Monday, April 06, 2009

The Perils of Providing a Refuge Amidst Genocide

Paul Rusesabagina provides a model of courage for the entire world

15 years ago today Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana died when his plane was shot down just short of the landing strip at Kigali airport.

The incident sparked the beginning of the Rwandan genocide, in which at least 500,000 people -- mostly, but not limited to, Rwandan Tutsis -- were butchered in an onslaught of racialized hatred.

In 2004, on the 10th anniversary of the genocide, UNAMIR commander Lt General (ret) Romeo Dallaire marked the occasion by returning to Rwanda to meet with survivors of the genocide, and witness the reconciliation taking place in the country.

In the same year the atrocity was also commemorated in Hotel Rwanda.

Directed by Terry George, Hotel Rwanda told the true story of Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle), the manager of a hotel in Kigali who shelters Tutsis amidst the storm of carnage unfolding just outside the hotel gates.

Nick Nolte plays Colonel Oliver, a poor cariacture of Dallaire, who attempts haplessly to keep Rusesabagina and his charges safe from the Hutu militias and Interhamwe killing squads roaming throughout the country.

Rusesabagina places himself at great personal risk in sheltering these would-be victims. At times, Rusesabagina has to resort to bargaining with the militias. At other times, he must resort to blackmail. At the worst of times he must dodge mortar fire from outside of the hotel premises.

As a Hutu himself, Rusesabagina placed himself at extreme peril in the name of providing these individuals with sanctuary. As a Hutu sheltering Tutsis from harm, he often faces the prospect of being labelled a traitor by Hutu extremists.

The risks faced by Rusesabagina appear in their starkly perilous reality when weighed against the options of foreign nationals in the country, who had the option of leaving the country. The manager of Rusesabagina's hotel immediately leaves Rwanda as soon as the trouble begins, leaving him in charge. British journalist Jack Danglish (Joaquin Phoenix) braves the carnage to secure footage that will reveal the extent of the horror to the rest of the world. But even he returns home when given the opportunity.

As the 100-day conflict draws on Rusesabagina's luxurious hotel begins to take on the look of a war zone much more slowly than the rest of the city around it. Yet the daily chores of ensuring his charges' survival forces him to constantly look the spectre of genocide in the face, including when his driver strays down a street covered in dead Tutsis on the way back from a trip fetching supplies.

In Rwanda, the so-called developed world failed to put a stop to the killing. It wasn't due to any lack of courage on the part of our soldiers. General Dallaire served faithfully, admirably and courageously in the face of the carnage.

The western world's failure to intervene in Rwanda was due to the failure of moral courage of the leaders who could find no value in intervening in the conflict. The courage of men like Dallaire and Rusesabagina should shame them.

Particularly, the courage of Paul Rusesabagina. Dallaire's UNAMIR force was underequipped and poorly supplied but at least still had the benefit of their meagre arms to defend them.

Rusesabagina had no such luxury. Rusesabagina faced the perils of building a refuge amongst genocide and did so entirely unarmed and largely undefended.

Any leaders who may think that intervening in atrocities such as that continuing to unfold in the Sudan to be unimportant should remember Paul Rusesabagina and remember the example of courage he set.

And they remember the mantra repeated so often in the aftermath of genocide:

Never again.


  1. I've been a big admirer of Dallaire and Rusesabagina since I read about their actions in Rwanda.

    I saw the film a couple of years ago, and while the atrocities portrayed there made me sick to my stomach, Rusesabagina's efforts felt like a literal spark of light in that abyssmal pit of murder, rape, and hate.

    On a slightly OT note: You might want to check out Old Snake from Metal Gear Solid 4 - he bears a spitting resemblance to Dallaire.

    Don't worry - Snake's as badass as Mr. Dallaire XD

    In the face of atricities like those Dallaire had to face,

  2. Snake/Dallaire. That's an interesting comparison.

    If you found the footage in Hotel Rwanda sickening, they pale in comparison to much of the footage in Shake Hands With the Devil.


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