The =?UNKNOWN?Q?UN=B4s?= genocide watchdog

Radio Netherlands Wereldomroep
July 13 2004

The UN´s genocide watchdog
By our Internet Desk, 13 July 2004

Juan Mendez – the new advisor on genocide to UN Secretary-General
Kofi Annan

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, has
announced the appointment of the first special UN advisor on the
prevention of genocide. The man chosen for the job is Juan Mendez
(59), an Argentinian human rights lawyer and one-time political
prisoner under the military regime that ruled his native country in
the 1970s.

With the failure in mind of the United Nations and the international
community as a whole to tackle the genocide in Rwanda in the 1990s,
the creation of this special position at the world body appears to be
a positive move towards preventing such humanitarian disasters from
occurring on the same scale in the future. But how much influence
will the new advisor have at the United Nations, and will he really
be able to get things moving before the threat of genocide becomes a

In the following interview, Radio Netherlands speaks to Roberta
Cohen, an analyst with the Brookings Institute in the United States,
and asks her about the significance of the newly created post, and Mr
Mendez’s ability to act to thwart potential genocide.

“In think it’s very important that there was such an appointment. The
UN failed very, very dramatically – and everybody recognises that –
in responding to the genocide that took place in Rwanda. And everyone
has said “never again”, that the international community has to have
some sort of response when situations like that occur. And you see
that, right now, happening in Darfur in the Sudan, where acts of
genocide are taking place, and again the Security Council has been
very weak in its response.”

Juan Mendez is president of the International Centre for Transitional
Justice; a body which furnishes legal assistance to nations emerging
from conflict.

In the 1970s he spent two periods in jail as a political prisoner of
Argentina’s then military regime, and was subjected to torture.
During this period, Amnesty International made him one of its
“Prisoners of Conscience”; putting pressure on the authorities in
Buenos Aires to set him free.

Finally released in 1977, he went into exile, where he continued his
human rights activities. He later headed the Latin America division
of the Human Rights Watch organisation, going on later to become its
general counsel. He has also worked for other NGOs as well as
teaching law, concentrating on the human rights aspect of this field.

RN: “Is this just a spokesperson or is this somebody who could say to
the Security Council that intervention is now needed to prevent

“I don’t think the person could […] require the Security Council to
act, but certainly the person – through the Secretary-General – could
propose that the Security Council act in a certain way, or if actual
troops or military action were needed, could then call for troops and
funds in order to do this. But hopefully a strong Security Council
resolution, sanctions, international political pressure, would be
sufficient, and this person could certainly put pressure – via the
Secretary-General – on the Security Council to act.”

RN: “This is something which, after the Rwanda genocide, Kofi Annan,
the Secretary-General of the United Nations, was very, very serious
about it not happening again. But, as you say, as we see in Darfur,
it is happening again.”

Genocide in history: the bodies of murdered Armenians, killed in the
period 1915-1918. The systematic slaughter of Armenians under
Turkey´s then Ottoman rulers is still not recognised by all sides as
an event of genocide.

“It is happening again, and you again see the international community
now desires to do something. The humanitarian part of the UN is very
much in gear, there is pressure on the Sudan, but you find that the
Sudanese have been able to resist and that governments in the
Security Council have not wanted to take strong measures. So, I would
like to see what will happen with the appointment of Juan Mendez, and
whether there will be more pressure on the Security Council to enact
sanctions, not only against the militias in the Sudan – the Janjaweed
– but against the Sudanese government.”

RN: “We’ve heard from Mr Annan that he plans to draw up a plan of
action to prevent genocide in the future. Is this something that can
be written down on paper given that there is so much political
manoeuvring involved in this?”

“You are right, I don’t think that you can just put this down on
paper. But I think there are quite a number of societies where one
can find indicators […] of potential killings and genocide in such a
society because there isn’t sufficient protection for a particular
racial or minority group because the political situation is
developing in such a way that one can almost sense that a group is in
particular danger. Usually situations unravel, and once they unravel
and there are suddenly tens of thousands of killings then everyone

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