The UK's Response to the Rwandan Genocide of 1994

Dean White

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Former Prime Minister Tony Blair described the UK’s response to the Rwandan genocide as “We knew. We failed to act. We were responsible”; this thesis sets out to explore these three claims. The thesis, which draws on newspaper archives, oral history interviews and government documents obtained by the author under the Freedom of Information Act, as well as British and US official documents already made public, begins by exploring Britain’s knowledge and understanding of events in Rwanda in the build-up to, and during the first few weeks of, the genocide. It then moves on to review how the government responded and, by drawing on various theories of bystander intervention, to build up a multi-factor assessment of what influenced that response. The thesis finishes by addressing the question whether the British government, or indeed any other British foreign policy actor, bears responsibility for the crisis. It therefore looks at the Rwandan crisis from the perspective of various influences on foreign policy: the media, public opinion, Parliament and NGOs, as well as exploring the response of John Major’s government. The thesis concludes that media coverage of the genocide led to a significant misunderstanding of the crisis; this misunderstanding influenced the public response and shaped discussion within Parliament and government. In terms of official response, whilst it has to be acknowledged that the government initially failed to correctly identify the events in Rwanda as genocide and consequently delayed their response until the majority of killings had ended, the thesis shows that rather than failing to act the British government was in fact a leading aid donor to Rwanda and a leading provider of troops to the UN peacekeeping mission serving in Rwanda. This aid did come too late to prevent or halt the genocide, but did save many thousands of lives in the immediate aftermath.
Original languageEnglish
  • Ellis, Sylvia, Supervisor
  • Baillie Smith, Matt, Supervisor
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2012


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