Why was the world so slow to react to the genocide in Rwanda? This book argues that the delay in providing humanitarian aid was a refusal on the part of the international community to recognise the singularity of the exceptional crime of genocide. The problem is in the definition of the term: "genocide" is now too easily applied to the tragedies of mass killings and has been reduced to little more than a media cliche. The author places the meaning of genocide under harsh scrutiny, examining its specificity, arguing that genocide must be reinstated as the most infamous of all crimes and the term severely limited to situations where it is clearly applicable under the terms of the UN Convention on Genocide. Failure to do so detracts from the gravity of the crime. Beginning with an analysis of the two genocides of the first half of the century: the Armenian slaughter by the Turks in 1915 and the industrial killing of Jews by the Nazis in World War II, the use of the term as applied to other mass killings this century - such as in Cambodia, Biafra, Somalia and Bosnia - is critically examined.
The extermination of the Tutsis in Rwanda as the first incontestable case of genocide since 1945 is covered in detail and the book concludes that a failure to grasp the reality of the situation in Rwanda undoubtedly explains the inconsequential reaction of the international community which should now insist on the establishment of an investigative tribunal.
Alain Destexhe is the former Secretary General of Medecins sans Frontieres ('Doctors Without Borders') and is a member of the Belgian Senate. He is the author of L'humanitaire impossible ou deux siecles d'ambiguites (Armand Colin, 1993). William Shawcross is the author of Sideshow : Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia