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hotel rwanda summary essay pdf

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You do not believe you can kill them all?

Why not? Why not? We are halfway there already.

In 1994 in Rwanda, a million members of the Tutsi tribe were killed by members of the Hutu tribe in a massacre that took place while the world looked away. "Hotel Rwanda" is not the story of that massacre. It is the story of a hotel manager who saved the lives of 1,200 people by being, essentially, a very good hotel manager.

The man is named Paul Rusesabagina, and he is played by Don Cheadle as a man of quiet, steady competence in a time of chaos. This is not the kind of man the camera silhouettes against mountaintops, but the kind of man who knows how things work in the real world, who uses his skills of bribery, flattery, apology and deception to save these lives who have come into his care.

I have known a few hotel managers fairly well, and I think if I were hiring diplomats, they would make excellent candidates. They speak several languages. They are discreet. They know how to function appropriately in different cultures. They know when a bottle of scotch will repay itself six times over. They know how to handle complaints. And they know everything that happens under their roof, from the millionaire in the penthouse to the bellboy who can get you a girl.

Paul is such a hotel manager. He is a Hutu, married to a Tutsi named Tatiana ( Sophie Okonedo ). He has been trained in Belgium and runs the four-star Hotel Des Milles Collines in the capital city of Kigali. He does his job very well. He understands that when a general's briefcase is taken for safekeeping, it contains bottles of good scotch when it is returned. He understands that to get the imported beer he needs, a bribe must take place. He understands that his guests are accustomed to luxury, which must be supplied even here in a tiny central African nation wedged against Tanzania, Uganda and the Congo. Do these understandings make him a bad man? Just the opposite. They make him an expert on situational ethics. The result of all the things he knows is that the hotel runs well and everyone is happy.

Then the genocide begins, suddenly, but after a long history. Rwanda's troubles began, as so many African troubles began, when European colonial powers established nations that ignored traditional tribal boundaries. Enemy tribes were forced into the same land. For years in Rwanda under the Belgians, the Tutsis ruled and killed not a few Hutu. Now the Hutus are in control, and armed troops prowl the nation, killing Tutsis.

There is a United Nations "presence" in Rwanda, represented by Col. Oliver ( Nick Nolte ). He sees what is happening, informs his superiors, asks for help and intervention, and is ignored. Paul Rusesabagina informs the corporate headquarters in Brussels of the growing tragedy, but the hotel in Kigali is not the chain's greatest concern. Finally it comes down to these two men acting as free-lancers to save more than a thousand lives they have somehow become responsible for.

When "Hotel Rwanda" premiered at Toronto 2004, some reviews criticized the film for focusing on Paul and the colonel, and making little effort to "depict" the genocide as a whole. But director Terry George and writer Keir Pearson have made exactly the correct decision. A film cannot be about a million murders, but it can be about how a few people respond. Paul, as it happens, is a real person, and Col. Oliver is based on one, and "Hotel Rwanda" is about what they really did. The story took shape after Pearson visited Rwanda and heard of a group of people who were saved from massacre.

Cheadle holds his performance resolutely at the human level. His character intuitively understands that only by continuing to act as a hotel manager can he achieve anything. His hotel is hardly functioning, the economy has broken down, the country is ruled by anarchy, but he puts on his suit and tie every morning and fakes business as usual -- even on a day he is so frightened, he cannot tie his tie.

He deals with a murderous Hutu general, for example, not as an enemy or an outlaw, but as a longtime client who knows that the value of a good cigar cannot be measured in cash. Paul has trained powerful people in Kigali to consider the Hotel Des Milles Collines an oasis of sophistication and decorum, and now he pretends that is still the case. It isn't, but it works as a strategy because it cues a different kind of behavior; a man who has yesterday directed a mass murder might today want to show that he knows how to behave appropriately in the hotel lobby.

Nolte's performance is also in a precise key. He came to Rwanda as a peacekeeper, and now there is no peace to keep. The nations are united in their indifference toward Rwanda. In real life, Nolte's bad-boy headlines distract from his acting gifts; here his character is steady, wise, cynical and a master of the possible. He makes a considered choice in ignoring his orders and doing what he can do, right now, right here, to save lives.

