Eyewitness to a Genocide
The United Nations and Rwanda
Cornell University Press 2016
This podcast marks the beginning of a new occasional series of podcasts about the genocide in Rwanda. In the next few months we’ll hear from Timothy Longman, Sara Brown, Erin Jessee and others.
We start with Michael Barnett. Barnett has recently published a new edition of his seminal text Eyewitness to a Genocide: The United Nations and Rwanda (Cornell University Press, 2016). Barnett was a member of the US mission to the UN (on leave from his academic career for a year) and thus a first hand observer of the UN during the genocide. His book is a careful survey of the forces that led to UN inaction in the spring and early summer of 1994. It is simultaneously a history, an analysis of institutional culture, and a disquisition on moral responsibility. Its position in the literature on Rwanda was well-earned from the moment it was first published.
In this new edition, Barnett adds an afterward exploring how what we’ve learned since 2002 has reshaped what we know about and how we evaluate the actions and decisions of policy makers. Here he sharpens his critique of the UN Secretariat, evaluates the historiography of the genocide, and lays out future areas of research.
Barnett is simultaneously funny, thoughtful and introspective. We mostly talk about issues emerging from his books. But we also get into a broader discussion of the impact of Rwanda on his life and of how he experienced working in the UN when it was faced with such weighty decisions.