Amid the holocaust of internecine tribal fighting in Rwanda that sees the savage butchering of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children, one ordinary man (Oscar nominee Don Cheadle) musters the courage to save more than 1,000 helpless refugees by sheltering them in the hotel he manages. Sophie Okonedo, Nick Nolte and Joaquin Phoenix co-star in this powerful film (sort of an African version of Schindler’s List) directed by Terry George.
Despite the fact that it’s about genocide, it wasn’t excessively gory. I was worried there was going to be a lot of blood and gore (and almost didn’t watch it), but there was not and I’m glad that I saw it. One of the special features on the dvd said in order to appeal to a broader audience, they chose to focus more on the story involving this family’s struggle and the love between Cheadle’s character and his wife, rather than the gore of the gruesome atrocities being committed against the Rwandans.
I was amazed to discover that nearly 1 million people died in 1994 when the majority tribe in Rwanda, the Hutu, attacked and slaughtered anyone of Tutsi, the minority tribe, decent and the Hutus who tried to protect Tutsis (like Paul Rusesabagina – Cheadle’s character – who’s wife and children were Tutsi).
I was appalled to learn that the United States did not intervene. This was just 11 years ago! 11 years! Not 50 years! Why was this allowed to happen? Why did no other country intervene? Hundreds of thousands of children, women and men were murdered with machetes and gunfire, while the rest of the world stood by doing nothing.
It was inspirational to see the way this ordinary man was able to use the hotel and his wits to save over 1,000 people from being murdered, but so sad that the situation got so bad and nobody stepped in to help him or others.
What’s sad is that I don’t even remember any mention of this. I was in my freshman year of college at the time so I was certainly at an age to know what was going on in the world around me. While I doubt I watched the nightly news, I still can’t believe I didn’t hear about it. One million people dead in a holocaust and none of my professors mentioned it?
I found an article on Unicef that discusses the lasting impact the genocide had on the Rwandan children. Thousands were orphaned.
“Ten years later, the children of Rwanda are still suffering the consequences of a conflict caused entirely by adults,” said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy. “For them, the genocide is not just a historical event but an inescapable part of daily life today and tomorrow.”
By the end of the genocide in 1994, 95,000 children had been orphaned.
“The children of Rwanda witnessed unspeakable violence,” Bellamy said. “Tens of thousands lost their mothers and fathers. Thousands were victims of horrific brutality and rape. Many were forced to commit atrocities. The impact of the tragedy simply cannot be overstated.”
Bellamy said the anniversary must be marked with renewed concern for those continuing to suffer from the genocide.
“We are all still accountable for supporting reconciliation and healing, and for ensuring that such atrocities never happen again,” Bellamy said. “‘Never again,’ means holding perpetrators accountable, and restoring dignity to the victims by commemorating or alleviating their suffering.”
Even more important, Bellamy said, is to meet this anniversary with a renewed commitment to ensure that the world never again allows such a catastrophe to go unchecked.
If you are interested in learning more about the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, I highly recommend you watch “Hotel Rwanda .”
Or read more here:
- How the genocide happened
- Preventing another genocide
- Living among the dead – A survivor’s story
“Never again.” I certainly hope not.