Every April, three movies appear on the viewing list:
It is a time to remember the genocide in Rwanda; to realize that my knowledge of the horror is extremely limited; and to ponder the work that is needed today.
The story of Rwanda – as is the story of any genocide – is absolutely wrenching.
Each of the films I am viewing this evening has a scene that particularly tears at my heart and soul: European soldiers arrive to rescue, to evacuate Europeans and North Americans but not Rwandans. They leave knowing the horror taking place around them – aware of what will likely befall those they leave behind.
I watch. Tears fill my eyes.
And I wonder … would I have got on the truck?
And I wonder … who are my brothers and sisters that I abandon today?
The tears slide into my beard.
I can only fall back on grace.
Yet still I wonder …
See you along the Trail.
Every year in April the raining season starts.
And every year, every day in April…
The haunting emptiness descends over our hearts.
Every year in April, I remember how quickly life ends.
Every year, I remember how lucky I should feel to be alive.
Sometimes in April
April 6 marks the anniversary of the beginning of 100 days of genocide during which 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed. On April 6, 1994, a plane carrying Rwandan President Habyarimana and the Burundian President was shot down near Kigali Airport. The killings begin that night.
The tensions had built over a number of years. Their beginning is often traced to 1916, when the Belgians took control of Rwanda and they produced identity cards classifying people according to their ethnicity.
The Belgians considered the Tutsis to be superior to the Hutus. Not surprisingly, the Tutsis welcomed this idea, and for the next 20 years they enjoyed better jobs and educational opportunities than their neighbours.
Resentment among the Hutus gradually built up, culminating in a series of riots in 1959. More than 20,000 Tutsis were killed, and many more fled to the neighbouring countries of Burundi, Tanzania and Uganda.
When Belgium relinquished power and granted Rwanda independence in 1962, the Hutus took their place. Over subsequent decades, the Tutsis were portrayed as the scapegoats for every crisis.
Building up to genocide
This was still the case in the years before the genocide. The economic situation worsened and the incumbent president, Juvenal Habyarimana, began losing popularity At the same time, Tutsi refugees in Uganda – supported by some moderate Hutus – were forming the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), led by Mr Kagame. Their aim was to overthrow Habyarimana and secure their right to return to their homeland.
Habyarimana chose to exploit this threat as a way to bring dissident Hutus back to his side, and Tutsis inside Rwanda were accused of being RPF collaborators.
In August 1993, after several attacks and months of negotiation, a peace accord was signed between Habyarimana and the RPF, but it did little to stop the continued unrest.
The international community knew of the unrest – knew of the potential for violence. Peace talks held in August 1993 in Arusha, Tanzania resulted in the creation of UNAMIR (United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda). The UNAMIR commander Major General Roméo Dallaire of Canada learned from an informant of Hutu plans being made to exterminate Tutsis; to provoke and kill Belgian troops to guarantee Belgium’s withdrawal from Rwanda; and the location of Interahamwe arm caches.
In January, 1994, General Dallaire cabled the UN asking for protection for the informant and permission to seize the arms caches. His superiors denied his request. Other warnings were also ignored.
April 1994 followed.
I chose to mark this anniversary today – on Good Friday – by watching three movies about Rwanda.
First – Sometimes in April. This film tells the story through the lens of two Hutu brothers – Honoré who worked for the radio station that inflamed the violence and Augustin who served in the Rwandan army. Augustin had married a Tutsi woman Jeanne, and had three children with her: Anne-Marie, Yves-André, and Marcus. As the plot line jumps back and forth in time and space, the brothers bear witness to the events that led to the genocide as well as the genocide and its aftermath in different ways.
The film begins with an overview of the roots of the genocide. It makes it clear that it did not just begin that one day in April.
The film deals with the failure of the world to respond. It includes a clip of the famous question: “How many acts of genocide does it take to make genocide.”
It deals with the failure of the church to protect the people and shows a mass killing at a school for girls. When ordered to divide themselves between Hutus and Tutsis, the girls refuse. All are shot. Their affirmation of a common humanity contrasts with the horror of their murder.
It deals with guilt. For all else that he has done, Honoré agrees to lead Augustin’s family to safety. He tries. But fails.
Ultimately Honoré is captured and brought before the tribunal prosecuting crimes committed during the genocide. His crime is inciting the people. Not all those who bear responsibility put their hand to a machete. There is also a bitter, heart-wrenching (at least my heart) irony in seeing those who failed to intervene to stop the slaughter now addressing it in a court room. Of course prosecution is needed. But what about prevention?
Augustin goes to the tribunal. Through the hotel wall, he talks with a woman who will later testify about the use of rape in the genocide.
