The world has known its fair share of wars and atrocities. In fact, the

history of almost every other country in the globe is carved by wars,
and in some cases genocide. However, never has the world experienced
worse horrors as it did in the 20th century. The magnitude of violence
has undergone evolution and even escalated, thanks to the advancement in
technology. In the new war, civilians are on the receiving end, which is
unlike in the past where wars pitted soldiers of different countries
against one another. This new war was collectively given the term
genocide by Raphael Lemkin in 1947 to underline the systematic and
deliberate destruction, in part or whole, of a racial, national,
religious or ethnic group. However, scholars have been having a hard
time debating on what could sufficiently constitute a “part” so as
to qualify the destruction as genocide (Andreopoulos, 13). Nevertheless,
they note that it encompasses varied coordinated actions that aim at
destroying the essential foundations of national groups’ life with the
sole intention of annihilating these groups. Such a plan has the
objective of disintegrating the social and political institutions of
language, religion, culture, national feelings, as well as economic
existence of these national groups, as well as the destruction of the
personal liberty, dignity, lives, health and security of the people who
belong to the groups. Raphael Lemkin stated that the genocide is not a
new or contemporary phenomenon, rather it has been a fundamental
component if civilization. However, he notes that the capacity of the
international community more so the United Nations to prevent or
intervene in it is relatively new. Scholars note that the prevention or
even intervention in genocide was a fundamental component during the
formation of the United Nations. Resolution 96 (1) of the United
Nations established that the United Nations would prevent, as well as
punish genocide. In addition, this clause was a resolution of the member
nations to draft the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the
Crime of Genocide. It is well understood that, during the cold war
years, the United Nations could do nothing as it was entangled in the
cold war politics. However, it is worth noting that the Security Council
of the UN incorporates the capacity to implement the necessary measures
so as to maintain security and peace in the international community.
Questions emerge on whether international bodies in general and
especially the United Nations (UN) are capable of preventing or even
stoping the occurence of genocide. As varied scholars and observers
note, the United Nations has been incredibly unable to intervene and
stop the occurrence of genocide (Andreopoulos, 34). Volumes of
literature have been written to this effect reviewing what went wrong in
past genocides, as well as the capacity or the ability of the United
Nations to intervene and prevent genocides. While many scholars
acknowledge that the United Nations stands out as the best hope for
intervention and prevention of genocide, there is widespread agreement
that the international body is unable to prevent or intervene in
genocides.
Thesis statement: The United Nations is incapable of intervening or
preventing genocides.
Since the formation of the United Nations in 1945 after the World War
II, there have occurred a total of 55 genocides and political wars,
which have claimed the lives of more than 75 people. This is undoubtedly
more than has been claimed by wars. The United Nations took steps to
prevent and punish perpetrators of genocide during the Genocide
Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Organizers of
Genocide. The Genocide Convention was arguably the most fundamental step
that the United Nations took in an effort to prevent the occurrence of
genocide or guide its intervention during genocide. It defined the term
genocide and categorized it as a crime in international law, with the
parties pledging to prevent, as well as punish it. Punishment would be
meted on perpetrators, conspirers, as well as individuals who incite,
attempt to or even exhibit complicity in genocide, irrespective of their
position in the society. Suspects of such crimes, according to the
Genocide Convention, were to undergo trial by a competent tribunal set
up in the country where they carried out the acts or even by an
international penal tribunal that has jurisdiction
(http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/UN-GENO.asp). These crimes were not
to be categorized as political crimes, according to the Genocide
Convention. On the same note, it is worth noting that the United
Nations, via the Security Council can kick up varied measures in an
effort to maintain international peace and stability.
While the United Nations may have these powers, it is worth noting that
it does not incorporate a standing army. This international body does
not constitute a military organization. The willingness and legitimacy
of deploying missions or troops that would prevent the occurrence of
conflict has its roots in the universal membership, the Security
Council, as well as the UN Charter. While this may be the case, it is
noteworthy that the deficiency of a standing army means that the UN’s
capacity to intervene in conflicts is incredibly hampered. This is
because nations take time before they can agree on risking the lives of
their people, the financiers of such efforts, or even who would be
leading the charge. This was seen in the case of Rwandan genocide in
April 1994. As General Dallaire in the Carnegie Report, as few as 5000
troops could have been enough to prevent the occurrence of genocide in
Rwanda (Dorn and Matloff, 23). It is noted that General Dallaire had
prior information about the arming and training of Hutu militia in
weaponry so that they can engage in the extermination and annihilation
of their Tutsi tribesmen, as well as Hutu moderates. Unfortunately, the
UN peacekeepers were poorly equipped and had, in fact, had some of them
withdrawn from the country. As the Carnegie Report notes, countries were
reluctant to commit their peacekeepers to the provision of support for
the offensive force that General Dallaire was vouching for, for varied
reasons. The United States was unwilling to commit its soldier to this
cause after the Somalia incident, especially considering the likely
casualty levels, as well as the political impact of such actions on the
involved countries (Dorn and Matloff, 24). Belgium, on the other hand,
had resolved to withdraw its soldiers from Rwanda after losing 10 of
them. Other key countries such as Canada and France were also unwilling
to send their soldiers as it was understood that irrespective of their
edge in firepower, they would still be likely to lose a number of their
troops, losses that few countries were willing to tolerate. In essence,
despite the fact that the United Nations could call for such
intervention, its lack of standing military means that it still has to
rely on countries especially major powers, which immensely undermines
its capacity to intervene or prevent genocide.
