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Lives before and After: Ravanda

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Humans cannot be conditioned to not hate one another; hate and selfishness are a part of human nature. It is impossible to remove a certain emotion and simply replace it with another; it is impossible to quickly remove greed from one’s heart and replace it with gratitude. Although the world, traumatized by the Holocaust, swore to work together as a community to prevent future atrocities from occurring, genocides continue this world due to people’s fear of losing power, denial of previous war crimes, greed, and hatred. Millions have died because of a repeated pattern of non-intervention of the United States and the United Nations. Genocide, the deliberate killing of a particular ethnic or religious group, is a term political leaders fear using because the word itself acknowledges the government’s culpability for not interceding to stop it. The Rwandan genocide was “one of the worst atrocities in the bloody history of the 20th century.” From April 6, 1994 to July 15, 1994, over 800,000 Rwandans, mainly Tutsis, were cruelly slaughtered by merciless Hutus. Yet, the United Nations Security Council refused to label this catastrophe as a “genocide.” To bring public awareness to this event, movies such as Beyond the Gates were filmed.

Although Beyond the Gates, a historical fiction, does not provide background information explaining the tension between Hutus and Tutsis, its factual accuracy evokes sympathy for the tragic events in hopes of motivating viewers to unite and encourage policymakers to prevent similar massacres from occurring in the future; countless genocides before and after the Rwandan tragedy such as the Ukrainian, Darfurian, and Bosnian, and Armenian genocides could have been prevented if the United States and United Nations responded to the crises and performed their moral duty to save the lives of the persecuted. Though Beyond the Gates does not include the reasons behind the Hutu-Tutsi conflict, the movie accurately portrays the harsh feelings between the two ethnic groups through a few conversational exchanges between those trying to understand the cause of the violence and the victims affected by it.

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The Tutsis and Hutus of Rwanda have coexisted with one another since 11th century B.C. They both share cultural ties, speak the same language, and their “histories and present-day lives are intertwined.” However, both ethnic groups began to grow weary of each other ever when the Tutsis founded the kingdoms of Rwanda and Urundi in 1550 and 1600. Since then, endless violent conflicts flew back and forth between the two in the struggle for power. Tutsis considered themselves of higher status compared to the Hutus because they were more educated, physically taller, and favored by Europeans for their lighter skin during Belgian colonialism, whereas Hutus were the lower working class. In 1962, Rwanda and Urundi became independent. Urundi, now Burundi, remained a monarchy under Mwambutsa IV, which further ignited more conflict because the Tutsis remained in power. Eventually, in 1966, prime minister Michel Micombero overthrew the monarchy and declared a republic, which led to an unsuccessful Hutu revolt in 1972 that resulted in heavy Hutu casualties.

The Tutsis still remained in control of the country, despite outbreaks of ethnic warfare that killed tens of thousands of people, especially in 1993 when Burundi’s first ever Hutu president was killed, and over 50,000 people died in the ensuing violence. The Rwandan genocide followed, claiming over 800,000 lives in 1994. This time, the Hutus were after the Tutsis. Hutus sought to avenge themselves against the Tutsis “for their rule for centuries over them” and for repressing the Hutus by denying them a proper education, which restricted them to a working class. In retaliation, the Hutus dehumanized the Tutsis by referring to them as “cockroaches,” butchering families in front of each other with bloody machetes, raping countless women, and torturing their victims in the worst imaginable way.

A local radio announcer incited the Hutus to violence by manipulating them to think of Tutsis as irritable bugs that must be eliminated at all costs. One radio broadcast announces’All those who are listening, rise so we can fight for our Rwanda. Fight with the weapons you have at your disposal: those who have arrows, with arrows, those who have spears, with spears. We must all fight.”We must all fight the Tutsis. We must finish with them, exterminate them, sweep them from the whole country. There must be no refuge for them. They must be exterminated. There is no other way.’This tension, though not fully explained in Beyond the Gates, is depicted in a scene when a deadly shooting in the village near École Technique Officielle, a secondary school in Kigali (that also served as a headquarters for United Nations peacekeeping forces) brings waves of refugees to the school gates for shelter. When two panicked Tutsi refugees desperately try to explain the chain of events to Joe Connor, a British teacher volunteering at the school, he asks his friend Francois to translate for him since he does not understand the Rwandan language. The two Tutsis immediately fall silent, ignore Francois, and make limited eye contact with him because he is a Hutu.

