Shake Hands with the Devil
One man’s struggle to keep Rwanda from falling apart when preventing genocide was not in the international “interest” of the world’s powers.
Shake Hands with the Devil is the story of a Canadian commander torn between his duty and his conscience when he finds himself eyewitness to hell on earth. In 1993, the United Nations dispatches Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire to far-off Rwanda to oversee a fragile cease-fire. A brilliant, workaholic officer and charismatic commander, Dallaire encounters the shabby – sometimes comically shabby – reality of a typical UN peacekeeping operation: under-funded, over-bureaucratic, and cobbled together from military units from dozens of countries, each with a slightly different agenda. Meanwhile the peace agreement between the rebels, led by the minority Tutsi ethnic group, and the French-supported government dominated by the Hutu majority group, turns out to rest on shaky ground. Conciliatory speeches are undercut by mysterious massacres. Just months after Dallaire raises the UN flag, an unknown group shoots down the President’s plane. Are the rebels to blame or the Hutu extremists in the President’s own party? (To this day, nobody knows.) With the plane crash, the storm breaks and a secret but long-planned genocidal campaign against the Tutsi minority begins with a night of terror in Kigali.
Deliberate Massacre of the Innocent
Given neither the authority nor sufficient forces to avert the crisis, Lieutenant-General Dallaire nonetheless does his utmost to stem the bloodshed. As he negotiates with the complex personalities of the Rwandan military men and politicians on both sides to prevent the resurgence of the civil war, he has to confront mounting evidence that a deliberate massacre of the innocent is underway. While trying to take decisive action to stop the genocide, he is undercut by his own far-away superiors – who have their own political interests to protect – and by the studied indifference of the world’s great powers. As he learns, to his fury, it seems to be in nobody’s ‘interest’ to save almost a million Rwandan lives.
Powerless to prevent the country’s descent into hell, Lieutenant-General Dallaire is ordered home. He disobeys. He insists on staying to save those he can from the genocide, while trying to do everything possible to stop it. When the Belgians pull out their contingent, after ten of their soldiers are killed – shades of Mogadishu – he must stand by and watch as his best-equipped troops leave. When New York cancels the peace mission entirely, he knows his only chance for reinforcement lies with helping the media cover the almost unspeakable truth of what is happening in Rwanda. Promising journalists a story every day if they will stay, Lieutenant-General Dallaire attempts to shame the international community into action.
In the end, he saves some 30,000 people, but 800,000 have died in the span of only a hundred days. What he was able to do seems to him all too little, and he returns to Canada a shattered, haunted man who has lost everything but his sense of his continued mission to remind the world that the tragedy of Rwanda could have been prevented – and that new genocides like the one taking place in Darfur demand effective intervention by the larger world.
Roy Dupuis, Deborah Kara Unger, Owen Lebakeng Sejake
Shake Hands with the Devil opens October 29, 2010 at Laemmle’s Sunset 5 and November 12, 2010 in New York at the Quad Cinema
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