On the same note, as much as the UN is quite operational, its peace
operations do not have proper equipment for the prevention of or even
intervention in large-scale violence propagated against civilians. This
equipment is in terms of personnel, finance, as well as arms. As noted
earlier, the UN is unable to organize, deploy, as well as manage
military operations in a comprehensive and rapid manner. Even in
instances where the United Nations manages to convince countries to
deploy some of their troops, scholars note that the troops are quite
different as far as their training is concerned, or even the equipment
that they are using in such missions (Dorn and Matloff, 25). These
factors limit the capacity of the missions to function in the hostile
environments. Moreover, Ludlow (17) notes that the United Nations troops
called in to Rwanda had been advised to use force only in self defense
and not to take any enforcement action. This stipulation that emphasizes
on self defense during, according to Ludlow  (23), is a direct
avoidance at stipulating outright intervention in the genocide that was
taking place.
In addition, as much as the United Nations may be an international
entity and even incorporate some avenues of preventing or at least
intervening in genocides, it is not a truly independent entity. Gold
(35) notes that the United Nations’ Security Council addresses the
political motives, as well as strategic interests of the permanent
members especially in humanitarian intervention. He cites the case of
Kuwaiti, which the Security Council was quick to protect thanks to their
oil, unlike the case of  Rwandan genocide where the Security Council
took time before declaring it “genocide” or even calling for
military intervention as Rwanda does not have as many resources (Gold,
36). These sentiments are also echoed by Farrell (13) who christens the
United Nations as an agency or a large bureaucracy that is made up of
numerous, jealously-guarded fiefdoms, with special interest groups and
an extended hierarchy of stakeholders dominating each of the fiefdoms.
According to Farrell, the interest groups have a claim to the UN’s
resources, which is determined by a sophisticated set of agency and
power relationships rather that the principles of subsidiarity and
solidarity (17). In essence, as much as the United Nations may have
varied strategies that it can use to intervene or prevent genocide, it
still suffers from lack of independence as its resources or even its
intervention efforts are controlled by the special interest groups, as
well as the five permanent members. This lack of autonomy and total
control was also shown in Rwanda. As Kentish (16) notes, General Romeo
Dallaire had recommended that he be allowed to jam the broadcasting
stations as they were being used to incite the Hutu against the Tutsi,
as well as call for their extermination. However, the United States
declined this request stating that such an option or action would be a
breach of constitutional commitment to free speech (Kentish 16). As
(Krain, 6) notes, the Security Council’s authority is mostly vetoed
against by the powerful nations especially when their interests are not
met, thereby crippling the institution’s capacity. This raises
questions about the independence or autonomous nature of the
institution, which evidently shows that as much as it has the power to
take varied measures, it does not have the capacity to undertake them
without the authority or at least the assistance of certain countries.
Moreover, the very nature of the United Nations cripples its ability to
intervene in or prevent the occurrence of genocides. This is especially
considering that the member states are considered autonomous and
sovereign. Genocide is not a war that pits nations against each other,
rather it comes in the form of civil war or an internal affair. As
Merkel (16) notes, the United Nations was established in an effort to
continue cooperation and communication between nations rather than solve
world problems more so within nations. In essence, the creation of the
United Nations has, therefore, seen a decrease in wars between nations
with civil wars increasing tremendously. Its activities are usually
limited to those actions that are not seen as a violation of the
sovereignty of the countries involved (Totten and Bartrop, 23). This
explains why its intervention in the Rwandan genocide was limited to
humanitarian intervention, services that aimed at assisting civilian
populations that may not be taking part in the conflict. In most cases,
however, humanitarian assistance comes short of preventing the
occurrence of genocide as seen in the case of Rwanda. The killing of the
ten soldiers from Belgium may have resulted from the fact that the
soldiers were not allowed to use force unless they were defending
themselves. The use of force, however, comes as a necessity in the case
of genocide as shown by the French soldiers who intervened in the
genocide and helped in halting and even eliminating it (Totten and
Bartrop, 26). Unfortunately, the United Nations is recognized as a
neutral institution, a feature that would be considerably watered down
if it involved itself in a country’s local politics as would be the
case in case of a forceful, military intervention.
