Response Paper on The UN Security Council, Indifferences, and Genocide in Rwanda by Michael N. Barnett

Michael N. Barnett’s the key argument in the article is the indifference of UN bureaucracy that is focused as responsible for the Security Council’s (SC) failure in Rwanda. Barnett’s realization from his Rwanda experience has been also echoed from the voice of Secretary-General Kofi Annan[i], “In Rwanda 1994, and at Srebrenica in 1995, we had peacekeeping troops on the ground at the very place and time where genocidal acts were being committed” (press release: 1). Barnett has sorted out Bureaucracy as responsible for the production of indifference within UN system; on the other hand Annan’s realization is the lack of will of UN. But it would be interesting to see that how indifference raised the lack of interest as well as concerned about the reputation of UN which in turn can be claimed as the reason for lack of will.
Barnett’s topic “The UN Security Council, Indifference, and Genocide in Rwanda” is very significant in the context of growing conflicts in the world. Especially the role of UN is important to deal with the conflicts and save the innocents and sufferers of arm conflict, war and genocide. What can make UN effective and useful organization is a growing concern. Barnett has dared enough to criticize what is wrong within UN. From the bitter experiences of Burundi, Bosnia, Srebrenica and Rwanda it is well proven that UN is an institution of normative, customary and legally binding documents that is unable to take action against genocide. Barnett has argued the bureaucratization within UN was responsible for the lack of response in Rwanda. His findings could be a logical guideline for reforming UN.
Barnett has adopted story telling approach to share his experiences about Genocide in Rwanda. The Author was appointed as the political officer at the U.S. mission to United Nations (UN) with the assignment to cover Rwanda. As a political officer, Barnett had to read and write cables on many issues. The author spent time extend the mandate of UN Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR) (page 551). UNMAIR was assigned to monitor the implementation of Arusha Accords to end the civil war between Tutsi-backed Rwandan Patriotic Forces (RPF) and the Hutu dominated Rwandan Government. According to the Author’s view the U.S. emphasized on notifying the Rwanda government for the establishment of transitional government.
The author has expressed his feeling of how had he become a bureaucrat by slowly adopting the norms, practices, words, languages and slang used by his colleagues. At the very beginning of his career in Rwanda the following questions about the bureaucracy popped in to his mind:
Who handled what issues?
Who had accessed to key decision makers?
Who are the counterparts at other missions to UN and other department in Washington?
What had transpired in the Security Council (SC)?
(page 554)
As a process of becoming a bureaucrat the author had started understanding the arguments, debate, culture and practices of bureaucracy that mark insiders from outsiders. The author came to know from the discussion with participants of peace keeping mission that the UN lives in “ivory tower”. The bureaucrats of UN live in the unreal world, which is straight far away from reality. The author realized during performing his duties as cable writer how the text of the cable should reflect the language of his superior boss. Barnett has experienced the difference of thoughts and beliefs between his colleagues in Washington and New York. Over the passage of time he learned how to respect and reflect U.S. national interest. Thus the author had successfully adopted the bureaucratic style to work at UN and started thinking in terms of “us” instead of “me” and “them” (page 557).
After the mysterious crash of Habyarimana’s plane on April 6, the fear of bloodshed fueled across the Rwanda where UNAMIR was not prepared to control the deteriorating situation. It was the beginning of Genocide and UNAMIR became helpless. Barnett has mentioned some factors for explaining the debate over Security Council’s (SC) decision to reduce the mandate and presence of UNAMIR. “…Boutros Boutros-Ghali’s office and DPKO gave an impression of distance and aloofness from the emerging tragedy” (page 558). Secretariat could not decide how to deal with the crisis moments and as a result of it the troops of UNAMIR was in trouble. Member states distrusted UN to provide with soldiers. The author has indicated the Boutros-Ghali’s indecisions. Death of Belgian peacekeepers, Belgian government’s indecision on the withdrawal of Belgian troops, and member countries unwillingness to contribute troops in the UNAMIR came out as the silence of SC, which in turn interpreted as disapproval to intervene in Rwanda. Finally the withdrawal of Belgian troops pulled out the backbone of UNAMIR. It is also exclaimed by Kofi Annan that while the UNAMIR deserved more troops, UN astonishingly withdrew. Annan says, “… the gravest mistakes were made by Member States, particularly in the way decisions were taken in the Security Council” (press release: 1).
Barnett has shown how SC was in trouble to ensure the peace keepers security and on the other hand SC was very much concerned about the reputation of UN. On April 21, SC was decided to withdraw the bulk of UNAMIR. SC failed to respond effectively with the UN Force Commander General Dallaire, which proved that UN lives in “ivory tower” where peace keepers were in the real world. Barnett has argued that SC reduced the UNAMIR rather than increasing intervention force when the massacres had been taken place in Rwanda. The inaction and frustration of UN experienced in Rwanda can be simply highlighted from Anna’s speech, “there can be no more important issue, no more binding obligation, than the prevention of genocide” (press release: 1).
Barnett has taken side of the U.S. in this paper to criticize UN’s plan of deploying 5,000 troops to Kigali as “….the troops had no real idea what they would do once they arrive” (page 560). The author has defended U.S. by saying that the media represented U.S. as the major obstacle for UN intervention but U.S. in his view, “…only blocked the adoption of a proposal that was designed to save the face for the Security Council…”. In my opinion, this could be considered as Barnett’s weakness in this paper that he carefully saved the face of U.S. and he hesitated to be critical about U.S. role to UN.
Barnett focused SC’s lack of interest at French intervention and SC feared that French would tie with Hutus but later on reluctantly approved. U.S. and other countries came up with humanitarian assistance and UNAMIR increased in number while “… 500,000 and 800,000 people had perished, and 2 million had become refugees” (page 561).
The author has made a pessimistic comment, “…UN could not be expected to intervene whenever danger and bloodshed occurred” (page 561). Barnett raised some vital questions, which he tried to analyze though out the paper. He was critical to UN’s role in Rwanda and had answered reasons behind the inaction of UN.