How the 1,200 people come to be "guests" in the hotel is a chance of war. Some turn left, some right, some live, some die. Paul is concerned above all with his own family. As a Hutu, he is safe, but his wife is Tutsi, his children are threatened, and in any event, he is far beyond thinking in tribal terms. He has spent years storing up goodwill and now he calls in favors. He moves the bribery up another level. He hides people in his hotel. He lies. He knows how to use a little blackmail: Sooner or later, he tells a powerful general, the world will take a reckoning of what happened in Kigali, and if Paul is not alive to testify for him, who else will be believed?

This all succeeds as riveting drama. "Hotel Rwanda" is not about hotel management, but about heroism and survival. Rusesabagina rises to the challenge. The film works not because the screen is filled with meaningless special effects, formless action and vast digital armies, but because Cheadle, Nolte and the filmmakers are interested in how two men choose to function in an impossible situation. Because we sympathize with these men, we are moved by the film.

Deep movie emotions for me usually come not when the characters are sad, but when they are good.

You will see what I mean.

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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Hotel Rwanda movie poster

Hotel Rwanda (2004)

Rated PG-13 violence, disturbing images and brief strong language

121 minutes

Sophie Okonedo as Tatiana

Don Cheadle as Paul Rusesabagina

Joaquin Phoenix as Jack

Nick Nolte as Col. Oliver

  • Terry George
  • Keir Pearson

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“Hotel Rwanda”: an In-Depth Film Analysis of the Cast and their Impact

This essay about “Hotel Rwanda” focuses on the cast’s crucial role in bringing the harrowing tale of the Rwandan genocide to life. Highlighting Don Cheadle’s nuanced portrayal of Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager who saved over a thousand lives, the essay underscores the emotional depth and complexity Cheadle brings to the character. Sophie Okonedo, as Tatiana Rusesabagina, and Nick Nolte, portraying a UN peacekeeper, are also discussed for their contributions to the film’s narrative and emotional resonance. The essay touches on the performances of other key cast members, emphasizing how each actor adds to the film’s exploration of humanity amidst tragedy. It concludes by reflecting on the ensemble’s ability to authentically convey the story’s gravity, thus ensuring the film not only serves as a historical recount but also as a poignant call to action against human rights abuses.

How it works

“Hotel Rwanda,” a film released in 2004, stands as a powerful testament to the resilience of the human spirit amidst one of the darkest chapters in recent history, the Rwandan genocide. Directed by Terry George, the movie brings to life the true story of Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager who used his wit and courage to shelter over a thousand refugees during the genocide. The film’s impact is significantly bolstered by its cast, who deliver performances that are not only compelling but also deeply humanizing.

This essay aims to explore the ensemble of actors who brought this poignant story to the screen, shedding light on their roles and contributions to the film’s narrative and emotional depth.

At the forefront of “Hotel Rwanda” is Don Cheadle, who takes on the role of Paul Rusesabagina. Cheadle’s portrayal is both nuanced and powerful, capturing the complex web of emotions experienced by Paul as he navigates the perilous landscape of a country torn apart by violence. Through Cheadle’s performance, audiences are offered an intimate look into the courage and moral fortitude required to make unthinkable choices under the shadow of genocide. His ability to convey the weight of the situation, coupled with moments of vulnerability, earned him widespread acclaim and several award nominations.

Sophie Okonedo plays Tatiana Rusesabagina, Paul’s wife, and is the emotional cornerstone of the film. Okonedo brings a gentle strength to the character, portraying a woman who is both deeply concerned for her family’s safety and supportive of her husband’s efforts to save others. Her portrayal highlights the often-unsung heroism of those who stand by their loved ones in times of crisis, providing support that becomes a source of strength in itself.

The cast also includes Nick Nolte as Colonel Oliver, a character based on the real-life UN peacekeeper Romeo Dallaire. Nolte captures the frustration and helplessness faced by international forces during the genocide, constrained by the limitations of their mandate and the global community’s indifference. Joaquin Phoenix, playing a journalist, offers a lens through which the international perspective on the crisis is critiqued, questioning the role and power of the media in shaping the world’s response to such atrocities.

Supporting roles by actors like Desmond Dube, as Dube the hotel’s receptionist, and Fana Mokoena, who plays General Augustin Bizimungu, add layers to the narrative, representing the diverse spectrum of experiences and moral choices faced by individuals during the genocide. Their performances contribute to the film’s exploration of humanity’s capacity for both cruelty and kindness.

