- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 21, 2004

‘Feel-good’ genocide

For a surrealistically “feel-good” version of the Rwandan genocide, check out the new Don Cheadle movie “Hotel Rwanda,” opening around the country on Dec. 22.

Mr. Cheadle plays the Schindler-like Paul Rusesabagina, the Hutu manager of a four-star Kigali hotel who reluctantly uses his connections to shelter more than a thousand Tutsis from the madness beyond its walls.

The movie is a classic tale of siege, told from the perspective of the hotel’s occupants. Outside the walls are screams, bonfires and bullets. Inside, there is an uneasy calm as crowds of refugees sleep in the hallways, make do with little and eventually cook their food using swimming-pool water that European guests had swum in.

The United Nations, of course, was in Rwanda in March and April 1994, when Radio Mille Collines stepped up its broadcasting of hate messages. A small number of peacekeepers remained throughout as witnesses.

A wizened Nick Nolte represents the doomed U.N. observer mission as “Col. Oliver,” a character obviously based on Gen. Romeo Dallaire of Canada, who sought international reinforcements to prevent the looming bloodbath. Badly outnumbered and ordered not to shoot, his U.N. soldiers were withdrawn instead.

The film, a South African production written and directed by Terry George, accurately presents complex history. It wasn’t “the U.N.” that refused to act in Rwanda, but a couple of Security Council members that vetoed an expansion of the mission. When a frustrated and angry “Col. Olivier” tells the hotel manager that, in fact, there will be no reinforcements, he shouts: “You’re Africans” — i.e., not important enough for the world powers to save.

The movie is restrained in its depiction of the bloodshed outside the walls. But there is the metallic scrape of a machete being dragged along the pavement, the undisciplined young men in camouflage and the glimpse of a massacre on a television monitor. One scene that slowly reveals the scope of the killing is a masterpiece of horror.

Several people in the preview audience, who had read the books on Rwanda, listened to testimony at the U.N. war-crimes tribunal or remember the infighting at the United Nations in the weeks before the genocide began, wondered whether the filmmakers didn’t pull too many punches in trying to make the movie watchable, or even uplifting.

“I hope you will take away a feeling of hope, even from this massacre,” said former U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Wendy Chamberlin, who is now the U.N. deputy high commissioner for refugees, while introducing the film.

The refugee agency sponsored a screening last weekend, attended by Mr. Cheadle and his co-stars, other celebrities and dozens of U.N. staffers — but not U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who was head of peacekeeping during the Rwandan massacre.

“We came off as well as could be hoped,” said one U.N. official who worked in peacekeeping during the genocide.

U.N. sex abusers

Speaking of Africa, U.N. peacekeeping is disgracing itself again — this time in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Mr. Annan acknowledged last week that troops and civilians employed by U.N. mission in Congo have been sexually abusing and exploiting women and girls in the northeastern region of Bunia.

“I am afraid there is clear evidence that acts of gross misconduct have taken place. This is a shameful thing for the United Nations to have to say, and I am absolutely outraged by it,” Mr. Annan said Friday in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where he attended a conference on Africa’s Great Lakes region. “We must make sure that those involved are held fully accountable,” he said.

Many of the accusations came to light last spring and were confirmed by U.N. officials and inspectors with the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services.

The abuses in Bunia come after similar transgressions in Sierra Leone and Guinea, where peacekeepers and aid workers withheld food and even access to refugee camps in exchange for sexual favors.

E-mail Betsy Pisik at [email protected]

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