  • Why the needs of UN overrode the needs of those who were the targets of genocide?
  • Why neither Secretariat nor any member state petitioned the S.C. to assemble an intervention force?
  • Why most of the member states restrained UN from further involvement?
  • How did desire to protect UN’s reputation become a justification for not intervening?
    (page 561)

Barnett has identified bureaucratization of peacekeeping as the source of production of indifference that is responsible for the sufferings of peacekeepers as well as the failure of UN. Therefore, the author raised the questions that have doubt about UN’s ability to deal with genocide.
Why the Security Council agonized over its decision?
Why I and the others were adamant that the UN’s reputation was part of the moral calculus?
How the decision not to halt the genocide came to be understood and defined as ethical and moral?
(Page 562)
Barnett has analyzed Michael Herzfeld’s five observations to strengthen his concepts of relationship between peacekeeping and indifferences. Barnett has found that state bureaucracies create boundaries between people and itself; bureaucracy is marker between members and non members of the community and citizenship; bureaucracy applies rights on identity basis as race, religion, and gender etc.; bureaucrats have dual identity, as a member of particular national community they create boundaries between themselves and those outside the national state, as a member of bureaucracy they separate bureaucracy from society; bureaucrats pursue their own goals in such a fashion that it appears as if they follow societal or bureaucratic interest (page 562-563). The author pointed similar bureaucracy within UN that defines member and nonmembers of the community, applies rights on the members, and thus produces differences and indifferences. The author has applied Max Weber’s and Herzfeld’s theories to explain the indifference of UN bureaucracy and “persistence of evil in a divinely ordered world” (page 563). State sovereignty and non interference had been given importance over universal rights of people by the UN. Hence the comment of author has made it more significant, “Throughout the cold war, the UN favored the security of states over the security of peoples and individuals” (page 565).
UN over the passage of time especially at the post cold war era raised voice for human security that the UN should be concerned about the security of people and citizens beside states. The argument is here about whose security, state or citizens of the state. Peacekeepers responsibilities have been modified for not only to monitor a cease fire between states but to take part in the nation building process. Hence Barnett has identified the UN’s shift in policies from intervention to peacekeeping, “…as officials in and around the UN took greater care to protect the organization’s interest, reputation, and future” (page 569). Barnett has explained about the SC’s inaction to intervene in Burundi and Bosnia on the ground of neutrality and impartiality. The bureaucracy of UN is too much concerned about its failure and success. The author has criticized UN’s shift in policies during post cold war and pointed out why UN has slowly shifted its role. In authors opinion this shift is because UN bureaucracy fears from failing in case of intervention and scares from loosing reputation and future. Bureaucratization has limited UN’s capacity for the sake of its reputation by imposing conditions of where to act and where not to act. Annan’s comment on the fall of Srebrenica is relevant to support Barnett’s evidences about the inaction of UN, “…I dew attention to serious doctrinal and institutional failings within the United Nations…..‘pervasive ambivalence regarding the role of force in the pursuit of peace’…institutional ideology of impartiality even when confronted with attempted genocide” (press release: 2).
Barnett has argued that there is tension between international community comprised of sovereign states and international community comprised of individuals and people. Therefore, the members of the Security Council are not just representatives of their states but also representatives of international community. Member states had not interested to provide UN with their troops to strengthen UNAMIR at a risky intervention because Rwanda was out of the national interest of them as well as out of strategic consideration of permanent member states. Hence Barnett has answered the question he raised earlier, “why neither Secretariat nor any member state petitioned the S.C. to assemble an intervention force?”
