The U.S. ambassador to the U.N. told an audience in Rwanda on Wednesday that the U.S. had feared a killing spree in Libya was about to happen earlier this year along the lines of Rwanda's 1994 genocide.
President Barack Obama was determined not to watch "another predictable horror unfold," Ambassador Susan Rice said. She spoke in Rwanda after visiting Libya on Tuesday, where she visited the site of a mass grave near Libya's capital.
There were "strong echoes of 1994" when then-Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi said his forces would kill rebel supporters in Benghazi like "rats," she said. Allowing that to happen would be like giving license to dictators to kill the Arab Spring, she added.
Instead, the U.N. Security Council approved a mandate to protect civilians in Libya.
"This time, the Security Council acted. And acted in time. Having failed in Rwanda and Darfur, it did not fail again in Libya. Within less than two days, American firepower played a decisive role in stopping Gadhafi's forces and saving Benghazi," Rice said, according to prepared remarks to be delivered at the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology.
"Because we acted, countless men, women and children were spared. Because we acted, the Libyan people had the time and space to end the Gadhafi regime and chart a new beginning. Because we acted, the international community gave meaning to the promises that have been made so many times on Rwandan soil _ that we will not stand idly by when we have the capability to stop an atrocity," Rice said.
Rebel forces closed in on Gadhafi and killed him in October after months of upheaval in Libya, including bombing runs by U.S. and NATO fighter jets.
More than 500,000 Rwandans were slaughtered in that country's 1994 genocide, deaths that have haunted the world's conscience because of the lack of international will to intervene.
President Paul Kagame has won worldwide praise for keeping the peace in Rwanda since the genocide, which mostly killed ethnic Tutsis but also moderate Hutus. The country has seen strong economic development, but rights groups say that Kagame holds a strong and sometimes brutal grasp in the country, and silences political opposition and freedom of expression.
Rice cited the Responsibility to Protect, a doctrine that compels the international community to protect civilians in other countries when their own government fails to do so. Rice noted that Kagame is a strong backer of the doctrine and had urged action in Libya, the only African leader whose country is not on the Security Council to do so.
"Rwanda has not just moved beyond its own genocide, it has consistently led by example, from Darfur to Libya, in standing up against those who would commit genocide or mass atrocities," Rice said.
Rice also slapped Kagame on the wrist, saying that his country's political culture is being stifled, that freedom of the press is minimal and that activists, journalists, political opponents don't have the ability to organize peacefully.
"Some have simply disappeared," she said, referring to highly suspicious deaths of political opponents.
Rice said that the demand to be heard has spread across North Africa and the Middle East, and that freedom of expression and assembly are vital rights in Africa as well. She said Rwanda's next development challenge was to deepen the country's democracy.
"As President Kagame said, 'The uprising in Libya has already sent a message to leaders in Africa and beyond. It is that if we lose touch with our people, if we do not serve them as they deserve and address their needs, there will be consequences. Their grievances will accumulate - and no matter how much time passes, they can turn against you,' Rice quoted Kagame as saying.