Hotel Rwanda, and our complicity in genocide

In 2005 I reviewed Terry George’s superb film ‘Hotel Rwanda’ for the Morning Star. It tells the story of Paul Rusesabagina, the manager of a hotel in the capital Kigali, during the Rwandan genocide. In hindsight, I think that a little background helps contextualise the importance of this film.

In 1994 a campaign of mass violence took place in Rwanda. It has been approximated that somewhere in the region of 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu were murdered in just over 100 days. Even at the time reports of mass-rapes, murders and torture were reaching the western press. But our representatives on the UN Security Council, the body set-up to protect humanity against such atrocities, demonstrated how the economic interests of the ruling classes outweighs the lives of the exploited class. I knew little about it at the time. It wasn’t until ten years later that I watched Terry George’s heartbreaking ‘Hotel Rwanda’ that I began to understand what had occurred while many of us were looking the other way.

In a more recent Democracy Now interview with Emily Willard of the National Security Archives, declassified Defense Intelligence Agency documents are discussed that clearly demonstrate that a decision was taken by the USG at the time, based on economic costs, legal concerns and anticipated efficacy to wait until the violence was over and send aid, rather than attempt to stop the radio broadcasts inciting the slaughter. And it doesn’t stop there. The Clinton administration’s refusal to refer to the mass ethnic slaughter as genocide, which coincidentally would have demanded UN action, preferred to talk about ‘acts of genocide’ which could be ignored by the UN, and therefore the permanent members of the Security Council.

In the same Democracy Now segment, Professor Scott Straus, argues that it wasn’t just the US government, but the governments of the UK, France and Belgium, alongside senior officials at the UN, who were all reluctant to stop the genocide and worked the UN Security Council specifically to that end. As Professor Straus goes on to explain, even after several decades, the extent of the French government’s role and/or awareness, before during and after the genocide, is still subject to much debate and speculation.

The one thing we can say for sure, is that the Rwandan Genocide, and the role of our ‘leaders’ in it, is one of the most shameful examples in recent memory of the inhumanity of our current political systems. Free market democracy stood by and watched as hundreds of thousands of people were tortured, raped and butchered. Thankfully the makers of ‘Hotel Rwanda’ left us a constant reminder of what can happen when we allow our ‘leaders’ to decide the value of a human life.

The review was published by the Morning Star. I believe it has now been consigned to their archives. However to read it in full or to download a text version of the article please click through to the page.