“Hotel Rwanda” is a film where each cast member, regardless of the size of their role, contributes to a larger narrative that is both a memorial to the victims of the genocide and a call to action. The actors’ dedication to authentically portraying their characters ensures that the story of the Rwandan genocide is told with the dignity, respect, and complexity it deserves. Their performances invite audiences to reflect not only on the events of the past but also on the ongoing need for vigilance, empathy, and action in the face of human rights abuses.

In conclusion, the cast of “Hotel Rwanda” brings to life a story that is as heart-wrenching as it is inspiring. Through their skilled performances, they navigate the delicate balance of portraying real-life horror without losing sight of the individual human stories at its heart. This ensemble not only memorializes a tragic chapter in history but also underscores the power of cinema to foster empathy, awareness, and, ultimately, change.


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hotel rwanda summary essay pdf


SUBJECTS — World/Rwanda & the Post-Cold War Era; U.S./1991 to Present;


MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Respect; Citizenship.

“ Hotel Rwanda “: Age: 14+; MPAA Rating — PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, and brief strong language; Drama; 2004; 121 minutes.; Color.

“ Sometimes in April “: Age: 14+; MPAA Rating: TV-MA (suitable for mature audiences or adults only) ; Drama; 2005; 140 minutes; Color.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Benefits of the Movie Possible Problems Parenting Points Selected Awards & Cast

Helpful Background Discussion Questions Social-Emotional Learning Moral-Ethical Emphasis

Assignments and Projects Bridges to Reading Links to the Internet Bibliography


TWM offers the following movie worksheets to keep students’ minds on the film and to focus their attention on the lessons to be learned from the movie.

Film Study Worksheet for a Work of Historical Fiction

Film Study Worksheet for ELA Classes ; and

Worksheet for Cinematic and Theatrical Elements and Their Effects .

Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM’s Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project .


These films describe different aspects of the Rwandan genocide. From April to July 1994, some 927,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu were shot or hacked to death. The perpetrators were the Hutu-dominated army, the Interahamwe militia, and the neighbors and friends of the victims. The international community – in particular, the United States, Western Europe, and the U.N. – knew what was going on but stood by and did nothing.

“Hotel Rwanda” tells how Paul Rusesabagina protected 1,268 people who took refuge in the Hotel Mille Collines. Like “ Schindler’s List ,” this movie paints an inspiring portrait of one man’s evolving moral conviction and how, using his wits and charm, he held maniacal killers at bay.

“Sometimes in April” has a broader sweep, recounting the stories of many victims of the genocide. In addition, the film describes the situation of three fictional survivors. Martine, a teacher at a Catholic girls’ school, lives with the memory of seeing her class massacred. Augustin is a Hutu who had married a Tutsi. His wife and sons were murdered trying to escape. His daughter was a student in Martine’s class. Augustin’s brother, Honore, was a hate-mongering announcer for Radio RTLM. As the story begins, Honore is on trial before the International War Crimes Tribunal for inciting people to commit genocide.

“Sometimes in April” shows the genocide in a series of flashbacks. Scenes of documented atrocities are recreated in the movie, including: the murder of young girls at a Catholic school, Hutu and Tutsi alike, when the Hutu girls refused to give up their Tutsi classmates; the killing of moderate Hutu Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana; and the repatriation of mostly white foreign nationals by French and Belgian troops, leaving a group of Tutsis to their fate at the hands of waiting genocidaires. “Sometimes in April” shows the three survivors trying to deal with the effects of the genocide. The film shows a gacaca (pronounced ga-cha-ca), a Truth and Reconciliation style village meeting used to reintegrate low-level killers into society without further punishment. It also shows proceedings at the International Criminal Tribunal in Arusha at which the leaders of the Rwandan genocide are being tried for crimes against humanity.


Hotel rwanda.

Selected Awards: 2004 Academy Awards Nominations: Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Cheadle); Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Sophie Okonedo); Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen;

Featured Actors: Don Cheadle as Paul Rusesabagina; Sophie Okonedo as Tatiana Rusesabagina; Nick Nolte as Colonel Oliver.

Director: Terry George


Selected Awards: None.

