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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: August 2019

Chapter 6 - (Mis-)identifying Warnings and the Problem of Hindsight Bias


Rwanda has become the paradigmatic case for a missed opportunity to prevent genocide and human suffering on the largest scale, and subsequent analyses of this case have shaped a significant part of the practical and academic thinking. The chapter contests the dominant argument that Rwanda was a straightforward case for heeding plenty, early and high-quality warnings. It argues that indications need to be distinguished from actual warnings and persuasiveness of warnings needs to be empirically studied rather than assumed. The analysis shows that most sources cited in the literature did not contain an actual warning and gave a more ambiguous picture than is claimed by proponents who argue that lack of political will, not warnings, was the problem. It is suggested that hindsight bias partly explains why the availability of warnings has been overestimated, whereas the diagnostic difficulties in this case were underestimated. Contrary to expectations, persuasive warning communication appears to be no less of a problem for preventive policy as the will and ability to respond. The findings suggest that renewed attention is needed to the challenge of making knowledge, relevance and action claims about impending mass atrocities that are clear and persuasive enough.