Even though General Dallaire was optimistic to halt the genocide by limited military intervention but secretariat did not communicate UNAMIR’s recommendation to security council, which led us to rethink Annan’s comment, “…a lack of resources and a lack of will to take on the commitment which would have been necessary to prevent or to stop the genocide” (press release: 2). Barnett realized that the ‘experts’, an expert like himself, work in UN mission were concerned about UN and reluctant about Rwanda. This expertise is derived from the bureaucratic responsibilities that train up bureaucrats to be committed about their bureaucratic institution. Distance from the reality is another lacking of UN where officials were discussing in New York while the tragedy took place in Rwanda. The irony is that Rwanda’s member in the SC, who was a member of ruling coalition and was not expelled from SC, did not bridge the gap between Secretariat and the Rwanda to stop genocide (page 573). While the member states were unwilling to increase intervention force, UN was busy in constant sessions and producing flood of documents that results in no action where UNAMIR was witnessing the massacre in Rwanda. Annan truly feels the urge to reform UN when he says, “…I felt obliged to warn General Assembly of the dangers of inaction in the face of such massive violations” (press release: 3).
The strength of the Barnett’s paper is, he has clearly identified and analyzed the limitation of UN to deal with genocide. He has noticed that bureaucratization of peacekeeping has produced indifferences, which shapes UN as a secular cathedral where evils like genocide in Rwanda can persist along with UN’s inaction. Therefore, Barnett has come up with recommendation for professionalizing peace keeping without giving proper explanations and directories of how peace keeping can be professionalized. Major weakness of Barnett is that he has not given other strong recommendation for UN’s reformation even though he has proved UN’s inaction with respect to genocide that indicates UN requires a reformation. A few good ideas for reforming UN have been cited by Annan in his speech where he is suggesting, “…State parties to the Genocide convention should consider setting up a Committee on the prevention of genocide …..which would make recommendation for action…”, he also suggests, “…we should also consider establishing a Special Rapporteur on the prevention of genocide…” (press release: 3). Hence Annan has come up with some concrete suggestions. A new question may arise that how effective the Committee and Special Rapporteur could be to react against genocide. Are these Committees and Special Rapporteurs free from Barnett’s bureaucratic indifferences and sluggish process of action that is unable to response quickly against genocide?
In my opinion, another weakness of Barnett is that he has avoided being more critical on U.S. policies in Rwanda and UN’s dependency on U.S. policies. UN’s poverty of policies for the dependency on U.S. is strongly criticized by Richard Falk[ii] (2003) regarding the U.S. invasion in Iraq as he says, “…The UNSC responded timidly with its own opportunistic compromise in the form of 1441, seeking to preserve their relevance by imposing some conditions on the authorization to make war…”.
However, this is for sure from the criticism of Barnett and from the speech of Kofi Annan that UN must be upgraded with some reformation. I agree with Barnett because as long as the bureaucratization of peacekeeping is not eradicated, UN would not be able to protect the victims of genocide and unfortunately world has to watch the catastrophe of arm conflicts. If the evil like genocide persists within the human civilization and UN fails to stop it, UN will loose its reputation that it fears from to loose for its inaction. Annan’s optimistic comment is ended with a doubtful question as he says, “…as an international community we have a clear obligation to prevent genocide….the question is, do we have will?” (press release 4). Quite similar frustration echoed from Barnett (page 577), “…UN, as an international community’s secular cathedral…”, where the evil persists.

End Notes:
[i] Secretary-General tells Stockholm International Forum (26/01/2004), ‘Genocide is threat to peace requiring strong, united action’, Press Release SG/SM/9126
[ii] Richard Falk (March 19, 2003), ‘Challenging the United Nations’,, accessed on February 7, 2004.


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