While we had planned to watch the documentary, Shaking Hands With the Devil during our first class, we ran out of time due to the array of other things we discussed during class.
During class we discussed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and read an excerpt from The Racist’s Guide to the United States, a South African book that basically points out how geographically and culturally stunted the majority of the United States is – a group which I’m ashamed to say I most definitely fall in to as I sadly could not pick out countries like Iraq and Afghanistan on a map (despite the fact the we have been at war with these countries for years). While embarrassing, perhaps this was the slap in the face I needed to awaken myself to the true depth of my cultural incompetence as I often found myself turning to my fellow classmate, Melanie Kantor, and saying “wow, I feel stupid.”
Feeling slightly stupid, I returned home where I began to watch the documentary Shaking Hands With the Devil, which depicted the events that occurred during the Rwandan genocide through the lens of UN peacekeeper Gen. Romeo Dallaire.
Romeo Dallaire, a Canadian General went to Rwanda during the genocide to attempt to restore peace and order amongst the feuding Hutu and Tutsi tribes. Unfortunately, once he got there it became apparent that he was the outsider. The Rwandan people did not respect him and due to the lack of support from the United Nations, Dallaire was able to accomplish very little. He was deserted by his countrymen and alienated by those he attempted to help. Despite his best efforts he was looked at as the “white man” and hence the enemy. Seeing the distrust the Rwandan people felt towards Dallaire, a man trying to help, made me wonder how I will be looked at when in South Africa as a white person — a representation of everything the South African people have sought to overcome.
While I wish I could say that the events that took place during the genocide surprised me, I sadly cannot. Genocide is not a new concept and has plagued the world for centuries. From Mao Ze Dong’s Great Leap Forward in China during the 1950s, to Hitler and the Holocaust, to more currently Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden, there will always be evil men who force their way into power and then abuse it in the most horrific ways imaginable. With this in mind, while undeniably saddening and appalling, the genocide that occurred in Rwanda was not surprising.
What was surprising however, was the response of the United Nations to the genocide that occurred in Rwanda, especially due to the number of human rights being infringed upon.
As we discussed in class, while the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has good intentions, it seems almost hypocritical due to the fact that these rights are never truly enforced by those who wrote it. It highlights all the good that is possible but then blatantly disregards it!
As evident in the document Shaking Hands With the Devil, while there are a number of human rights violated, some of the more prominent ones are Article 3, Article 5, and Article 25 . While there are an array of other Human Rights violated in this documentary, the following stood out to me as they are some of the things that I take advantage of on a day to day basis.
In reality, they are things I rarely even think about as they are so readily available to me. For example, there are few times during the day where I worry about being tortured, feel insecure, unsafe, or even feel uncomfortable. In fact, my views of being uncomfortable consist of being hungry from missing lunch, too full from over indulging during the holidays, cold from the air conditioner being too high, and too hot from a broken heater – none of these things are remotely similar to the discomforts those living in Rwanda endured during the genocide.
Ultimately, this documentary put things in perspective for me.
One aspect of the documentary that particularly stood out to me was when Dallaire explained the brutality of the Hutu recounting,
“imagine a very nasty looking man standing behind you with a gun telling you to go kill the people next door… then they bring a child in and kill them right in front of your eyes and tell you that will be you if you don’t do it.”
This depiction truly stood out to me and made me question what I would do in this impossible situation. While I would like to think my response would be that I would rather die than kill another, part of me wonders if I would be one of the many who succumbed to the fear and shake hands with the devil.