All Case Studies > Genocide of Rwandan Tutsis 1994
Constraints and dilemmas during the genocide of Rwandan Tutsis
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 for 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.
Numerous questions, conflicts and dilemmas arose:
- 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?