~ Desmond TutuAs the above quote highlights, issues of justice can be tricky, particularly on a global scale. While Tutu may highlight the idea that justice always lies on the side of the oppressed, from a philosophical point of view it is not so easy. When one considers the debate between various philosophical views, such as utilitarianism, social contract, and divine command, the just course of action may not be so clear. This is the debate that arose in the wake of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, an atrocity that the global community and international leaders did nothing to prevent or intervene in. As one source states, “Whenever such tragedies occurred the world kept silent and acted as though it did not understand that there was a grave problem of the violation of human rights” (Maogoto 193). This is why the Rwandan genocide has philosophical importance: it brings up the philosophical question of justice, particularly in terms of what global justice looks like in the modern world.
Until the past half century, the question of justice has largely been discussed within the realm of the nation state. However, “the study of justice has been concerned with what we owe one another, what obligations we might have to treat each other fairly in a rnage of domains,” and in the past twenty years, the question “has seen a marked extension to the global sphere, with a huge expansion in the array of topics covered” (SEP n.p.). In other words, the question of justice is now how nation states should treat other nation states, and how people groups should treat other people groups. This expansion of the question of global justice may not be directly tied to the Rwandan genocide, but according to the account quoted above, the expansion of the philosophical debate over justice to include global considerations began just a year after the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Only then did foreign policy and international relations begin to have philosophical implications. As one academic writes in a critical analysis of the Rwandan genocide, “Western powers have found it wildly prosperous to impose their authority over weaker nations, leaving continents in the wake of their tyranny” (Manchester 1). In this way, the Rwandan genocide signaled a (largely beneficial) development in the way cases of international and humanitarian injustices were dealt with. However, the event did not decide the question once and for all.
Instead, many continue to question the role of the state, or even united organizations (such as the United Nations) to determine and dole out justice around the world. As another academic writes, in the immediate wake of the Rwandan genocide “the capacity of the international community to punish in a presumptively non-discriminatory and salubrious manner grew exponentially, with scant philosophical reflection or historical depth” (Maogoto 193). This is not so much a questioning of the injustice of the genocide itself, but rather a questioning of the justice of implementing policies like international tribunals and organizations like the United Nations as a means of acquiring justice in the world. Clearly, this is not an issue that has been resolved, in a philosophical sense or any other sense. However, the Rwandan genocide has philosophical importance (not to mention historical significance as one of the worst genocides since World War II) as it provides direct evidence of the fact that global justice is a debate worth having in the first place.