Scroll to top

Will to Intervene: What Compels Countries to Act in Face of Genocide?

No comments

Will to Intervene: What Compels Countries to Act in Face of Genocide?

Posted by Sarah Zingg Wimmer on September 25, 2009

Will to Intervene: What Compels Countries to Act in Face of Genocide?

What does it take to mobilize the will to intervene to stop genocides and mass atrocities? We’ve seen the pledge “never again” forgotten time and again when robust action by the international community could prevent deaths. A new report considers these important questions, drawing from the landmark Responsibility to Protect doctrine. What does it take to put into practice the notion that the international community has a responsibility to intervene when a country’s government is either unable or unwilling to stop mass violence committed against its citizens, or when the government itself backs the abuses?

To launch the report – "Mobilizing the Will to Intervene: Leadership and Action to Prevent Mass Atrocities" – the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington gathered top policy experts for a panel on Monday, including Enough’s Co-founder John Prendergast and Lieut. General (retired) Roméo Dallaire. The report is the result of the Will to Intervene (W2I) Project, a research initiative co-created by General Dallaire at the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (MIGS).

The panel participants debated how to most effectively mobilize countries such as the United States or Canada to intervene to prevent mass atrocities in places such as Darfur or eastern Congo, two of the world’s deadliest conflict zones.

The report draws on lessons from Rwanda, a tragedy with which General Dallaire is intimately familiar given his service as the U.N. force commander in Rwanda in 1994. Prendergast observed that while we should try to learn as much as possible from the genocide in Rwanda, the crises we face today (eastern Congo, Darfur and southern Sudan, or northern Uganda) and in the future will likely unfold more slowly, over several decades, and therefore pose very different challenges to the international community. The Rwandan genocide was unique for the speed at which the tragedy unfolded, a mere 100 days.

Another interesting discussion revolved around how to define “national interest” when talking about what compels states to act. General Dallaire emphasized that unless policymakers in the U.S., Canada, and other third-party countries realize that conflicts in far-off places are interlinked with their national security, it will be difficult to mobilize the will to intervene. Crises in fragile or failed states produce pandemics and refugee flows, and provide safe havens for terrorists, which have the potential to pose real challenges to the national security of the United States and Canada, he said.

John Prendergast pointed out that in the United States, national interest is more than just national security; it also gets defined by the concerns of various civic groups who are moved by mass atrocities and human rights violations in Africa and elsewhere. Therefore, religious-based, student, and human rights groups will be as crucial in mobilizing the will of policymakers to intervene to stop genocides and other mass atrocities.

A video of the full event should be available soon, and we’ll be sure to post it.


Laura Heaton contributed to this post.

Photo: A mass grave at the genocide memorial in Kigali, Rwanda. (Enough/L. Heaton)