World dropped ball on Rwanda, again in Sudan

A few weeks ago, I was able to sit and watch “Hotel Rwanda,” a film I highly recommend to anyone who has the opportunity to see it.

It is, in my opinion, one of those few films that successfully depicts both the best and the worst aspects of humanity, touchingly illustrating the beauty behind human kindness and bravery, and the sordid embodiment of evil that humanity can become when given the chance.

The film is about the horrific slaughter that took place in Rwanda, where close to 1 million people were brutally murdered in a violent act of organized genocide that took place in only about 100 days.

Not only does the film depict the brutal acts of violence, such as the systemic elimination of a group of people with cheap machetes, but it puts to shame the international community that stood by and did nothing but think of ways to avoid recognizing the acts of genocide that were occurring right before their eyes. It truly leaves the audience asking how it could have been allowed, and what could have been done to prevent it.

But with the depiction of violence, murder, cowardice, weakness, and disgrace, there was one word that remained in my mind: Sudan.

While hundreds of thousands of people were being hacked to death systematically in Rwanda, U.N. officials continued a complicated tango of statements that shied away from calling the murder what it really was: genocide. Had the U.N. recognized the acts as genocide, it would have been obliged to act and intervene under the 1948 U.N. Convention of the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Instead, they chose to cowardly avoid the recognition, as lifeless bodies became so numerous they began to float in the rivers into neighboring countries.

“Systematic killings” was what some U.N. officials were calling it. Countries kept pulling bodies from the rivers in the meantime.

The international body seems to be dancing with the same words again now, avoiding the dreaded label of “genocide” that would force their action in Sudan. So I begin to wonder, what is the purpose of an international body if not to prevent such inhumane violence?

Millions of people continue to suffer in Sudan. Some are brutally murdered, quickly and swiftly. Others are slowly starved to death by a system geared to keep from reaching them.

But they cannot call it genocide, the U.N. has said. They claim that it’s too early to tell. The government of Sudan is, however, committing crimes against its civilian population, U.N. officials have stated. Meanwhile, some agencies estimate that 2 to 4 million people have left Sudan, and another 4 million are estimated to have been displaced inside their own country, driven out from their own homes by government backed militias. The U.N. has officially recognized some 500,000 Sudanese as political refugees, and over 70,000 people have been murdered thus far.

On the bright side, the United States has stepped up and recognized the acts as genocide. This might be the first time I have thought it wise for the international community to follow the U.S. example.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell called the violence an act of genocide. Too bad that the recognition does not require some sort of intervention. Instead, President Bush has decided to deal with the problem as the United States tends to deal with many problems: throw some money at it; hope it goes away.

Not much pressure has been placed on Sudan, whose government (not surprisingly) maintains they are not committing genocide. There has been no pressure applied to China, who also argues that the systematic death of 70,000 people is not genocide. China will veto any resolution claiming genocide to protect its billion-dollar oil investment in the region. Russia similarly has heavy military investments in the country and doesn’t have a problem with that position, either.

Meanwhile, people keep fleeing Sudan, or dying horrible and tragic deaths. The death toll keeps climbing, and I keep wondering how many it will take before it is considered genocide. Were the 800,000 dead Rwandans not enough? How many does it take? Six million Jews? Five million “undesirables?”

Is there an ethnic or religious requirement for genocide to be recognized? How much, or how little, must world powers have invested in the country for them to recognize that a group of people is being targeted for extinction?

“Hotel Rwanda” was a great movie, but I never want to see anything like it again.