Sunday, July 24, 2005

Shake hands with the Devil: the jouney of Romeo Dallaire

This film a counterpart to Hotel Rwanda.
I don’t think they teach "how to deal with political masters" at general school. Which might explain why some of the most successful generals were their own political masters. It also may explain why a general whose political masters are a committee of 190+ squabbling countries is likely to fail.
This documentary is the story of Canadian Major General Romeo Dallaire the UN Force Commander in Rwanda during the genocide. He was sent to Rwanda to oversee a peace agreement between the Hutu dominated government (armed and encouraged by France) and the Tutsi rebel forces (the RPF armed and trained by the US). He finds that half the government want peace and half want to continue the war, he finds the Interahamwe (Hutu militia) being trained by the extremists in the government and incited to genocide by the propaganda on the radio, he finds his warning to the UN in New York are ignored. The moderate Rwandan president is assassinated, the moderate ministers and their families are rounded up by the Rwandan army and disappear, the genocide starts. General Dallaire wants to take the initiative to take out the extremist leadership before things get totally out of hand, but is ordered not too. He finds his Belgian soldiers are being targeted by the Hutu, not only because they are the best but because when Belgium was the colonial power in Rwanda they favoured the Tutsi (because of this sort of problem it is not usual UN practise to include a former colonial power in a peace keeping mission). Forced to defend only, General Dallaire finds his force is too small and apart from his Belgian troops not trained well enough for the situation. He is short of food and without medical supplies. Even later he thinks that with more troops he can get control and more troops arrive (2500 of them) but these are not under his command and only stay long enough to extract white people from Rwanda. The Belgians withdraw their troops after 10 are killed.
While the UN did nothing and the US wondered if they could use the word ‘genocide’ 8000 people are killed every day for 100 days, almost certainly the world’s most efficient genocide to date.
The film traces Dallaire’s trip back to Rwanda to give a speech on the 10th anniversary, a trip that allows him to show his wife where he was in 1994 and what happened in each place. It also discusses his alcohol abuse as a reaction to his time in Rwanda and his fight with the Belgian government which accuse him of letting their troops get killed while he regrets that his father fought to free Belgium from the Germans while Belgium troops guarded Belgian colonists exploiting Rwanda during WWII.
The title of the film (and book) refers to Dallaire’s reaction to shaking hands with Hutu extremists though he is clear that he doesn’t believe in the myth that blacks will always kill blacks and it is useless to try and stop them.
The only flaw in the film is that it doesn’t interview anyone from the UN peace keeping mission aside from Dallaire and one of his Canadian colleagues. It would have been interesting to hear the views of the Ghanan, Tunisian, Belgian and Bangladeshi soldiers.
The timing of this film allows one to compare the fuss over the 60th anniversary of the Holocaust and 10th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre this year with the 10th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide last year and 25th anniversary of the end of Cambodian genocide also last year. It is hard to look past the skin colour of the victims as the main factor in the way we remember and commemorate and react to these events. Romeo Dallaire forces us to ponder his question: "are all humans human, or are some more human than others?"
Ian's rating 4/5

No comments:

Post a Comment