The ignorant bystander?

Britain and the Rwandan genocide of 1994

The book uses a case study of the British response to the Rwandan genocide of 1994 to understand what factors motivate the decision to intervene in humanitarian crises overseas; it is primarily a study of British politics, especially under Conservative Governments, rather than a study of the genocide itself. The book begins with a review of the general literature on humanitarian intervention and a brief description of the background to the genocide. It then moves on to focus on the British response; the research uses interviews with ministers and senior civil servants and documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act to explore and explain the Government’s response. It also explores in some depth the response of the British media, public, NGOs and Parliament and considers how these various actors influence government policy making. The research demonstrates that intervention only becomes likely when three factors are present: first there must be a realisation that a humanitarian crisis exists; secondly, to overcome bureaucratic inertia there must be support for intervention at the most senior levels of government; and there must be a belief that intervention will be successful. In the final chapter, the book then tests this conclusion by reviewing the British response to the contemporary crises in Libya and Syria.

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