Elizabeth More


International humanitarian law (IHL) applies to armed conflicts between and within states. It focuses on constraining the parties involved in such conflict to minimize human suffering, both of combatants and civilians, and, in so doing, is complemented by international human-rights law (IHRL). Recent events show the difficulties in implementing and enforcing both IHL and IHRL, and debate has escalated on whether or not such laws provide any basis for intervention, including, most controversially, military intervention. This article reinforces earlier arguments that the 1994 Rwandan genocide demonstrates a failure to uphold both IHL and IHRL in the face of genocide and ongoing massive human-rights abuses. Certainly we can blame the United States and the United Nations (especially its Security Council), but blame also attaches to those states that failed in the will and commitment to resolve the tragedy by meaningful international action using the legal justifications available. Their indifference suggests complicity in the final tragedy—almost a million Rwandans died, and some further three million became refugees—and points to the need to reassess IHL and IHRL theory and practice. Positive alterations in human-rights norms and growing challenges to traditional notions of sovereignty result in the notion that sins of omission, such as occurred in Rwanda in 1994, are actually worse than sins of commission. Moreover, it is timely to explore this failure again, given the belated legal recognition of the Rwandan genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in 2006 and the ongoing crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan.