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Rwanda Genocide Triggered Greater Awareness and Response to Other Humanitarian Crises


Fifteen years after the Rwandan genocide, there's greater awareness about humanitarian crises around the world. However, response is still not always up to the level that can prevent war crimes and genocides.

Sam Bell, advocacy director of the Genocide Intervention Network, says the human slaughter of 1994 has had lasting implications.

"What happened in Rwanda is still fresh in the minds of a lot of Americans and a lot of policymakers and is referred to quite often by the mainstream media and by concerned citizens across the world. So, in that sense, it still lives with us," he says.

With the improvement in technology and the greater willingness of people to speak out, word of humanitarian crises spreads faster around the world.

Bell says, "One thing is information and we're talking about atrocities that are imminent or ongoing. The (US) State Department is just one institution that has undertaken steps to ensure that we have the information that we need to make policy decisions in a timely way."

He says that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her successor, Hillary Clinton, both believe in what's called transformational diplomacy.

"Taking people from capitals and putting them into the country. One of the criticisms of our response to Rwanda is that folks in the US embassy were not aware of things happening beyond Kigali or even in Kigali. And one point of emphasis for the past secretary of state and this current secretary of state is people need to be in the field getting the relevant information from a whole number of stakeholders besides government ministers," he says.

Capability to respond to crises has improved, although Bell says much more improvement is needed.

"We were not prepared to respond in a forceful way to the atrocities that occurred in Rwanda. And a number of things have happened in the interim, including the African Union starting to field missions and deploying to places like Darfur. After Rwanda, NATO intervened in Kosovo. And there have been a number of other initiatives," he says.

Besides a military response, diplomats often get to the crisis scene faster. For example, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan helped mediate an end to Kenya's political violence in late 2007 and early 2008. More than a thousand people died following the disputed elections.

The Genocide Intervention Network advocacy director says the average citizen is today more likely to respond upon hearing about atrocities.

Bell says, "While we are not at a place yet where the world is responding to and preventing all genocides and mass atrocities, people in places all over the world, including the United States, are alive on these issues. People are calling their representatives. We have set up a toll-free hotline: 1800-GENOCIDE, which 25,000 people have used to call their elected officials."

Bell says that when the Darfur crisis began in 2003, few Americans had heard of the region in western Sudan. Now, he says that more than 50 percent of Americans are aware of the situation.

Bell says that the next step is being able to prevent atrocities and genocides following early warnings.

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