Featured Actors: Idris Elba as Augustin Muganza, Oris Erhuero as Honore Muganza, Carole Karemera as Jeanne Muganza (Augustin’s wife), Abby Mikiibi Nkaaga as Rwandan Col. Bagosora, Pamela Nomvete as Martine, Debra Winger as Prudence Bushnell.

Director: Raoul Peck


Both movies stay very close to the truth. “Sometimes in April” paints a more complete picture of the genocide, showing the horror of the hundred days and the difficulty of recovery. The film raises questions of guilt, punishment, forgiveness, and reconciliation that Rwandans must still resolve.

“Hotel Rwanda” shows less killing and focuses on the uplifting story of an ordinary man who rises to heroic stature under the most frightening circumstances. It is an excellent lesson in courage. “Hotel Rwanda” also describes the difficult position of peacekeeping forces when they are not supported by the U.N. and the international community. By focusing on the daring of Mr. Rusesabagina and the survival of the refugees at the Mille Collines, “Hotel Rwanda” provides a cushioned introduction to the horrifying subject of the Rwandan genocide.

Each of these films will acquaint students with the continuing problem of genocide. After the Holocaust the world said “Never again.” However, since 1945, humanity has repeatedly stood by and let genocide occur. (At present the world is struggling with a genocide in Darfur.)

Both movies can serve as a springboard to discussions on the legacy of colonialism and the challenges facing emerging countries in Africa. Students can explore the history and dynamics of genocide and issues of justice and forgiveness on a personal and national level. These films can also promote discussions of the potential for peacekeeping, as well as the responsibilities of individuals and the media in times of crisis.


SERIOUS: Both films show the murders of many people. However, there is no gratuitous violence, and care has been taken to avoid making the images too graphic. Scenes of people being killed with machetes are shot from a distance. But depictions of genocide are upsetting. Sensitive children might be disturbed by either of these movies.

Both “Hotel Rwanda” and “Sometimes in April” contain profanity uttered in extreme situations.


Tell children that each of these movies accurately shows what happened in Rwanda in 1994. Hotel Rwanda focuses on the heroism of one man, and while his heroism is important, the story of the Rwandan genocide is about some 927,000 people being murdered by their countrymen, friends, and neighbors. Immediately after the movie, ask the Quick Discussion Question for that film. Then at odd times over the next week (for example at the dinner table or in the car on the way to school), bring up one of the other Discussion Questions. Don’t worry if you can only get through a few questions. Just taking the film seriously and discussing it a little is the key. Allow your children to watch these movies several times on their own if they want.


A brief selective history.

All Rwandans share a common language, Kinyarwanda. They have the same cultural heritage, including a common national mythology which enshrines the origins and historical relationships of their three peoples: the Hutu (85% of the population); the Tutsi (14%); and the Twa, or Pygmy (1%).

The Rwandan myth of origins asserts that the first king of the earth had three sons, GaTWA, GaHUTU, and GaTUTSI. Each was given a pot of milk. Gatwa drank all of his. Gahutu spilled his. But Gatutsi, demonstrating his natural superiority, kept his safe. So the king put Gatutsi in charge of all. The word Hutu originally meant “servant” or “subject” and the word Tutsi meant “rich in cattle.” In general, but with many exceptions, the Tutsi were taller and had sharper features. The Hutu (again generally and with many exceptions) were shorter with larger noses and blunter features. Tutsi tended cattle, and were overlords. Hutu farmed the land and were regarded as peasants. It was possible to change one’s classification by intermarriage or “social climbing.” In effect, the difference between Hutu and Tutsi was one of caste/class rather than ethnicity.

In 1884, a hundred years before the genocide, the European colonial powers began to operate in the Great Lakes section of Africa that includes Rwanda. (1884 was also the year the Dutch took control of South Africa.) Rwanda was initially colonized by the Germans. The peace treaty ending WWI, gave a League of Nations “trusteeship” over the colony to Belgium. The Tutsi, who looked more European to the colonizers, were seen as natural aristocrats and were favored in government and society. Employing a “divide and rule” strategy, the Belgians used the Tutsi to help them control the Hutu. Identity cards were issued with Hutu and Tutsi as “ethnic” designations in 1926.

