Kigali – The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said on Monday that the world body was still wracked by shame over its failure to act against the genocide in Rwanda 20 years ago.
"Many United Nations personnel and others showed remarkable bravery. But we could have done much more. We should have done much more. In Rwanda, troops were withdrawn when they were most needed," Ban said in a speech at commemorations marking the 20th anniversary of the genocide.
"One year later in Srebrenica, areas proclaimed 'safe' by the United Nations were filled with danger, and innocents were abandoned to slaughter," he added, saying: "The shame still clings, a generation after the events."
He said the genocide, during which at least 800 000 mainly ethnic Tutsis were killed in the space of 100 days as "one of the darkest chapters in human history".
"Today, Syria is in flames and the Central African Republic is in chaos. The world has yet to fully overcome its divisions, its indifference, its moral blind spots," he lamented.
But he said there was progress, in that governments "can no longer claim that atrocity crimes are only a domestic matter" and "leaders and warlords alike face the growing likelihood of prosecution for their crimes".
The UN was widely criticised in 1994 for only belatedly recognising that a genocide was in progress and therefore shirking its responsibility to intervene - despite repeated appeals from the UN peacekeeping contingent in Rwanda.
Ban said the UN had changed its way of operating as a result.
"I have sent my own signal to UN representatives around the world, My message to them is simply this: When you see people at risk of atrocity crimes, do not wait for instructions from afar. Speak up, even if it may offend. Act," he said.