In April 1994, bedlam engulfed Rwanda. As General Romeo Dallaire, commander of the U.N. peacekeeping force there, says at the start of Frontline‘s powerful documentary Ghosts of Rwanda, it was clear that Hutu extremists would soon be “pushing Rwanda into the abyss.” But the U.S. government didn’t want to get involved, having recently been burned by its intervention in Somalia, and the U.N. would not allow the peacekeepers to use force. And so Dallaire stood witness to genocide. “How come the mission failed . . . ” Dallaire interrogates himself now, “and 800,000 people died?”
Ghosts of Rwanda slips from players like Madeleine Albright and Clinton national security adviser Anthony Lake, who pleaded ignorance, to men like Dallaire and Phillippe Gaillard of the Red Cross, who remained in the country as Hutus systematically butchered their Tutsi neighbors with machetes. One aid worker says of the atmosphere, “Killing was like a drink—if you took one, you wanted another.”
To mark the 10th anniversary of the genocide, the Sundance Channel is broadcasting three documentaries that make good companion pieces to the PBS program. Along with The Last Just Man, a doc about Dallaire himself, there is Anne Aghion’s Gacaca, Living Together Again in Rwanda?, which watches victims and aggressors come together as they prepare to participate in a system of local justice tribunals called Gacaca. The trial system is confusing, but the interviewees are riveting, patiently offering up stories that beggar belief. Aghion filmed her short follow-up, In Rwanda we say . . . The family that does not speak dies, just last year when thousands of confessed killers were released from jail, presumably to return home to the very villages where they committed atrocities. While Americans continue to be confused about how and when we should practice intervention, Rwandans are contending with something very different: the ugly business of reconciliation.