UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The diplomat who was president of the U.N. Security Council in April 1994 apologized Wednesday for the council's refusal to recognize that genocide was taking place in Rwanda and for doing nothing to halt the slaughter of more than one million people.
Former New Zealand ambassador Colin Keating issued the rare apology during a council meeting to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the genocide and examine what has been done since to prevent new genocides.
The open session elicited praise for the U.N.'s stepped-up commitment to put human rights at the center of its work but widespread criticism of its failure to prevent ongoing atrocities in Syria, Central African Republic and South Sudan.
The council unanimously adopted a resolution calling on all countries "to recommit to prevent and fight against genocide" and reaffirming their responsibility to protect people from crimes against humanity. It condemned any denial of the Rwanda genocide and underscored the importance of taking into account lessons learned from the slaughter of Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
Keating recalled that New Zealand, Nigeria, the Czech Republic and Spain, supported by Argentina and Djibouti, urged condemnation of the Rwanda genocide in April 1994, the month it started, and called for reinforcement of the U.N. mission in the country, but "most" veto-wielding permanent members objected. The United States and France were among those opposed.
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power acknowledged that the United States supported extracting U.N. troops rather than reinforcing them, which could have saved thousands of lives.
She cited lessons learned, including the establishment of a U.N. special adviser on the prevention of genocide, courts to prosecute alleged perpetrators, and U.N. efforts that helped end or deter violence in East Timor, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Libya, Kenya and Ivory Coast.
"Overall, however, it is both fair and profoundly unsatisfying to admit that our successes have been partial and the crimes against humanity that persist are devastating," Power said. "Too often, we have done too little, waited too long, or been caught unprepared by events that should not have surprised us. Moving forward, we have to do a better job of confronting and defeating the practitioners of hate."