- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 3, 2005

While world leaders gathered at the barbed wire and crematoriums of Ausch-witz 60 years after the liberation of that Nazi death camp, Oscar nominee Don Cheadle gathered with members of Congress on Capitol Hill to try to stop an African genocide going on in the present.

In a crowded House hearing room, the star of “Hotel Rwanda” faced a firing squad of television cameras with Reps. Barbara Lee and Diane Watson, California Democrats, and Ed Royce, California Republican, and Jim McDermott, Washington Democrat, last week to talk about their recent fact-finding mission to Sudan’s strife-ridden Darfur region.

More than 70,000 innocent civilians are believed dead and more than 1.8 million forced from their homes in a lethal ethnic cleansing campaign by “janjaweed” militia backed by the Sudanese government.

The victims are ethnic Africans. The janjaweed and the Sudanese government are ethnic Arabs. Yet, the United Nations and others keep quibbling whether the barbarism constitutes genocide as the killing continues.

“Hotel Rwanda” relives a similar atrocity. Similar diplomatic foot-dragging, hairsplitting and finger-pointing in 1994 by the U.N., the Clinton administration and others allowed Rwanda’s ethnic Hutus to slaughter more than 800,000 ethnic Tutsis.

The movie shows that horror through the life of one man, Paul Rusesabagina, a real-life Hutu hotel manager and husband of a Tutsi (beautifully played by fellow Oscar nominee Sophie Okonedo). Inspired by love for his family, he uses his wits, many bribes and a lot of courage to help save 1,200 other people the rest of the world did not find important enough to rescue.

In one unforgettable scene, “Col. Oliver,” commander of the woefully undermanned U.N. force in Rwanda, powerfully played by Nick Nolte, explodes with rage when international forces arrive only to rescue the Europeans.

“You should spit in my face,” he rages at the patiently proper hotel manager, after a couple of shots of good booze. “You’re dirt. We think you’re dirt, Paul. … The West, all the superpowers … they think you’re dirt. They think you’re dung … You’re African.

Scenes like that, bloodless yet emotionally powerful, had me, my family and the rest of the audience departing our neighborhood theater asking more questions than anyone could ever answer. Such as, was Col. Oliver right? Are we in the rest of the world that indifferent to Africa?

Mr. Nolte’s character appears to be based on Gen. Romeo Dallaire, a Canadian embittered by his experience.

He told a PBS “Frontline” interviewer last year that the outside world cared less for human Rwandans than for the rare mountain gorillas of northwest Rwanda made famous by Dian Fossey in “Gorillas in the Mist.”

“People saw the film and said, ‘Wow, that’s terrible. What happened? Wish I had known,’ ” Mr. Cheadle told reporters. “Now you know.” And now we need to do something, he said, calling today’s “tsunamis of violence” in Sudan a “sad replay of Rwanda.”

Indeed, the same international quibbling over whether the term “genocide” applies to the Rwandan slaughter is vividly recounted in the movie and replayed this week.

A United Nations commission investigating violence in Darfur reported Monday it had found mass killings, forced displacement of civilians and other “criminal” atrocities, but refused to use the G-word to describe the situation.

As an infamous internal Clinton-era memo said, calling the Rwanda crisis “genocide” would obligate the United States and the United Nations to actually do something.

The Bush administration has called the Sudan situation genocide since September, but the African Union force of about 1,000 soldiers has been no more effective at stopping Darfur violence than the inadequate force the U.N. sent to Rwanda.

The Bush administration and the U.N. feud over where Sudan’s suspected war criminals should be tried. At the same time, Russia and China have blocked U.S. efforts to impose sanctions against Sudan’s government so they will order the janjaweed to back off. China’s thirst for its oil and Russia’s catering to its arms market have added more than a little to both countries’ willingness to play ball with the murderous regime in Sudan.

Former President Clinton has since apologized to Rwandans and the rest of the world for allowing so many people to be killed in just three months before acting to stop it. The Bush administration under Secretary of State Colin Powell has tried to take more decisive action. Yet the killing continues.

As Mr. Cheadle said, now we know. What will we do about it?

Clarence Page is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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