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Shake Hands with the Devil: The Journey of Rmeo Dallaire (Peter Raymont)

Romeo Dallaire

Shake Hands With the Devil: The Journey of Roméo Dallaire (Peter Raymont)

Documentaries are an invaluable contribution to society. They tell the story of real people and their personal experiences in ways that Hollywood fiction never can and in a way the news media never will. They connect to the soul and bring you into the lives of strangers.

The story of Roméo Dallaire is that invaluable contribution because of the magnitude of what he and others in the country of Rwanda experienced. How hundreds of thousands of people can be slaughtered, and the narcissism of politicians and government officials can turn a blind eye, going on with other tasks that better serve their own power hungry purpose.

It took seven years, a daily regimen of pills and years of therapy for General Roméo Dallaire, the U.N. commander in charge of the peacekeeping mission in Rwanda, to write his book about the genocide that took place in 1994.

Specializing in the “hidden worlds” of politics, director Peter Raymont has produced and directed over 100 films in his 33-year career, covering the lands of India, Nicaragua, Ethiopia, Europe and North America, and in this film he uses that experience to capture Dallaire’s journey back to Rwanda for the 10th anniversary of the genocide in April of 2004.

Even after seeing “Hotel Rwanda” and the HBO movie that followed, “Sometimes in April,” there is so much to learn from Dallaire’s story. This is a man who was given nothing to “keep the peace” while being put an in impossible situation of running the U.N. post in Rwanda with only a few hundred soldiers to defend hundreds of thousands of citizen from death.

A close up of his face shows the cathartic feeling he has as he rides down the familiar streets where 10 years earlier, bodies were strewn and machetes were flying. And as the movie unfolds, more truths are made known.

It all started with a truce between the Hutu government and the Tutsi rebels when Dallaire first touched down in the Rwandan capital of Kigali in November of 1993. He was led to believe it would be an easy, short lived mission. Little did he know of the apocalypse that would arise the following April after a plane transporting the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi was shot down, and how the U.N. who sent him there in the first place, would tie his hands at keeping his mission, voting to reduce his 2500 troops down to only 250.

The killing spree was led by the Interahamwe Hutu malitia against moderate Hutus and Tutsis, and within three days there were over 2500 troops that landed from various countries. But their time was short, since they were there merely to save their own and leave, basically stating that it was not their problem. And after some of Dallaire’s men were killed, which included 10 soldiers from Belgium; that country bailed as well. It was the irony of that move that caused Dallaire to form a deep hatred of that country’s government; ironic because it was the Belgians who had separated the Rwandan citizen’s two classes further by requiring stamped ID cards that officially stated their class.

The Catholic Church, which was the most prominent religion and had a lot of power at that time, did nothing to condemn the killings. In fact, the cleansing strategy led parishioners to killing members of their own church because of their Tutsi status.

During the course of his command and since the U.N. was basically ignoring his continued request for more forces, Dallaire tried to get his message out through the media, speaking with reporters from the CBC and the BBC whenever they wanted to listen. But overall, the media was more concerned with O.J. Simpson and other trivial, Hollywood gossip stories to care. So the rest of the world was basically ignorant to what was going on and remained so up until a year or so ago.

As the days and months went by, Dallaire’s inability to stop the massacre almost caused him to lose his mind. The guilt from all the lives lost wore on him, and even after returning home, thoughts of suicide seemed to be his only way to escape the thoughts of what he saw and experienced. But he did manage to pull himself up and writing his book was a major part of his recovery.

During Dallaire’s trip 10 years later you can see more healing taking place as he takes his wife through the buildings and streets, holding her hand and talking with the people, as he speaks to the citizens who survived during his ceremonial speech, and as he makes plans to return to the otherwise beautiful country of Rwanda to live the rest of his days.

On a higher level, his story and that of the Rwandan people tells a chilling tale about our global society, how altruism and morality does not exist in the minds of the superpowers. It makes it blatantly clear that decisions are made based on racism and greed. If Iraq did not contain billions of dollars in oil, we would not be the least bit concerned with introducing democracy to their country. Rwanda in turn had no resources to obtain. And at the time when the world was concerned with the other genocide in Bosnia, as they should have been, the superpowers turned their backs on the Rwandan people. It seems the reasons why are as clear as black and white.

In the movie you can see that the Belgian government is still in denial and takes no responsibility for what happened. During a conference between Rwandan officials, Dallaire, the Belgian Senator Alain Destexle and others, the senator had the audacity to point blame at Dallaire for the deaths of the 10 Belgian U.N. soldiers while completely ignoring the 800,000 who also died.

In his book, “Shake Hands with the Devil,” the former general makes recommendations on how to better handle future U.N. conflict resolutions. One can only hope that this time, they listen. And maybe the media will give a damn, but I doubt it.


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