Let Whatever is Smouldering Erupt? Conditional Sovereignty, Reviewable Intervention and Rwanda 1994

  • Henry Shue


Let us consider the implications of an action that we failed to take: the international community did not step in to save hundreds of thousands of Rwandans who in April and May 1994 were being systematically executed on the basis of perceptions of ethnicity. Sometimes theory is so persuasive that it guides our judgement in an otherwise uncertain case, but at other times a case is so compelling that it shapes our judgement about otherwise indeterminate theory. The slaughter of innocents in Rwanda in 1994 is such a haunting case.3 Any system of global governance or theory of international order is ridiculous if it allows the rest of us to be at liberty to sit on the sideline as people with machetes move house to house, day by day, hacking unarmed civilians to death until half a million innocents have been murdered and twice that number of people have fled from their homes in panic before a small counter-attacking army to sleep on waterless wastes of volcanic rock. We later brought water, food and medicines to exhausted and infected refugees, including the planners and perpetrators of the massacres, in the rocky fields, but apart from a hopelessly small, and dubiously motivated, initiative by France, the rest of humanity did virtually nothing to stop the original long-expected massacres.4 If anything is clear, it is unconscionable that an official bureaucratic US decision to refuse to apply the word ‘genocide’ to a paradigm case of genocide (lest the provisions of the Genocide Convention that were so clearly applicable should in fact be applied), accompanied by bureaucratic arguments over the appropriate fees for leasing to the United Nations armoured personnel carriers belonging to the US Department of Defense and over whether the vehicles, if they were to be leased, should ideally have wheels or tracks, should have contributed to the failure of timely deployment of a multinational force that might have nipped the massacre in the bud before it spread out from the capital.5


Foreign Policy Security Council Global Governance Military Intervention State Sovereignty 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1998

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  • Henry Shue

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