However, Totten and Bartrop (26) opine that the United Nations should
not be entirely blamed for the mistakes that have been done in the past
in relation to Kosovo, Kuwaiti and Rwanda. Instead, they lay the blame
on other countries and especially the key powers noting that they veto
the Security Council’s authority in instances where they feel that
their interests are not threatened. They note that, in the case of
Rwanda, the only successful intervention was by the French soldiers, an
operation that was known as Operation Turquoise (Totten and Bartrop,
27). This was an indication that the genocide could have been prevented
if only the powerful countries had the political will to do it. It is
noteworthy that the French was only intervening due to their vested
interests in the country. While this assertion abdicates the UN from
blame, it also raises questions on its ability to act on its own and
serves as a confirmation as to its inability to prevent or intervene in
such atrocities.
In conclusion, there have been quite a large number of genocides in the
contemporary human society. This has been worsened by technological
innovation, which has taken warfare to an entirely new level. However,
since the formation of the United Nations, there has been a decrease in
wars between nations but an increase in wars within nations. This has
taken the form of genocide, defined as the deliberate annihilation and
extermination of a certain group of people distinguished by tribe,
religion, color, language and culture among other features. Questions
have arisen on whether the U.N has the capacity to prevent and intervene
in genocides. It is evident that the United Nations has been ineffective
in doing this. As much as this international body has various tools that
it could use to prevent or intervene in genocides, it faces some
structural and institutional obstacles. It does not have a standing
army, in which case even its humanitarian efforts are deeply hindered.
In addition, it seems to be captive of varied major countries in which
case its involved in the power play of these countries. The resources
that it has at its disposal are determined by the powerful nations,
which almost always act only if their interests are met. In addition,
the formation of the United Nations was based on the need for
international peace, with its legitimacy being derived from its ability
to remain neutral. This image is likely to be eliminated in case it
involves itself in the local politics of a country as envisioned by
genocide. There are also issues of a country’s sovereignty which
cannot be violated especially for independent countries. In addition, it
does not have a standard approach to genocide in which case even in
instances where it chooses to intervene, it takes too long due to
logistics on who would provide the troops, financing or leadership
during a military intervention. In essence, despite its capacity to
instigate diplomatic, economic, military and political sanctions, the
United Nations is incapable of preventing or intervening sufficiently in
genocides.
Annotated Bibliography
Modern History Sourcebook: UN Resolution 260, 1948 – On Genocide:
CONVENTION ON THE PREVENTION AND PUNISHMENT OF THE CRIME OF GENOCIDE.
United Nations Treaties Series. No. 1021, vol. 78 (1951), p. 277.
Retrieved 23rd January 2013 from HYPERLINK
“http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/UN-GENO.asp”
http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/UN-GENO.asp
This internet source provides outlines of the provisions of the United
Nations in Geneva Conventions. It also outlines the resolutions that the
countries that were members of the United Nations made pertaining to
genocide and defines the actions that would be termed as genocide.
Totten, Samuel and Bartrop, Paul R. The United Nations and genocide:
Prevention, intervention, and prosecution. Human Rights Review
July–September 2004, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp 8-31
The writers note that the United Nations, until recently, has not come
close to fulfilling its mandate, which is articulated or spelt out in
the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of
Genocide. In fact, it has rarely implemented Chapter VII of the United
Nations Charter so as to physically intervene in order to stop conflicts
or counter the threats to peace. Totten and Bartrop opine that the
United Nations has mainly focused on balancing the interests of the
great powers that control it.
Gold, Dore. Tower of Babble: How the United Nations Has Fueled Global
Chaos. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2005. Print
Gold, in this book criticizes the United Nations for its moral
relativism. He examines why the United Nations has not been intervening
and blames the major powers who he says hold the organization captive.
He accuses the council of addressing only the political motives and
strategic interests of its five permanent members more so during
humanitarian interventions. He notes, for instance, that the council
protected the Kuwaitis due to their oil, while giving poor protection to
the resource-poor Rwandans during the 1994 genocide.
Ludlow, D.R.L Humanitarian Intervention and the Rwandan Genocide.
Journal of conflict Studies. Volume XIX, No. 1 Spring 1999. Print
Ludlow also examines the capacity of the United Nations to intervene or
prevent genocide with his main focus being the Rwandan genocide of 1994.
He states that the intervention of the United Nations was inadequate and
restricted to humanitarian intervention. This resource also chronicles
the events of the genocide, outlining the efforts that the UN made
before, during and after the genocide and bringing to the fore the
failing of the institution.