During the late 1950s, many African colonies became independent. The Belgians turned the government of Rwanda over to the majority Hutu, who promptly reversed the preferences that the Tutsi had enjoyed. After independence in 1962, it was Tutsi children who were excluded from school and Tutsi adults who could not get government jobs.

From the 1960s onward, there were episodes in which Tutsis massacred Hutus, and Hutus massacred Tutsis in both Rwanda and neighboring Burundi, which has a similar class/caste system. Some of the massacres were very large, with 200,000 Hutu and Tutsi being killed in Burundi in 1993. Due to repression and recurring massacres, half the Tutsi population of Rwanda had fled to neighboring countries by 1994. Many Hutu from Burundi, radicalized by the conflict in their own country, had fled to Rwanda.

In 1990, the exiled Tutsi formed a rebel force, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, or RPF, to invade their homeland and win the right of return. This set the stage for the Hutu-dominated Rwandan government to paint all Tutsis as traitors. The government condoned or actually sponsored outbreaks of violence against the Tutsi. The RPF was better trained and had a brilliant general, Paul Kagame. By 1993, the RPF was a real threat to the Hutu-dominated Rwandan government.

A coalition government was announced in 1993 after negotiations in Arusha, Tanzania. The UN passed a resolution creating the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) under a Chapter VI mandate to assist in implementing the Arusha Accords. (Peacekeepers operating under Chapter VI of the U.N. Charter may only use force if they are attacked and only to defend themselves.) General Roméo Dallaire of Canada was appointed Force Commander. He first arrived in Rwanda on an information-gathering mission with little more than a map and an encyclopedia article on Rwanda. Dallaire requested 5,000 peacekeeping troops but was granted only 2,500.

The genocide was planned months or years in advance by Hutu extremists in the army and the government. It was launched in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, on April 7, 1994, when the plane carrying Rwandan president Habyarimana, and Burundian President Ntaryamira (also a Hutu) was shot down by a handheld, ground to air missile. The genocide ended only when the RPF completed its conquest of the country on July 18, 1994.


As the RPF gained territory from Rwandan government forces, millions of Hutu refugees fled to camps in Goma, Zaire, and other border areas. Many genocidaires were embedded in the stream of refugees. International humanitarian aid poured in to prevent famine and disease in the camps. This had the undesired effect of bolstering the Hutu extremists, who wound up as de facto leaders of the refugees. They continued their aggression from the camps. The new Rwandan government, now dominated by Tutsi, has itself launched incursions into neighboring countries. Instability and warfare within the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi have resulted in four million deaths in the Great Lakes Region of Africa in the decade since the Rwandan genocide.

The RPF crammed 100,000 accused genocidaires into inadequate prisons. Rwandan courts started trying people suspected of planning the genocide in 1996. In 1998, some condemned prisoners were publicly executed. At the time, these executions were considered therapeutic.

Several years after the genocide, the government sought to use a traditional form of Rwandan dispute resolution called “gacaca” to reconcile the ordinary people who participated in the killing with their former victims and the survivors. Gacaca hearings were traditionally used to address relatively minor property disputes within villages. They stress truth-telling and accountability. For a description of how gacaca worked in traditional Rwandan society, see Rusesabagina & Zoellner, An Ordinary Man, pp. 8 & 9. The word “gacaca” comes from the Kinyarwanda word for grass or lawn. The dynamic of this “justice on the grass” has worked well in South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation process. But Rwanda’s wounds are far more traumatic and the current government’s commitment to human rights is not as strong as the commitment of Nelson Mandela’s government in South Africa. Unfortunately, “justice on the grass” has proven inadequate to deal with the wounds of genocide. The gacaca program has now virtually collapsed. For a critical look at how the gacaca courts have failed and a list of references on the web, see Gacaca Courts in Post-Genocide Rwanda by Radha Webley.

In 2003, President Kagame ordered the release of some 40,000 prisoners: the very old, the very young, and the gravely ill. The Rwandan government has also instituted a program to cut in half the sentences of convicted genocidaires who confess and cooperate with authorities. These programs removed about half of the prisoners from Rwanda’s overcrowded jails. They not only freed prisoners but also relieved their families of a tremendous burden. When a person is imprisoned in Rwanda, the family must provide food. The prisons only accept food during the days. This usually means that the spouse cannot work, a factor which further impoverishes the family of the prisoner. Paul Rusesabagina, April 4, 2006 Lecture, Los Angeles, CA.

