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In 1994, between 500,000 and a million Rwandans were slaughtered by their country-men ... the international community stood by in quiet horror and watched. Most notably amongst them the United States of America.

President Bill Clinton was in office at the time and his office was weathering heavy criticism for the deaths of several US soldiers on a 1993 mission to Somalia...

On a state visit to Kigali, the Rwandan capital in 1998, President Clinton formally apologised for US inaction. "It may strange to you here, especially the many of you whom lost members of your family, but all over the world there were people like me sitting on offices, day after day, who did not fully appreciate the depth and speed with which you were being engulfed by this unimaginable terror."

I for one find this a little baffling, President Clinton is not after all just any man sitting in an office but at the head of the most powerful nations in the world and as such in a position to be informed what is happening in the ground in Rwanda at the time. I recall that President Clinton refused to use the word 'genocide' in those circumstances.

  • why did President Clinton refuse to call what is a genocide by its proper name? Had he done so were there specific protocols and conventions that would have let to action by 1. the USA, 2. the United Nations where there in fact had been 'inaction'?
  • Why do you consider "Rwandian Genocide" to be a proper name, rather than simply a description? – jamesqf Oct 16 '17 at 18:46
  • @jamesfq: its usage that derives from French philosophy; I thought it apposite as the proper name for a genocide is genocide as opposed to however Clinton decided to describe it. – Mozibur Ullah Oct 17 '17 at 2:03
  • Well, unless I've completely missed the news flash about you being appointed language czar, your opinion carries no more than anyone else's opinion does. – jamesqf Oct 18 '17 at 3:42
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It's unclear to me why you're asking, given that the Guardian article you threw in to justify your claim contains the answer:

senior officials privately used the word genocide within 16 days of the start of the killings, but chose not to do so public ally because the President had already decided not to intervene.

A bit further, the article states:

"They feared this word would generate public opinion which would demand some sort of action and they didn't want to act. It was a very pragmatic determination."

  • It's not just a question of public opinion but also about specific 'protocols' and 'conventions'; did the US, for example, by not acting lead to inaction by the UN? – Mozibur Ullah Oct 15 '17 at 6:13
  • @MoziburUllah: What about France? – Denis de Bernardy Oct 15 '17 at 6:19
  • I mean for example, were there specific legal commitments that the US had signed upto at the UN or other international bodies that would have forced his hand had he uttered the word 'genocide'; public opinion, as gas one can judge by the papers at the time were calling what was occurring in Rwanda at the time Genocide; public pressure wasn't enough. – Mozibur Ullah Oct 15 '17 at 6:19
  • France didn't exactly cover themselves with glory either. – Mozibur Ullah Oct 15 '17 at 6:22
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    "Not cover themselves in glory" is putting it mildly. There's no specific legal commitments at the UN or elsewhere. It's just that when a top politician says genocide in public in places like the US, the UK, or France, you rapidly get calls to intervene like this one. – Denis de Bernardy Oct 15 '17 at 6:33
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As Denis stated, the article you cited answers your question in part:

"They feared this word [genocide] would generate public opinion which would demand some sort of action and they didn't want to act. It was a very pragmatic determination."

I believe what you are looking for, however, is the "global political commitment" of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) which was brought about in response to the Rwandan Genocide and Srebrenica Massacre. R2P was officially brought to the table in 2000.

Prior to this there was no convention on intervention of the sort. The convention now is as follows:

The international community, through the United Nations, also has the responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means, in accordance with Chapters VI and VIII of the Charter, to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. In this context, we are prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the Charter, including Chapter VII, on a case-by-case basis and in cooperation with relevant regional organizations as appropriate, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities manifestly fail to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

-UN General Assembly

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