Eyewitness to a Genocide: The United Nations and Rwanda

TitleEyewitness to a Genocide: The United Nations and Rwanda
Publication TypeBook
Year of Publication2002
AuthorsBarnett, Michael
Number of Pages215
PublisherCornell University Press
CityIthaca, NY

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? Based on the author's 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. In this volume, the author 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, the author 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. The author argues that the UN bears some moral responsibility for the genocide, and that not only did the UN violate its moral responsibilities, many in New York believed that they were "doing the right thing" as they did so. The author 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.

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