We went to see the movie Hotel Rwanda over the weekend. This is the story of Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle in a wrenching, lyrical performance), the manager of the Hotel Des Mille Collines in Kigali, who provided shelter and protection in his hotel to over 1200 Tutsi refugees from the genocide in 1994. The movie tends to pull it punches as far as depicting the slaughter of 800,000 Tutsis at the hands of machete-wielding Hutu rioters, yet it depicts the courage that can come from unexpected places in the face of horrific circumstances.
This movie should be seen by everyone and shown in schools to remind the world what happened in Rwanda and how the world turned their back on the Tutsi. It is very important now because of the sectarian violence being perpetrated by Islamic jihadis in Iraq and what is happening in Darfur.
What is happening in Darfur? Well, if you ask the UN, which is supposed to be organized to stop this sort of thing, it's something, but definitely not genocide:
A UN report has said Sudan's government and its militia systematically abused civilians in Darfur - but it stopped short of calling the violence genocide.
It said those responsible should be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.
So far at least 70,000 people have been killed and two million forced to flee their homes. Some estimates, however put the number of people who have died of starvation at close to 400,000.
"The commission found that [Sudan's] government forces and militias conducted indiscriminate attacks," the report by the five-member commission said.
It said those included "killing of civilians, enforced disappearances, destruction of villages, rape and other forms of sexual violence, pillaging and forced displacement, throughout Darfur".
The parallel with Rwanda in the government's support of the Janjuweed, the Arab militia that is carrying out attacks and forcing black Africans out of their villages and putting them into what amounts to starvation camps. But no, it's not genocide. Why? it's all about intent:
The United States wanted the United Nations to call the violence in Darfur "genocide" and impose sanctions on Sudan, but a UN-appointed independent panel concluded on Monday the Sudanese government "has not pursued a policy of genocide" in war-ravaged Darfur.
In a 176-page report released Monday, the panel said the central government of Sudan did not have an intent of carrying out a genocide in Darfur, which is a key factor to establish a case of genocide.
"The crucial element of genocidal intent appears to be missing,at least as far as the central government authorities are concerned," the report explained.
"Generally speaking the policy of attacking, killing and forcibly displacing members of some tribes does not evince a specific intent to annihilate, in whole or in part, a group distinguished on racial, ethnic or religious grounds," it added.
"Rather, it would seem that those who planned and organized attacks on villages pursued the intent to drive the victims from their homes, primarily for purposes of counter-insurgency warfare."
While clearing Khartoum of accusations of genocide, the report said the government and the Janjaweed militias "are responsible for serious violations of international human rights law and humanitarian law amounting to crimes under international law."
But it's still not genocide? Why?
A finding of genocide would have carried a legal obligation to act.
That's right. Those who should be protecting the most vulnerable of this earth won't call this what it is because that means that the Nations of the UN would actually have to do something about it.
In Hotel Rwanda there is a scene in which some of the characters are listening to the radio for any news that there might be help coming. Instead, we hear a spokesperson calling the slaughter in Rwanda "acts of genocide," making it clear that she was instructed not to call it genocide. This is like calling murder and "act of murder" in order not to prosecute it.
Nick Nolte plays a UN general who is basically charged with watching the slaughter as he instructs his men, even when faced with being gunned down or hacked apart not to fire their weapons. At one point he says to a camera crew, "We're here as peacekeepers, not peacemakers."
For me, the most amazing, shameful scene is when western nations pressure the government to allow them to send in forces, not to protect the Tutsi and moderate Hutu seeking asylum, but to get out their nationals. Passports are checked and those who are foreign citizens are piled onto buses for a graded trip to the airport. In other words, all the white folk are rescued from the chaos while black Africans look on, knowing that it is just a matter of time before the world goes completely away and they are left to be slaughtered.
I am a staunch supporter of the war in Iraq. But I don't understand while our government is leaving the situation in Darfur to the UN. It can't be anymore another chance for the UN to show that it is viable in the face of disaster. We are spending billions in Iraq - rightly so - but a relatively small amount of money and effort would stop the genocide in Sudan with very little risk to our soldiers. If we turn our backs on the refugee of Darfur, we really have no moral standing to call upon.
I know that many will say that we can't solve all the world's problems. I agree. But when faced with such a glaring example of widespread murder and UN impotence, nations which promote themselves as harbors and promoters of freedom cannot look away. This shouldn't be hard. We must not abandon Darfur.
There are reports that the Sudanese government and the rebel Sudan Peoples' Liberation Army (SPLA) will engage in peace talks in Nigeria under the auspices of the African Union.
There are many who will argue that what is happening in Sudan now and what occurred in Rwanda is the problem of the nations and peoples involved and not the world's problems. This ignores that the legacy of European colonization, wherein European nations (in the Rwandan case, Belgium) set up policies that promoted racial bigotry and economic malaise and then, in a wave of supposed egalitarianism, left their former colonies to fend for themselves. What we are witnessing in Africa and the Middle East today is in part a direct result of botched European hegemony and residual western guilt.
If we in the west wish to have a future that is more secure and free, we must not ignore what is happening in parts of the world that have been left to fester and kept dependent on and in servitude to our economic prerogatives.
Now that the world has witnessed what the US and its allies are capable of doing in places like Iraq, it would be very good indeed to show what is possible when free nations engage in countries like Sudan.
The lesson of Hotel Rwanda needs to be one we all take and learn from and use to become active in spreading liberty and safety along with our exporting of democracy. Otherwise, we are exporting nothing but pipe dreams. We end up mocking those we intend to help and parodying our own values.