Kentish, Lucy. ‘Genocide Prevention in the Modern Setting: Theory
versus Practice’. Internet Journal of Criminology, 2011. Print
Kentish examines the various genocides that have occurred in the
contemporary world, not to mention the role that the United Nations has
played in preventing their occurrence or even halting them. The journal
outlines the reasons and the occurrence of genocides in Serbia and
Rwanda among other countries. It outlines the failings of the United
Nations during the Rwandan genocide examining their basis or reason.
Merkel, Bernard-Alexandre. The Rwandan Genocide: The Guilty Bystanders.
E-international relations, 2010. Retrieved 23rd January 2013 from
HYPERLINK
“http://www.e-ir.info/2010/01/14/the-rwandan-genocide-the-guilty-bystand
ers/”
http://www.e-ir.info/2010/01/14/the-rwandan-genocide-the-guilty-bystande
rs/
This resource examines the inability of the United Nations to intervene
in case of genocides through the lens of Rwandan genocide. He examines
why the nature of the United Nations hinders it from fulfilling its
mandate. While the institution may be credited with reducing wars
between nations, it is unable to reduce civil wars or even genocides
mainly because these are internal wars.
Farrell, Michael L. The Genocide in Rwanda and the Structural
Limitations of the Secular Human Rights Movement. Social Justice Review
VOL. 100, No. 11-12 November-December, 2009. Print
The author does acknowledge that the United Nations and the entire
international community are incapable of intervening or preventing
genocides. The author christens the United Nations as an agency or the
powerful nations, in which case it is entangled in doing their bidding.
The author brings to the fore the power relations that affect the
ability of the institution to execute its duties, as well as its
manpower limitations.
Krain, Mathew. Atrocity Interrupted: How Intervention Mandate, Magnitude
and Mission Sponsor Affect the Severity of Genocide or Politicide.
International Studies Association, San Diego, California, 2006. Print
Krain acknowledges that the United Nations occupies an advantaged
position that states do not have as far as intervention in genocides is
concerned. He examines why the United Nations is better placed to
intervene than states, as well as the limitations that it faces in
executing such duties. He cites administrative limitations, lack of
financial assistance, bureaucratic politics and the different interests
of countries among others as the key reasons. He notes that the United
Nations is still a captive of its member states especially powerful
countries whose bidding it tries to balance (6).
Dorn, A. Walter and Matloff, Jonathan. Preventing the Bloodbath: Could
the UN have Predicted and Prevented the Rwandan Genocide? The Journal of
Conflict Studies. Volume XX, No. 1 Spring 2000
This resource examines the capability of the United Nations to stop
genocide with specific focus on the Rwandan case. It chronicles the
occurrence of the Rwandan genocide, as well as how the UN peacekeepers
handled it. It also examines incorporates some information on the
aftermath of the Rwandan genocide especially the Carnegie Report.
Works cited
Andreopoulos, George J. Genocide: Conceptual and Historical Dimensions.
Philadelphia, Pa: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1997. Print.
Totten, Samuel and Bartrop, Paul R. The United Nations and genocide:
Prevention, intervention, and prosecution. Human Rights Review
July–September 2004, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp 8-31
Gold, Dore. Tower of Babble: How the United Nations Has Fueled Global
Chaos. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2005. Print
Ludlow, D.R.L Humanitarian Intervention and the Rwandan Genocide.
Journal of conflict Studies. Volume XIX, No. 1 Spring 1999. Print
Kentish, Lucy. ‘Genocide Prevention in the Modern Setting: Theory
versus Practice’. Internet Journal of Criminology, 2011. Print
Merkel, Bernard-Alexandre. The Rwandan Genocide: The Guilty Bystanders.
E-international relations, 2010. Retrieved 23rd January 2013 from
HYPERLINK
“http://www.e-ir.info/2010/01/14/the-rwandan-genocide-the-guilty-bystand
ers/”
http://www.e-ir.info/2010/01/14/the-rwandan-genocide-the-guilty-bystande
rs/
Farrell, Michael L. The Genocide in Rwanda and the Structural
Limitations of the Secular Human Rights Movement. Social Justice Review
VOL. 100, No. 11-12 November-December, 2009. Print
Dorn, A. Walter and Matloff, Jonathan. Preventing the Bloodbath: Could
the UN have Predicted and Prevented the Rwandan Genocide? The Journal of
Conflict Studies. Volume XX, No. 1 Spring 2000
Krain, Mathew. Atrocity Interrupted: How Intervention Mandate, Magnitude
and Mission Sponsor Affect the Severity of Genocide or Politicide.
International Studies Association, San Diego, California, 2006. Print
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