Monday, August 22, 2005

Thank you, Romeo

Last Tuesday night, my friends and I went to watch Shake Hands With the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, a movie that chronicles Romeo Dallaire's experience in Rwanda, which is based on his book. Dallaire is a French Canadian who was the commander of the weak peacekeeping force sent to Rwanda in 1994.

As all hell broke loose in Rwanda and Western nations pulled out turning a blind eye to the genocide, it was Dallaire who did not give up despite the lack of support he received. In the movie, he talks about his despair as he saw horrific massacres, the silence of Western nations and his disappointment for the Belgian government who pulled their troops out (Belgium was a former colonial power in the country causing much of the rift between the Hutus and Tutsis). He also talks about how he feels like he let the people of Rwanda down wishing he could do more.

After he returned from Rwanda, he suffered from depression and alcoholism as he became suicidal. It took him ten years to get over his ordeal and decided to visit Rwanda as the country commemorated the genocide's 10th anniversary last year. He actually visited the University of Minnesota, along with Rwandan president Paul Kigame last year, but I was unable to attend the event.

As I watched the movie, I have nothing except for immense respect for this humble man who could have given up but held on and was responsible for saving many many lives during the chaos. I was also amazed at how strong his wife was as she helped him through the years and even visited Rwanda with him. I first read about Dallaire in a Human Rights class in Samantha Power's book
A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. I am so grateful for Dallaire's honesty and courage to write this book so that we can learn from it. There's a verse in the Holy Qur'an that states for on no soul does Allah place a burden greater than it can bear (7: 42). Obviously, God trusted Dallaire a great deal to place such a huge responsibility on him!

His book and movie show the importance of a strong United Nations, so the promise of Never Again does not ring hollow. As I have been working on peacekeeping issues and the need for a 21st century UN, I have learned so much about concepts like the
responsibility to protect which states that "no state can hide behind the concept of sovereignty while it conducts or permits widespread harm to its population. Nor can states turn a blind eye when these events extend beyond their borders, nor because action does not suit their narrowly-defined national interests."

This principle is actually on the agenda for the General Assembly as world leaders meet for the largesgatheringng of world leaders in history from September 14-16. Not only is it the UN's 60th anniversary but also a historic opportunity for the world to collectively strengthenhen the United Nations for the 21st century. I have mentioned this before an will bring this up again because I think it is important to keep in mind: no matter how critical one may be about the United Nations, international law and the response of the international community to genocide, we are making progress.

This is coming from someone who has been working on Darfur since February & have been frustrated by the failure to do more. Although we will probably look in 10 years again and see Drafur with regret, it is not Rwanda - it is different because the level of engagenment by civil societies and several governments is at a greater level. This is not to say, we can't do more, but I guess I always try to look at the glass half full rather than empty because that's the only way I can keep going.

For a great guide on the upcoming summit & resources, chek out our UN21 resource guide. I also want to provide this transcript of a speech by Romeo Dallaire at an event held by Brookings Institute in 2003.