Looking back, 1994 marked a cusp in international understandings of humanitarian crisis. Of course the lack of an international response is understandable: Western foreign policy was still in the cold war era, when you supported 'our" dictators to keep the Soviets out. French policy in Rwanda was little different from that of the US in Zaire, and the British in Uganda. The moment when geopolitics were replaced by humanitarian intervention as the modus operandi for international relations was undoubtedly April 6, 1994 - when it became no longer acceptable to support a dictator because he was on 'our side'. I rang up the Foreign Office on April 6 (we had an office in Kigali and were receiving alarming reports about killings) and was told "its a Belgian problem". How times change.
Since 1994, what used to be called "the developing world" has grown immeasurably in strategic importance. Yet, interestingly, we are in a similar moment now. Some argue that the humanitarian impulse was corrupted, and ultimately destroyed in Iraq and Afghanistan (by everyone - humanitarian agencies and western governments). The recent less robust responses to real humanitarian crisis in Somalia and Syria perhaps demonstrate this. We have tended to conflate crisis of government with crisis of people. Iraq, Afghanistan and the global financial crisis have also dampened the zeal of interventionists. There is perhaps more realism now - the hubris of nation-building is less apparent. But also the possibility that the international community will standby when genocide occurs becomes more likely. Both Cold War thinking and the legacy of the doomed Somalia experiment of 1992 hindered action to prevent genocide in 1994. Have we also consigned the victims of the Syrian crisis, and maybe the next genocide, to a half-hearted international response?