Anne-Marie Slaughter is a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University. She was director of policy planning at the State Department from 2009 to 2011.
The Rwanda genocide began in April 1994; within a few weeks, nongovernmental organizations there were estimating that 100,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus had been massacred. Yet two months later, Reuters correspondent Alan Elsner and State Department spokeswoman Christine Shelly had an infamous exchange:
Elsner: “How would you describe the events taking place in Rwanda?”
Shelly: “Based on the evidence we have seen from observations on the ground, we have every reason to believe that acts of genocide have occurred in Rwanda.”
Elsner: “What’s the difference between ‘acts of genocide’ and ‘genocide’?”
Shelly: “Well, I think the — as you know, there’s a legal definition of this. . . . Clearly not all of the killings that have taken place in Rwanda are killings to which you might apply that label. . . . But as to the distinctions between the words, we’re trying to call what we have so far as best as we can; and based, again, on the evidence, we have every reason to believe that acts of genocide have occurred.”