The civil war brought the Tutsi to power again. RPF general Paul Kagame served as the unelected president of Rwanda from 2000 to 2003. In August of that year, Kagame was elected president with an incredible 95% of the vote. Observers charge that he won through intimidation and by outlawing the opposition party. See “ Kagame won, a Little Too Well “.

In 2003, in an interview, President Kagame stated that:

Genocide is central to the history of Rwanda and Rwandans because it is an expression of what went so badly wrong in our history. We must, therefore, understand the causes of the problem, confront them, and address them. It plays a central role. It tells us about our history. It tells us about the present and it tells us about the future as well, informing us that if we are to move into the future with hope, there are certain issues that we must address without question. Otherwise, there is always a danger that if we do things wrong, there is a possibility of sliding back. I am sure that all the people of Rwanda, irrespective of their backgrounds, would not wish that to happen again. It caused a disaster for everyone. There is nobody in Rwanda who did not suffer from this bad period in our history. So reason will have to prevail in informing everyone that we cannot have a repeat of this kind of thing at any cost.

President Kagame has ordered that designations of Hutu and Tutsi be removed from identity cards. He claims that approximately 5% of the public revenue is allocated to relief for victims of the genocide. It pays for school fees, shelter, and medical treatment for victims. He states that he would like to do more but Rwanda is a poor country. President Kagame is also critical of the International Criminal Tribunal in Arusha. It has spent more than six hundred million dollars and has processed only a handful of cases.

Kagame has his critics, among them Paul Rusesabagina, who had to flee Rwanda two years after the genocide. Persons with high positions in the government threatened his life to obtain an advantage in a business transaction. Mr. Rusesabagina now lives in Belgium. He ridicules Kagame’s claim that he received 95% of the vote in a free election and charges that Kagame is behaving like any other African despot. According to Rusesabagina Rwanda today is “governed by and for the benefit of a small group of Tutsis.” Rusesabagina & Zoellner, An Ordinary Man, p. 199.


Unlike the industrialized Holocaust engineered by the Nazis, Rwanda was a person-to-person genocide. Small arms imported from countries such as Egypt, South Africa, and Poland were used in the attacks. Farm implements were used to kill. But it is the infamous machetes (one for every three Hutu males) that are forever identified with the horror of the slaughter. The killing occurred face-to-face. The killers were often spattered with the blood of their victims.

The genocidaires achieved a “kill rate” of 1,000 people in 20 minutes, outdoing the Nazis in their ghastly efficiency. The planners of the genocide agreed on a system of communications that would work “under the radar screen”: whistles, runners, and secret meetings.

Some of the killers reveled in their atrocities. Their victims were often neighbors, students, patients, and parishioners. Sometimes the victims were family members. Children would be killed in front of their parents. The genocidaires sometimes forced their victims to kill before they themselves were killed. Parents would be required to kill their own children. Neighbor would be required to kill neighbor. Friend would be required to kill friend. A large part of the populace was either incited, deputized, or forced to kill.

It was a genocide of horrifying savagery and cruelty. Some victims were killed slowly. First, the tendons in their legs would be cut so that they could not run away. Then an arm would be severed and the victim left for a while. The killers would then return and severe another limb. The purpose was to intensify the cruelty of the death and prolong the suffering in a “passionate desire to destroy not only the body but the soul of the victim before ending their life ….” Sibomana, Hope for Rwanda, p. 69

The Rwandan genocide involved rape and murder on a massive scale. The following eye-witness descriptions from General Dallaire, the Commander of UNAMIR, are haunting. You may not want to read them to students. You may not want to read them yourself:

“We drove by abandoned check-points ringed with corpses, sometimes beheaded and dumped like rubbish, sometimes stacked meticulously beside neat piles of heads. Many corpses rapidly decayed into blinding white skeletons in the hot sun….

“We saw many faces of death during the genocide, from the innocence of babies to the bewilderment of the elderly, from the defiance of fighters to the resigned stares of nuns. I saw so many faces and try now to remember each one. Early on I seemed to develop a screen between me and the sights and sounds to allow me to stay focused on the work to be done….

