The Futility of ‘Never Again’

While it may seem as though the international community has made notable progress in acknowledging and responding to human crises with an increasing international spotlight on Syria, this focus is all too often still quite limited in breadth. As reports from Aleppo and other decimated Syrian cities take center stage, the rapidly dissolving situation in South Sudan has largely fallen by the wayside, both at the discussion table and in regards to policy development. Last month the UNSC failed to vote on a resolution over South Sudan that sought to impose an arms embargo, even when UN reports provided extensive evidence of widespread killing and rape perpetrated by the South Sudanese army. Reports of rampant human rights violations and unabated sexual violence in Yei and Yambio point to untold misery faced by communities. This suffering has expanded into an additional crisis in Northern Uganda as refugees from South Sudan stream into the country. Numbers of families fleeing the conflict have steadily risen over the past year leading to aid organizations dealing with food shortages.

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UN Security Council

As frustrating as this failure to vote was, there is also the troubling reality that the UN and international community at large seem to be unable to deal with multiple atrocities unfolding concurrently in Sub-Saharan Africa. South Sudan, the youngest nation in the world, has had a difficult and strained stability since its independence in 2011. Even while the conversation is taking place that genocide may be unfolding (and mass atrocities are clearly taking place), the international community failed to take action. This column has previously argued that it sometimes seems as though the international community focuses more on pedantic discussions on how to label an atrocity, almost to the detriment of on-going suffering.

With the United States being in a point of political transition, as a new US Ambassador to the UN prepares to step into the role, the future course of the UNSC remains uncertain. The previous US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, came in with a solid background in humanitarian work. Despite her impressive resume prior to her ambassadorship, Amb. Power’s tenure was blighted by several unresolved conflicts, such as the failure of the arms embargo, as well as the crisis in Syria. The current nominee for the ambassadorship, Nikki Haley, comes to office with a shorter resume vis-a-vis human rights advocacy and does not bode well for the conflict in South Sudan. Never before has the futility of ‘Never Again’ been so evident as it appears to be in our current new reality, a reality in which the United States is actively seeking to be more inward looking than it has ever been in the years following the genocide in Rwanda. That in-and-of-itself is reason to worry.

Brooke Chambers is a PhD student in the University of Minnesota’s Sociology Department. She is broadly interested in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, bystander dynamics, and understandings of policy and transitional justice in response to genocide and mass atrocity.

Wahutu Siguru is a PhD candidate in the Sociology department at the University of Minnesota. Siguru’s research interests are in the Sociology of Media, Genocide, Mass Violence and Atrocities (specifically on issues of representation of conflicts in Africa such as Darfur and Rwanda), Collective Memory, and perhaps somewhat tangentially Democracy and Development in Africa.

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