Though the two refugees may not have known Francois personally, all Tutsis feared and saw Hutus as monsters, which increases the tension between the two groups. In another scene, a Tutsi student, Marie, runs for exercise every day after school until one day, a few Hutu boys suddenly throw rocks at her, calling her a “cockroach” when she stops to rest. The movie’s intention for including this scene helps the audience better understand the terrible impact the boys’ actions had on Marie and come to a realization that hundreds of thousands of Tutsi children faced similar verbal and physical mistreatment. These two scenes from Beyond the Gates accurately portray the tensions between the Tutsis and Hutus even though detailed background information about the conflict is omitted, thereby evoking feelings of sympathy for the Tutsis–guilting the international community for not putting internal pressure on citizens to prevent the genocide in its early stages.

However, Beyond the Gates accurately identifies the trigger of the Rwandan genocide, which is the crash of Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane arranged by Hutus on April 6th, 1994. Though the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) created the U.N. Observer Mission Uganda-Rwanda (UNOMUR) to separate the Hutus from the Tutsis and prevent “the shipment of arms” into Rwanda, “violence and refugee flows [drastically] escalated” especially upon learning about the crash of the Rwandan president’s plane. Within an hour of the crash, the Interahamwe, a Hutu extremist group, set up roadblocks to prevent the Tutsis from fleeing Kigali. Not soon after, the Interhamwe also registered every Tutsi name and location to massacre the Tutsis and important government officials, such as the prime minister. Additionally, 10 Belgian soldiers were captured and later butchered to death protecting the prime minister, which served as a warning to Belgians to either stay out of the Rwandan conflict. Beyond the Gates depicts these chain of events in detail. In the movie, when Charles, the Belgian captain of the U.N. peacekeepers at École Technique Officielle, informs Father Christopher, a Catholic priest who had lived in Africa for 30 years and is currently the head of École Technique Officielle School, of President Habyarimana’s death, he predicts that Tutsi refugees will flood the school for protection.

Fearful of what may come next, Charles quickly gathers his troops to station themselves outside of the school in case of attack. Moments later, gunshots are heard from a distance and a colleague tells Father Christopher that there are scores of refugees yelling out of desperation at the school gates because their lives are in danger. The audience later finds out that the gunshots were fired from the Hutus while raiding a local Tutsi village near the school. The director intended for the cameras to give a panoramic view to show viewers the intensity of the shaking school gates and the screams and cries for help from a persecuted ethnic group that the world refused to save. This scene is impactful because the viewers feel indignation towards not only the Hutus but other countries such as the United States that clearly knew the current disastrous situation but continued to ignore it. Beyond the Gates accurately portrays what the Rwandan genocide looked like in the eyes of the Tutsis, hoping to unite the international community to fight against flawed government policies and prevent future violent conflicts from worsening.

After April 6th, the conflict only worsened as the Interhamwe set up additional roadblocks, expanded their militias, and continued to hunt for more Tutsis to torture and kill in order to fulfill their bloodthirsty appetite. However, the United States and the United Nations Security Council took no action whatsoever because the mandate they created restricted the use of weapons unless fired upon. They also justified their lack of involvement because they found no political benefit for helping, had limited resources to allocate, and the Rwandan government expressed no desire for foreign intervention. The United Nations first launched its peacekeeping mission for Rwanda in 1993 to monitor a cease-fire agreement between the Rwandan Hutu government and the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF), but the goal of the mission was simply to help humanitarian aid deliveries and contribute to the security of Rwanda’s capital, Kigali.

The U.N. peacekeepers were ordered to achieve the mission’s objectives without using military force unless they were directly under attack. In this case, the Hutus were after the Tutsis, not the U.N. soldiers; so, not a single European soldier attempted to fight off the Hutus. This mission proved “insufficient” after the Hutu government “launched the slaughter of an estimated 800,000 minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus following the destruction of the Rwandan president’s plane. However, if the peacekeepers were involved in a genocide, then they were obligated to open fire upon the opposing side. Neither the UNSC or the United States found political gain by aiding the Tutsis in the Rwandan genocide; no countries were willing to involve themselves in a conflict that risked heavy losses on both sides. Additionally, the United States and Belgium had already suffered the deaths of mission and butchered Belgian peacekeepers.