“… [I]f you looked, you could see the evidence [of rape, torture and mutilation] even in the whitened skeletons. The legs bent apart. A broken bottle, a rough branch, even a knife between them. Where the bodies were fresh, we saw what must have been semen pooled on and near the dead women and girls. There was always a lot of blood. Some male corpses had their genitals cut off … many women and young girls had their breasts chopped off and their genitals crudely cut apart. They died in a position of total vulnerability, flat on their backs with their legs bent and knees wide apart. It was the expressions on their dead faces that assaulted me the most, a frieze of shock, pain, and humiliation. For many years after I came home, I banished the memories of those faces from my mind, but they have come back, all too clearly.” Shake Hands with the Devil, p. 430.

General Dallaire also describes a trip he took to RPF territory to see General Kagame. At that point, the RPF had not yet reached the capital Kigali and Dallaire had to cross a river to get to Kagame’s headquarters.

“… The RPF engineers had constructed a pontoon-type bridge that light pickup trucks could cross gingerly. Getting out of my vehicle, I noticed a number of soldiers with long poles upstream, pulling bloated bodies up on the bank. To me this was now such a commonplace sight it did not penetrate my protective screen.

” I did not want to risk our vehicles on the bridge. As we made our way across on foot, I noticed that clothes were caught between the struts of the floating base and I stopped to look over the side. Staring up at me were the faces of half-nude corpses, stuck under the bridge. There were a lot of them. In some places they had accumulated to the point that we were actually walking on a bridge of dead bodies. On the far bank, soldiers were trying to pry them loose for fear that their weight would pull the bridge apart. The screen shattered, my stomach heaved and I struggled for composure. I couldn’t bear the movements of the bridge, up and down on the slaughtered hundreds. Dallaire, Shake Hands With the Devil p. 431.

As Michael Barnett says:

“The genocide was executed with a brutality and sadism that defy imagination. Eyewitnesses were in denial. They believed that the high-pitched screams they were hearing were wind gusts, that the packs of dogs at the roadside were feeding on animal remains and not dismembered corpses, that the smells enveloping them emanated from spoiled food and not decomposing bodies. One is reminded of Primo Levi’s observation about the Holocaust: ‘things whose existence is not morally comprehensible cannot exist.'” Eyewitness to a Genocide, Michael Barnett, p. 1.

If you believe that we are all capable of doing what one individual or one group of people has done, then we must look deeply into the reality and the mystery of this unspeakable horror to figure out what constraints must be put into place so that it never happens again; or if it does, that we, humankind, can at least cut it short and ameliorate its impact.


In 1994, several international crises absorbed the attention of world leaders. In addition, Rwanda’s fate did not affect the interests of any world power. It has no oil, nor does it have iron, steel, diamonds, or other natural resources. Its location is not strategic.

There were many risks to intervention. U.S. and Pakistani peacekeepers had recently been killed in Somalia. (Dead U.S. soldiers had been dragged through the streets of Mogadishu.) In Rwanda, there was an ongoing civil war and a real possibility that international troops would get caught in a cross-fire. (Several members of General Dallaire’s UNAMIR force were in fact killed by weapons aimed at opponents in the civil war.) There was no legitimate government to request intervention. Many of the available well-trained troops would be from developed countries and would be white. The intervention might then appear to be a colonial venture.

On the side of intervention was the need to protect human life; hundreds of thousands of lives as it turned out. In addition, allowing genocide to occur on any part of the globe reduces the level of national and international political morality. (In contrast, Gandhi’s non-violent movement for independence in India raised the level of world-wide political ethics. See Learning Guide to “Gandhi” .) As discussed below, relatively few foreign troops, a total of 5,000, would have been enough to stop the genocide.

Shortly after the genocide, the universal judgment was that the failure to intervene was a great mistake. It was seen as a failure to recognize long-term, important goals in favor of short-term, relatively minor goals.

In January 1994, three months before the killings began, General Dallaire sent an urgent coded cable to U.N. headquarters in New York stating that an informant known as “Jean-Pierre” had reported plans for a systematic extermination of Tutsis and had disclosed the location of hidden stockpiles of weapons to be used in the genocide. President Habyarimana had lost control of the Hutu extremists, whose plans were being finalized under the leadership of Rwandan Army Colonel Theodore Bagosora. Jean-Pierre had also talked about plans to trap and kill Belgian peacekeepers to force the U.N. to withdraw. In his cable, which came to be known as The Dallaire Fax , the Canadian General proposed to raid the weapons caches. Despite the fact that the veracity of the informant was confirmed by the U.N. Secretary General’s personal representative in Kigali, U.N. headquarters in New York denied Dallaire permission to raid the caches. Dallaire, Shake Hands With the Devil, pp. 146 – 148. It later turned out that all of Jean-Pierre’s information was accurate.

