Sep 252005
Authors: Drew Haugen

Suddenly, the harmony of the lazy afternoon in an average suburb in Kigali, Rwanda is punctuated by automatic machine gun fire, screams and explosions in the distance.

Peace is shattered by a fatigued army sergeant who raids a home and flushes a family out onto its lawn. Identification cards are checked. If they are Hutu, they live. If they are Tutsi or Tutsi-loving Hutu, they may join the thousands of corpses that litter the streets, some too mutilated by the blades of Hutu machetes or army machine guns to be recognizable.

Scenes like this from "Hotel Rwanda" were shown Thursday evening by resident assistants of Allison Hall. After, International Studies Professor John E. Roberts led students in a discussion about the film and its depiction of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

"It's really hard to say anything after watching (a film like Hotel Rwanda)," Roberts said. "It's difficult to imagine that something like this can happen. But it did."

The film details civil war atrocities in Rwanda sparked by the assassination of the then-Hutu president, seen through the eyes of a hotel manager who provided shelter to about 1,200 Tutsi refugees.

An estimated 900,000 to 1.2 million Rwandans were murdered in the country of about 7.5 million during the three months after the assassination, Roberts said.

Watching the movie was "an awareness building process," said Paige Kovari, a freshman politicial science major. "I bet half of the people here didn't know about Rwanda."

"We need to be aware of our privilege and be proactive by setting precedent and examples," Kovari added.

The violence can be traced back to Belgium's colonial occupation of Rwanda, beginning in 1916. The colonists imposed a social order on the country, dividing its citizens into one of two ethnic groups: the Hutu and the Tutsi.

Although the groups shared the same practices, language and areas of occupancy, they were segregated along this ethnic line. Tutsis were considered the dominant ethnicity and therefore enjoyed better jobs, social statuses and privileges in Belgian Rwanda.

The Belgian occupiers even created identification cards to distinguish between the two groups.

Following independence, Hutus gained control of the government and Tutsis became the social scapegoat for many issues and problems. Tension built until the conflict came to a bloody zenith when, after signing a peace treaty with the Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the Hutu president Juvenal Habyarimana's plane was shot down by an unknown party.

The country erupted in bloodshed. The presidential guard, Hutu army, and others began claiming Tutsi and Tutsi-sympathizer lives out of vengeance for the assassination of their president, mobilizing a militia of 30,000 at its peak.

According to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the rate of genocide in Rwanda during the three months of fighting and chaos after the presidential assassination surpassed the rate of genocide in Nazi Germany concentration camps during World War II.

The massacres in Rwanda went highly unnoticed in the rest of the world, and calls for help from Rwandans faded into obscurity.

One of the organizing resident assistants, Rachel Wiley, expressed her intentions in showing the film.

"When I saw ('Hotel Rwanda') for the first time, I remember that it was a powerful film," the senior technical journalism major said. "We hoped to impact these students similarly."

This showing of "Hotel Rwanda" is the first in a series of programs and events the residence life staff of Allison Hall are providing to increase and enhance international awareness.

"We want to get students more aware of the world around them. This film serves as an eye opener," Wiley said.

According to the BBC, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan at a UN memorial conference marking the 10 year anniversary of the genocide was quoted: "The international community is guilty of sins of omission."

The UN Security Council failed to reinforce the small UN peacekeeping force of approximately 2,500 in the country.

"The international community failed Rwanda and that must leave us always with a sense of bitter regret," said Annan, who was head of the UN peace-keeping forces at the time of the genocide.

CSU Professor Roberts urged students to take interest and action in worldwide politics.

"Speak up. When you know something's wrong you need to speak up. You need to find out these things and be aware," Roberts said. "Write your Senator and Congressman."

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