Wednesday, March 23, 2005

LA Weekly: Film: The Devil Certainly

LA Weekly: Film: The Devil Certainly

Lieutenant General Roméo Dallaire can still smell Rwanda. He wrote about this in his 2003 memoir, Shake Hands With the Devil, and it’s written on his face too — the unrelenting stench of the 800,000 bodies that rotted in mass graves, filled the streets of Kigali and dammed the Kagera River over 100 bloodstained days in 1994. Dallaire knows the smell because he was there, from August 1993 until September 1994, as the sometimes Head of Mission and full-time Force Commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda. What transpired, he would later write, was “a story of betrayal, failure, naiveté, hatred, genocide, war, inhumanity and evil” — one which Dallaire didn’t merely observe, but in which he played a leading role. He is, as many now know, one of modern history’s great and tragic witnesses, not just for what he saw, but for his accurate prediction of it and his ultimate inability to prevent it. He is, simply put, the boy who cried genocide. And it has taken much of the world the better part of a decade to respond to his call.

“The 10th anniversary was a great catalyst. It’s funny how we’re so Cartesian,” Dallaire says, speaking in clipped language that carries the echo of the many man-made tragedies, from the Holocaust to Hiroshima, that have endured similar intervals before gaining due recognition. In other words, we think about the genocide, therefore it is.

“In my opinion,” Dallaire continues, “these catastrophes — the human-led ones — are so shrouded in the political, in the residual ethnicities of the groups that have been affected and so on, that many of those who have been the targets themselves don’t speak much. They’re still living with it, wherever in the world they may be. And those who are still in the seat of power or close to it are also not particularly keen on this stuff getting out. You need a sort of purging area. I’ve estimated that it takes about five years — that’s when you’ve had enough change and enough key people are out of the decision-making processes that you can actually get them to talk.”

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