British lawyers also stated that in Americans in a failed Somalia international law, as soon as the UNSC uses the word “genocide” they are “bound to take certain actions, and they didn’t have the resources to take those actions.” However, the UNSC did have the resources to rescue the Tutsis. David Bryer, the Director of Oxfam, personally presented a letter to Prime Minister John Major “requesting intervention in Rwanda”, notifying him that there is “‘genocide on a horrific scale of killing the world that has not seen since Cambodia in the 1970s'”. According to Bryer, the death squads were only armed with clubs and machetes, not guns, so even a relatively small U.N. force could protect the refugees. Bryer continues describing the fax he received from the Hotel des Milles Collines in Kigali, which contains 500 people and is being protected by “just 6 soldiers.” Yet, one British Cabinet member recalls a discussion during a Cabinet meeting in July 1994 when “Foreign Security Hurd ‘thump[ed] the table at once and said ‘We will not call this a genocide.'” Thus, the United Nations and the United States refused to classify the conflict in Rwanda as a genocide in order to avoid the responsibilities of the fighting’s outcome.

A report points most of its criticism at how the United Nations Security Council reacted to the killings once they started. There was “little political will within the council, particularly from the United States” to authorize a peacekeeping force. Although a majority of the Security Council refused to intervene and bring the violence to a halt, there were members who opposed the decision and believed that the Belgians had the assets to stop the genocide. However, in order to “save face” and avoid forfeiting their positions as “‘African peacekeeping specialists,'” Belgium petitioned for the complete withdrawal of the UNAMIR mission, which the UNSC unsurprisingly supported, as “no other state had an interest in the mission.” One report argues that the only time the Belgians showed any interest in Rwanda was when Belgian, French, and American soldiers came to rescue Belgian, French, and American foreigners between April 7 and 10.

The “quick and effective” rescue mission of their own citizens demonstrated what would have been possible had the international community been serious about stopping the genocide. Both Belgium and the United States were already well-informed on the nature of the killings and had the capacity to prevent and stop the genocide, but chose to protect their own reputations instead. President Bill Clinton’s administration already knew about the genocide in Rwanda but “buried the information to justify [the country’s] inaction.” Though there were senior officials who privately used the word “genocide” within the first few weeks of killings, they chose not to mention genocide publicly because President Clinton had already decided not to intervene. Like Belgium, there were documents that undermined claims made by Clinton and his senior officials that they “did not fully appreciate the scale and speed of the killings.” Intelligence reports detail that the president and his cabinet had most certainly been told of a “‘final solution to eliminate all Tutsis'” before the slaughter reached its peak. In addition to the weak mandate, lack of political will, and so-called insufficient manpower, the Rwandan government opposed any foreign intervention to aid the Tutsis.

The slaughter of the Belgian soldiers protecting Rwanda’s prime minister already served as a warning to stay away from the fighting. In Beyond the Gates, the crisis of the U.N.’s peacekeepers so-called inability to defend the Tutsis was accurately portrayed through the dialogue and excuses made by the movie characters. For instance, Charles, the Belgian peacekeeper captain, attempts to explain to Father Christopher that it is not his choice for nonintervention. He shares a personal story of his grandparents rescuing Jews during WWII simply because it was more moral to protect them than turn them in to be killed under the Nazi regime, and adds that he himself wishes that he could be able to help the Tutsis, but because of the current mandate, he could do nothing. His tone sounded unsympathetic; usually, one’s voice would shake and feel emotionally passionate about the struggle of intervention and international law. Charles’ insensitive, excuse-like tone is not what one would expect when expressing remorse. The director also includes a scene when Rachel, a BBC reporter, interviews Charles and expresses disappointment in Charles’s refusal to not intervene in the Rwandan genocide. She further questions him to make him feel guilty for his actions by charging him with factual information of all the events in the country that categorizes the Hutu-Tutsi conflict as a genocide–such as mass rape which then obliges Charles and his troops to open fire against the Hutu enemy. Charles quickly covers the lens with his hand, demanding the cameraman to stop filming.