The brothers meet. The story of Honoré’s failure and the murder of Jeanne and two of Augustin’s children is told. Both brothers weep. The scene between the brothers ends with rain. God’s tears? Healing, cleansing water? No words – no summary. It works well to leave the situation unresolved and to leave us wondering if forgiveness took place on any level.
The film touches briefly on Rwandan efforts to work for reconciliation. It shows a gacaca court at work. Through the history of Rwanda, neighbors have settled disputes by adjourning to the gacaca (“on the grass”) to sit, discuss and mediate personal and community problems. Is it working? Time will tell for sure, but in many ways it appears to be doing so. Another film and book explore that story: As We Forgive. That’s a film for another day.
A well acted film, Sometimes in April explores many dimensions of a horrific experience and provides no easy answers. Therein lies much of its power.
Beyond the Gates (originally titled Shooting Dogs) is next. Hotel Rwanda follows.
See you along the Trail.
Maundy Thursday this year fell on an interesting day on the calendar. Wednesday marked the anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Friday marks the anniversary of the beginning of the Rwandan genocide.
On the night of his arrest, the night before his execution, Jesus shared bread and the cup and gave his followers a new commandment: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another (John 13:34).”
On the night before his assassination, Dr. King proclaimed that he had been to the mountaintop.
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!
On the night before Juvénal Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira died in a plane crash, the night before hell engulfed Rwanda, what did the people do? What did they feel? What did they think?
See you along the Trail
April 4 – the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Thanks be to God for his life and witness and for all who follow in his footsteps.
April 6 – genocide commenced in Rwanda. Thanks be to God for all who seek to rebuild their lives and country.
The fires of memory burn.
Painful, wrenching though it be, I remember.
See you along the Trail.
Tonight’s movie tears at my soul. Beyond the Gates tells the story of the École Technique Officielle in Rwanda.
As the 1994 genocide , Tutsis began arriving at the school, seeking protection from the 90 Belgian UN peacekeepers stationed there. Eventually 2,000 Rwandans arrived at the school, including 400 children. On April 11, the UN peacekeepers left. The people were massacred shortly afterwards.
A number of Europeans also arrived at the school. They were evacuated a couple of days before the peacekeepers departed. The scene is wrenching. Absolutely wrenching. In the film, two Europeans choose to stay at that point. It makes me wonder – deeply wonder – about the choices I make in relation to the least of my sisters and brothers and in relation to the least within myself. Thanks to my friend Bridgett for that image.
Characters pose a number of questions in the course of the film:
Does God love everyone? Does God even love those men outside on the roads?
Where is God in everything that is happening – in this suffering?
How much pain can a human being take?
And the historical question:
In an utterly haunting movie, two scenes stand out:
The film originally carried the title of Shooting Dogs – a reference that, under their mandate, the peacekeepers could shoot scavenging dogs because they might carry disease, but could not act to stop those committing the killing. What a world we have made.
In the last scene, set some five years after the massacre, one of the young women who survived makes here way to England where she talks to one of the Europeans who left. It is a gentle confrontation that ends with the words, given to the survivor:
We are fortunate. All this time we have been given. We must use it well.
Another sleepless night filled with powerful emotions and disturbing thoughts lie ahead.
See you along the Trail.
I am watching a movie about one of my heroes: Shake Hands with the Devil. It is a wrenching and painful movie set during the Rwandan genocide – a time of brutality and horror; a time of failure – failure by the nations, leaders and peoples of the world, failure by the United Nations, failure even by my hero.
Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire, of Canada, served as Force Commander for UNAMIR the UN peacekeeping force for Rwanda between 1993 and 1994. He was there for the 100 days of genocide. Dallaire did not stop the genocide. He did not command perfectly. He made mistakes.
During a scene set in a hospital, a woman says to him: “We’re dying and all you say is there’s nothing you can do.” Did that scene really happen? Perhaps. I would need to re-read his book. But it could have.
He is credited with helping to save thousands. Yet he remains haunted by individuals – hundreds of thousands of individuals – who were not saved – who perished on his watch. As the CBC notes: “After Rwanda, Dallaire blamed himself for everything. He sank deep into despair. He attempted suicide.”
Why then, do I consider Dallaire a hero?
Because he tried. Faced with the situation, so many turned away. Even though they knew – even though Dallaire told them – they world turned its back on Rwanda. In the words of another line from the movie, the world dismissed Rwanda as “just one more African mess.” But Dallaire stayed and tried. He remained faithful – faithful to his charge and faithful to the people.
So for Roméo Dallaire – for the unnamed people of Rwanda and soldiers and medical personnel and journalists and others who stood with him – for all who stand against death and evil – for all who work for life – I give thanks.
See you along the Trail.