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Eyewitness to a Genocide: The United Nations and Rwandaby Michael Barnett
Synopses & Reviews
Why was the UN a bystander during the Rwandan genocide? Do its sins of omission leave it morally responsible for the hundreds of thousands of dead? Michael Barnett, who worked at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations from 1993 to 1994, covered Rwanda for much of the genocide. Based on his first-hand experiences, archival work, and interviews with many key participants, he reconstructs the history of the UN's involvement in Rwanda.
In the weeks leading up to the genocide, the author documents, the UN was increasingly aware or had good reason to suspect that Rwanda was a site of crimes against humanity. Yet it failed to act. Barnett argues that its indifference was driven not by incompetence or cynicism but rather by reasoned choices cradled by moral considerations. Employing a novel approach to ethics in practice and in relationship to international organizations, Barnett offers an unsettling possibility: the UN culture recast the ethical commitments of well-intentioned individuals, arresting any duty to aid at the outset of the genocide.
Barnett argues that the UN bears some moral responsibility for the genocide. Particularly disturbing is his observation that not only did the UN violate its moral responsibilities, but also that many in New York believed that they were "doing the right thing" as they did so. Barnett addresses the ways in which the Rwandan genocide raises a warning about this age of humanitarianism and concludes by asking whether it is possible to build moral institutions.
"This insightful, balanced book reveals an unsettling paradox: in making choices it deemed moral, the U.N. tolerated the ultimate immorality of genocide." Publishers Weekly
"A chilling work despite its pervasive academic jargon; recommended for all international affairs collections." Library Journal
"[T]his important, crucial analytical work tends to expose how the UN's decision-making bureaucracy, run by good people, can contribute to the evil and darkness of Rwanda." Booklist
"Michael Barnett offers a chilling explanation of why the UN froze while about 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu moderates were hacked to death in Rwanda in 1994. Mr. Barnett, a political officer in America's mission to the UN, blames an institutional culture which led the UN's well-intentioned staff to become entangled in conflicting interests and end up concluding that doing nothing was the proper way to proceed." The Economist
"This elegantly written book helps makes sense of the senseless: why the world, exemplified through the UN, stood by silently as hundreds of thousands of Rwandans were brutally murdered in the spring of 1994...[T]owering above all is Barnett's wedding of concise analysis, insider knowledge, ethical principles, moral outrage, the bureaucratic ethos in New York, misreadings of the situation on the ground, and a balanced attempt to assess blame. Highly recommended." Choice
"This is an unusual, thought-provoking and important book about the UN's response to the genocide in Rwanda. Barnett does not simply seek to document the monumental mistakes that were made and assign blame. He tries to explain those mistakes with reference to the structural characteristics of the UN, in particular the nature of the bureaucracy, and by recreating the universe of the Secretariat in terms of political constraint, moral concerns, and knowledge about Rwanda." Astri Suhrke, Chr. Michelsen Institute, Norway. International Affairs
"I strongly recommend this interesting account to anyone interested in Rwanda and, even more so, to anyone interested in the relationship between the UN Secretariat and the Security Council. The facts and analyses presented by Barnett are fresh and passionate. I enjoyed reading the book and learnt much from it." Judge Richard J. Goldstone, Journal of Human Rights
"[Barnett's] very thorough and very personal account of the events and the decisions of that period is the most comprehensive study to date on that disaster. As the Force Commander of that ill-fated missions, who lived and worked through that genocide and lives with its horrendous memories on a daily basis, I strongly endorse and recommend this major intellectual contribution to our understanding of one of humanity's greatest failures....To those who truly desire that we never again bear witness to genocide, Dr. Barnett's book is a keystone work in understanding how we can and must prevent genocide." Lt.-Gen. (Ret.) Roméo Dallaire, United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda
"Eyewitness to a Genocide is an extremely important work of ethical history. Barnett carefully documents the actions and inactions of the United Nations and presents a highly cogent explication of the moral universe that permitted a horrendous sin of omission on the part of the international community....Barnett's work is a must read for anyone concerned with the role that international institutions play in crafting a more peaceful world order."Virginia Quarterly Review
"In this short, troubling, and deeply thoughtful book, [Barnett] struggles with the reasons why the international community failed to stop the killing and with the moral implications of its inaction....[Eyewitness to a Genocide] brings conscience to bear on politics, not indulging in outrage or rushing to judgment, but rather seeking understanding — and forgiveness. One has the sense that this forgiveness will not breed tranquility, but rather renew determination to address the imperfections of this deeply troubled world." Robert H. Bates, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management
"This is a chilling story, thoughtfully recounted. About the only person who comes out of it with his reputation intact is General Romeo Dallaire, a Canadian, who headed up the pitifully undermanned and undersupplied UN peacekeeping force on the ground. The other players, with a few exceptions, were honorable people who, for reasons that seemed to them morally compelling at the time, were deeply complicit in unspeakable wickedness." First Things
"A serious book that belongs in every collection that focuses on the problems and prospects of UN peacekeeping....An excellent book. It is highly recommended for advanced undergraduates, graduate students, and professionals." Richard S. Rhone, Drew University, Perspectives on Political Science
"This particular book, which is intellectual but not overly-academic, constructs the excellent and sophisticated argument that the UN official excuses for their inaction over genocide in Rwanda can be seen as more or less equivalent to pleading 'diminished responsibility' in the court of international public opinion....This study will be of interest and value to the informed general public, as well as to scholars interested in genocide, international relations, the UN, the bureaucratic culture and the wider question of how vastly varying interpretations of facts can be constructed (something Barnett uses to good effect)." Helen Hintjens, Ethnic and Racial Studies
"Barnett's chronology of international turpitude is compellingly written with an eye for telling details gleaned from UN internal documents and his own interviews with key participants....Barnett ends his narrative, in which Dallaire figures as the tragic hero, with a call for an ethic of personal responsibility in the face of pressures for bureaucratic self-protection and political expediency." Jack Snyder, Columbia University, Political Science Quarterly.
Why was the UN a bystander during the Rwandan genocide? Do its sins of omission leave it morally responsible for the hundreds of thousands of dead? Michael Barnett, who worked at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations from 1993 to 1994, covered Rwanda for much of the genocide. Based on his firsthand experiences, archival work, and interviews with many key participants, he reconstructs the history of the UN's involvement in Rwanda.
About the Author
Michael Barnett is Harold Stassen Chair at the Hubert H. Humphrey School and Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Minnesota. His previous books include Confronting the Costs of War: Military Power, State, and Society in Egypt and Israel, and Dialogues in Arab Politics: Negotiations in Regional Order.
Table of Contents
INTRODUCTION: DEPRAVED INDIFFERENCE? 1
SELECTED CHRONOLOGY OF UNITED NATIONS? SECURITY AGENDA 189
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