Similarities and Differences of Atrocities in Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda

Speaker: Louise Arbour, International Crisis Group. Former UN Chief Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda.


I was the prosecutor for the War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. You would be hard-pressed to think of two models that are more extremely different in their culture, history, and so on. Yet both of them, within the span of a few years, led to terrible atrocities being perpetrated.

I'm often asked, "Do you see any commonality? Do you see any themes between the two?"

There are some. I can't tell you whether historians and others who will look with some distance to these two conflicts will see the same things I saw, which is a lot of pathologies.

First of all, the pathology of identity and the search for belonging, which is normally a very healthy human aspiration. We search for our personal identity and our belonging to the immediate family, the clan. This is how we determine the scope of our language, cultural, and religious affiliations, and define ourselves.

In the case of the region of Rwanda (including Burundi and the Great Lakes) to some extent these factors are still there. The pathology of identity there has turned into the desire to exclude and ultimately, in its most extreme form, to genocide and to the actual elimination of the other, as a form of affirming identity.

In the two cases also, there were pathologies of the principle of obedience, loyalties to leaders, fed by, in the case of the former Yugoslavia, communist ideology. Possibly, in the case of Rwanda it was religious colonial teachings that overplayed obedience as a virtue, where people surrendered their own moral judgment.

There are just so many factors, I couldn't begin to do justice to it. But these were very striking to me in these cases. The surrender of personal moral judgment is a huge factor in mass slaughter. In both cases also there was extremely bad leadership. This would be putting it mildly.

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