Since the genocide, the Rwandan government has staked much of its legitimacy on the fact that it ended the 1994 genocide, which claimed over 800,000 lives in a mere 100 days. The UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda at the time of the genocide was abandoned by the world and left helpless to end the killings.
Is the Threat Legitimate?There is no way of telling how serious the Rwandan government is about threatening to withdraw peacekeepers from Darfur, a region that has witnessed the brunt of the first genocide of the century. However, after the world witnessing recent events in Rwanda such as the string of grenade attacks, assassinations of former ruling party members, and the banning of media sources that speak out against the government, this threat should be taken seriously and brought into consideration when deciding how the UN handles this report. Failure to act appropriately could do serious harm to multiple parties in Rwanda, Darfur, and elsewhere in Africa.
Why Withdrawing is a Bad IdeaWhether the UN releases the report or not with the genocide accusation included is not the question. Threatening to withdraw peacekeeping troops that are protecting thousands of IDPS at a time when Sudan is growing increasingly unstable is both morally wrong and a politically bad move for the Rwandan government. Since the current rulers of Rwanda have based their legitimacy on ending a genocide, it would be counter-productive to that message and stance to withdraw peacekeepers from another area stricken by genocide.
The UN genocide accusation comes with high likelihood of being truthful, and if it is the truth no one should be surprised. Failure of the international community then and now to step in and combat the sweeping atrocities that have plagued central Africa since the 1994 Rwandan genocide has left most parties in the region guilty to some degree.
While this political movement by the Rwandan government may act as a deterrent for the genocide accusation, if it fails then every party will lose. UNAMID and UNMIS in Sudan will be severely weakened at a time when reality speaks to the need to strengthen the international peacekeeping presence in Sudan. The implications of the current Rwandan government being in charge when its troops committed genocide could bear serious consequences in Rwanda and its war-ravaged neighbor of Congo. The FDLR, one of the deadliest rebel groups in Rwanda and made up of former genocidaires from 1994, would undoubtedly gain more legitimacy with different populations within and outside of Rwanda. Since the FDLR is located in eastern Congo along the Rwandan border, civilians on both sides of that border could be placed at risk.
It is clear that Sudan alone will not be the only one to suffer if the Rwandan government is accused of genocide. Rwanda and its neighbors could also suffer serious political and possibly civil unrest. Of course, if the report is released with genocide accusation attached, who knows what the world, particularly the UN, will do with it. A push for justice? Impunity? Nothing?
The Bigger PictureWhatever happens, this situation brings to light a much broader issue: even political players that are not committing genocide in a specific area and have actually contributed to stopping it can use their contributions for their own political gain when trouble is on the horizon. Yes, while justice is paramount to lasting peace, justice to soon, to late, and most definitely never can cause continuing damage in Sudan and central Africa.
Because there is so much impunity surrounding the crime of genocide, the justice question is a complicated one that can only be answered by all nations cooperating with mechanisms such as the International Criminal Court, special regional tribunal courts, and powerful enforcement. These mechanisms must be strengthened and pushed towards taking a zero-tolerance policy against genocide.
Unfortunately for now though, this is not the reality of the world we live in, meaning the answer to this situation is a complicated one. Either way, threatening to withdraw peacekeepers who are protecting innocents at such a critical time crosses the political threshold into a pitch black moral area. The lives of thousands should never be placed on the line for political gain, which is always what happens when genocide is being committed. By withdrawing troops from Sudan, Rwanda would be immersing itself in the guilt of allowing genocide to be committed. And yes, being a bystander when you can prevent killing and protecting killing means you are just as guilty as the ones who planned the genocide.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons: Rwandan peacekeepers board a plane destined for Darfur.