Charles’ actions demonstrate his awareness of all the reasons that the situation he was in was clearly a genocide, but his decision to remain silent only aggravates viewers to criticize and think negatively of the UNSC’s role at this time. Charles immediately waves Rachel’s claims away and persistently uses his mandate excuse claiming that since the Hutus have not directly fired at the troops at the school, they are not permitted to shoot back. Charles’s statement contradicts his story about how he wishes to be like his grandparents, who saved the Jews in a crucial moment of crisis. His hypocrisy also reflects the UNSC’s duplicitous attitude when they refused to classify the Rwandan violence as a genocide, readily knowing that the Hutu-Tutsi conflict was already out of control. Later on in the movie, Charles asks Father Christopher to gather the people and calm them down when they hear gunshots because Charles plans on shooting dogs with his troops since the dogs are eating the dead bodies, and to Charles, this was a health concern. Angered, Father Christopher questions Charles whether or not the dogs opened fire first.

Health concern or not, he should not shoot the dogs because the mandate restricts the peacekeepers from using military force unless under attack. By using this analogy, Father Christopher traps Charles in his own excuses regarding the mandate and even yells at Charles to “fuck the mandate.” One would not expect a dedicated Catholic priest who has lived in Africa for over 30 years to utter such an obscure word, which demonstrates Father Christopher’s fury to the extent where he even curses over the Charles and the UNSC’s decision to remain silent. The movie also includes the scene where the Americans, British, and French come only to evacuate their peacekeeping troops along with white residents living in Rwanda. Families are separated, and when every Belgian force left, the Hutus signal an ambush in the school. All these scenes evoke frustration in the audience and bring attention to how unreasonable and cowardly the UNSC acted in deserting the Tutsis to defend themselves and how ridiculous the mandate was. If the audiences of the movie act on their anger and voice their opinions in their governments, they may be able to change such flawed, ineffective policies and prevent future atrocities from occurring. The international media also played a large role in the Rwandan genocide by keeping most of the information secret from the public.

Due to the media’s failure to report on the genocide, there was no internal pressure from citizens who could have influenced policymakers to respond by aiding the Tutsis. The media also has an important role in “stimulating governments to take action on social policy” and also “expose problems that need to be addressed.” Hundreds of thousands of lives could have been saved had the media made the international community aware of the ongoing violence in Rwanda. Although the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) did issue a statement implying that the violence in Rwanda, “which has caused over 100,000 in two weeks, constitutes one of the gravest crises that the ICRC has ever faced,” their statements proved useless because details were kept from the world population and the UNSC and the United States refused to involve themselves in the genocide. Press releases also proved “somewhat inflammatory” in a UNSC debate discussing the use of the word ‘genocide’ in an outgoing United Nations Security Council Presidential Statement. The New Zealand ambassador, Colin Keating, tabled a draft of a Presidential Statement in the Security Council that referred to the Rwandan conflict as genocide. The draft was supported by four other non-permanent members namely New Zealand, the Czech Republic, Argentina, and Spain. However, Keating’s proposal was vehemently opposed by the representatives of the United States, United Kingdom, and China, who resisted the use of the word ‘genocide’ since it would have bound members of the Security Council legally and morally to act in terms of the Convention on Genocide. By excluding genocide in the Presidential Statement, citizens had little to no recognition of the catastrophe in Rwanda, nor did they learn of the unjust reasons the UNSC and the United States gave for not intervening. International citizens have the ability to protest against flawed policies such as the UNSC’s mandate.

However, without awareness of the atrocities committed in Rwanda, citizens could do nothing to stop the genocide from continuing. According to a reporter in Rwanda during the time of the genocide, a pastor states that “‘being a pastor was not an excuse.Priests who had condemned the government’s use of ethnic quotas in education and the civil service were among the first victims of the massacres.” In Beyond the Gates, Father Christopher does his best to save every Tutsi life he could, and although he is aware of the fact that his position as priest would not save him, he still persists in his mission. Towards the end of the movie, after Father Christopher heroically devises a plan to let the Tutsi children escape from Kigali, the Interahamwe shoot him to death. By this time, no Belgian peacekeepers are left to protect the Tutsis; they are on their own, on an open pathway to death. His lone act of sympathy towards the Tutsis encourages the audience to likewise take a stand against against future violent conflicts because the Rwandan genocide was not the only genocide that the United States and the United Nations turned a blind eye to. In numerous genocides such as the Ukrainian, Darfur, Bosnian, and Armenian catastrophes, countries underwent so-called ethnic cleansing by attempting to annihilate another ethnic group or religion.

