a campaign of murder, torture, arson and mass rape by Myanmar security forces and allied Buddhist mobs. Bangladesh, a country that has welcomed those fleeing the violence has said that there is a Genocide in Myanmar. Although the international community has also said so, the public condemnation and the UN Security Council calling for an end to the military campaign against the Rohingya Muslims is simply not enough, because it doesn’t reduce the number of those being killed, neither does it save people from fleeing their homes in search for peace and safety. There is need for urgent action and steps to end the violence, re-establish law and order and ensure the protection of civilians. There should be lessons learned on the relevance of early warning and how it can be used to protect the people in the affected countries, rather than having the concerned institutions seated mutely as people are killed mercilessly. The pleas from neighbouring countries hosting the refugees or the Rohingya Muslims themselves should not go unheard.
As a civil society actor, I know that this cannot be done by the UN alone, but also by civil society organizations globally to pledge and advocate for the international responsibility to prevent mass atrocities like the genocide. Rwanda is on the path to achieving lasting peace, having made progress from the effects of the Genocide. This has been through the efforts of the Government of Rwanda, civil society organisations and citizens’ commitment to development, reconciliation, economic growth and “never again” to genocide. Organisations like Never Again Rwanda (NAR), were I work, was founded on principles of reconciliation, peace and unity, that there is one Rwanda. Therefore, as we call on the UN to fret about the interlocking threats and the unparalleled volatility in the world, we ought to know that we can all play a role in bringing peace and safety to the global instability that seem to be the new norm
The Photo is from Time.com