The “Genocide of Rwandan Tutsis 1994” case study is describing the difficulties and dilemmas met by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) during the genocide of Rwandan Tutsis in April, May and June 1994. The killings occurred in spite of the presence of UN troops in Rwanda, and the members of the UN Security Council were slow to call the Tutsi extermination ‘genocide’, hence evading the obligation to intervene and stop the slaughter, as stipulated by international law.
MSF met with government officials and issued public statements to try to mobilise governments out of their inertia, eventually calling to an international armed intervention.
These statements and actions resulted from numerous debates, conflicts and contradictory interpretations of the Rwandan situation and of MSF’s role addressing the following dilemmas: Was it acceptable for a humanitarian organisation, to remain silent when confronted with genocide or, on the contrary, to call for armed intervention, an action that would lead to loss of human life? Could MSF call on UN member states to pursue other means of action, thereby risking giving legitimacy to ineffective responses, given the nature of genocide? Launched just as France proposed to intervene in Rwanda, was there a risk that MSF’s appeal for armed intervention would be appropriated for political gain?
Twenty years on, MSF reveals how the organization spoke out about a conflict marked by ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, targeted assaults of humanitarian organizations and individuals, and the unfulfilled promises by the International Community.
MSF claimed that mass distributions of aid were simply a ‘humanitarian alibi’ of the international community that lacked the will to take political and military measures to end the conflict. Some MSF leaders even called for an armed intervention against the Bosnian-Serb artillery bombing Sarajevo.
In December 1992, MSF published a report describing the Bosnian Serb policy of ethnic cleansing. They denounced the Bosnian Serbs for hindering supplies to Srebrenica and Gorazde Muslim besieged enclaves. They raised awareness and denounced the lack of protection of the population when the enclaves came under attack in 1994 and 1995 despite being declared safe zones by the UN.
In August 1995, MSF denounced a lack of access to the Serb refugees and from 2000, MSF advocated for parliamentary commissions to be set up to investigate the military and political responsibilities of the States involved in the Srebrenica crisis.
This Speaking Out Case Study explores the variety of questions and dilemmas MSF faced, Among them: to what extent should MSF risk the lives of its staff in order to operate in conflict zones? Should MSF condemn obstacles set up to limit the access to the population if it meant no longer having any access at all? Should MSF denounce the fact that humanitarian aid was presented by the international political leaders as the only solution to the conflict and call for military force, an action that would lead to loss of human life?