Even in the midst of the violent struggle, many western nations ignored the situation and refused to intervene to stop the genocides. In the Armenian genocide, the Turkish Muslims attempted to eliminate the entire Armenian race because the new government wanted to consolidate Turkish rule, and the Armenian Christians did not wish to westernize and modernize their government after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Almost 2 million Armenians were dead by the end and 1.5 million lives of that death toll were claimed by the long, dreadful deportation death marches. The death marches killed roughly 1.5 million Armenians, covered hundreds of miles, and lasted multiple months. Indirect routes through wilderness areas were deliberately chosen in order to prolong marches and keep the caravans away from Turkish villages. The Turks “demolished any remnants of Armenian cultural heritage” and tried removing “all traces of the three thousand year old civilization. To make matters worse, no Allied power came to the aid of the Armenian Republic; subsequently, the Armenian Republic collapsed. What were 2,133,190 Armenians in the empire in 1914 became a mere 387,800 by 1922.

The terrifying death tolls were due to the negligence of the United States and the United Nations, because unlike the Holocaust, information travelled at a much faster pace, which would have allowed more time for citizens to pressure the government to respond to each genocide, whether there were political benefits or not. However, the media failed to inform international citizens of the violence. Had there been intervention to stop the Rwandan genocide, a large majority of the 800,000 dead Tutsis could have been saved. One survivor, Methode Ruzimbana, testifies:”I was born in a family of eight. My mother, father, and six children…[I was four when] the bad government tried to start the genocide where I lived…My father was shot in the church and he died. My mother was hit by a machete and died in the hills. My brother also died out there in the hills. Two of my other siblings were also killed. I was traumatized at my young age. I would see dead people on the streets and in the hills as we ran away to hide…We had no hope for the future. You would not know if you were going to live through the next day. My aunt told me, I am going to drown in this swampy water and then you follow me. At least we all die by drowning instead of by the killers.’ Ruzimbana was one of the few hundred thousand victims who witnessed the slaughter of their own family and loved ones.

In Beyond the Gates, right before the Belgians evacuate, a man approaches Charles asking him for one favor: Shoot all remaining Tutsi refugees in the school, including women and children, so that they may die a quick death by bullets rather than a painful one by machetes by the hands of the Hutus. The director includes this scene to tie in some of the many thoughts Tutsis had in order to escape the violence, including suicide like what Ruzimbana’s aunt suggested, all to avoid falling into the hands of the Hutus. There is a clear reason why the Rwandan genocide was classified as one of the worst mass killings in the 20th century. If 800,000 people were killed in 100 days and 6 million Jews died in a span of 6 years; then had the Rwandan genocide lasted for six years, based on that rate, the casualties would result in at least 219,000,000 deaths. Beyond the Gates ends with panoramic views transitioning from piles of bodies to different towns covered in blood to show the horrors of the event to help the audience visualize and understand the magnitude of mass execution that the United Nations and the United States allowed happening. The terror the Tutsis had experienced scarred every survivor and eyewitness for the rest of their lives; all were left to die and 800,000 was the sacrifice.

Beyond the Gates encourages the audience to persistently fight for a moral cause, whether or not it is politically beneficial or not. The Rwandan genocide is not the only genocide that the United States and the United Nations ignored; countless other life-threatening conflicts such as the Ukrainian, Bosnian, Darfurian, Cambodian, and Armenian genocides were ignored by the United States and the United Nations as well. Although the world swore “never again” will any country encounter a terrorizing event such as the Holocaust, hatred, as part of human nature, and selfishness still thrives in the world, which is why genocides still exist today. The world must not keep silent; in cries where one’s liberty is at risk of being stripped away, it is vital for the international community to unite and reform previous flawed policies and intervene to prevent future tragic conflicts from worsening.


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