Rwanda replay

February 04, 2005|By Clarence Page

WASHINGTON -- While world leaders gathered at the barbed wire and crematoriums of Auschwitz 60 years after the liberation of that Nazi death camp, Oscar nominee Don Cheadle gathered with members of Congress in Washington who are trying to stop a genocide that goes on today.

In a crowded House hearing room, the star of Hotel Rwanda and members of Congress talked about their recent fact-finding mission to the strife-ridden Darfur region of Sudan.

More than 70,000 innocent civilians are believed to have died and more than 1.8 million forced from their homes in a deadly ethnic cleansing campaign by the 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 quibble over whether the barbarism constitutes genocide.

The film Hotel Rwanda relives a similar atrocity. Similar diplomatic foot-dragging, hairsplitting and finger-pointing in 1994 by the United Nations, the Clinton administration and others allowed more than 800,000 ethnic Tutsis to be slaughtered by ethnic Hutus in Rwanda.

The movie relives that horror through the life of one man, Paul Rusesabagina, a real-life Hutu hotel manager and husband of a Tutsi. Inspired by his love for his family, he uses his wits, a lot of bribes and a lot of courage to help save 1,200 other people whom the rest of the world did not find important enough to rescue.

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

Mr. Nolte's character appears to be based on Gen. Romeo Dallaire, a Canadian left embittered by his experience. He told a PBS Frontline interviewer last year that the outside world cared less for human Rwandans than it does for the rare mountain gorillas of that country.

"People [who] saw the film [Hotel Rwanda] 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 "genocide" should be applied to the Rwanda slaughter is vividly recounted in the movie and replayed this week. A U.N. commission investigating violence in Darfur reported Monday that it had found mass killings, forced displacement of civilians and other "criminal" atrocities, but refused to use the G-word.

The Bush administration has been calling the Sudan situation genocide since September, but the African Union force of about 1,000 soldiers there has been no more effective than the small force the United Nations put into Rwanda in 1994.

The Bush administration and the United Nations are feuding over where Sudan officials should be tried. Russia and China have blocked U.S. efforts to impose punishing sanctions against Sudan's government so it will tell the Janjaweed to back off. China's thirst for Sudanese oil and Russia's catering to Sudan's arms market have more than a little to do with that.

Bill 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 taking action to stop it. The Bush administration, under Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, tried to take more decisive action. Yet the killing continues.

As Mr. Cheadle said, now we know. But what are we going to do about it?

Clarence Page is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Publishing newspaper. His column appears Tuesdays and Fridays in The Sun.

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