The world soon knew that large-scale slaughter was occurring in Rwanda. Joyce Leader, deputy chief of the U.S. Mission in Kigali, recalls that early on the morning after President Habyarimana’s plane was shot down, “People were calling me and telling me who was getting killed. I knew they were going door-to-door.” She explained to her colleagues at the State Department that “three kinds of killing were going on: casualties in war, politically motivated murder (moderate and opposition Hutu) and genocide.” Power, Bystanders to Genocide, Atlantic Monthly, September 2001.

As of April 10, General Dallaire was telling the U.N. that the Rwandan Army and the Interahamwe militia were killing anyone with a Tutsi identity card. Ten Belgian peacekeepers had been tortured and killed by the extremists on the first day of the genocide. (Right on schedule according to the plan disclosed by “Jean-Pierre”.) When their mutilated bodies were sent home on April 14, Belgium appealed to the U.S. to call for a withdrawal of all peacekeeping forces. Belgium did not want to be seen as the lone country abandoning the Rwandans. General Dallaire, frustrated that his pleas for help were being ignored, cabled the U.N. on April 30th: “Unless the international community acts, it may find it is unable to defend itself against accusations of doing nothing to stop genocide.” HR Watch But the international community did not forcefully intervene. “American officials, for a variety of reasons, shunned the use of what became known as ‘the g-word.’ They felt that using it would have obliged the United States to act, under the terms of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide . They also believed, understandably, that it would harm U.S. credibility to name the crime and then do nothing to stop it.” A Defense Department memo states that U.S. officials were worried that a “genocide finding could commit [the U.S. government] to actually ‘do something.'”

In April, General Dallaire also told the U.N. that with 5,000 motivated and experienced soldiers he could stop the genocide. The soldiers never materialized. Three years after the genocide, the Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict, Georgetown University, and the U.S. Army made an intensive study of Dallaire’s proposal, using a panel of international experts. They determined that, “The hypothetical force described by General Dallaire–at least 5,000 strong, depending on the method of employment, and armed with the equipment and capabilities to employ and sustain a brigade in combat–could have made a significant difference in Rwanda in 1994…. In Rwanda, a window of opportunity for the employment of such a force extended roughly from about April 7 to April 21, 1994, when the political leaders of the violence were still susceptible to international influence. The rapid introduction of robust combat forces, authorized to seize at one time critical points throughout the country, would have changed the political calculations of the participants. The opportunity existed to prevent the killing, to interpose a force between the conventional combatants and re-establish the DMZ [Demilitarized Zone], and to put the negotiations back on track. Additional forces may have been required to solidify the initial success and maintain order.”

Throughout the hundred days of the genocide, General Dallaire repeatedly reported to his superiors what was going on and pleaded for help to stop the genocide. U.N. and international observers came to Rwanda and verified that genocide was occurring. The primary practical response was to reduce UNAMIR to less than 500 troops, not to increase the force levels so that it could effectively intervene. Even when the U.N. belatedly agreed to ask member countries to send the 5,000 troops and the equipment that they would need, nothing significant materialized. For example, the U.S. was to provide the armored personnel carriers for the troops but the Army imposed so many bureaucratic delays that APCs didn’t reach Rwanda before the end of the genocide. Had the international community acted promptly, hundreds of thousands, perhaps as many as 500,000 lives could have been saved.


As in Nazi Germany, the mass media was used by the extremists to help create the preconditions for genocide.

The extremist Hutu paper Kangura (“Wake up!) published its “Ten Commandments of the Hutu” at the end of 1990. The commandments, like Hitler’s Nuremberg laws and the precepts of the Bosnia Serbs, smeared and branded the minority (Tutsi) as traitorous, second class citizens, and called for the limitation of their rights. Power, A Problem from Hell pg 338.

The major method of communication between the leaders of the genocidaires and their minions was radio RTLM. Formally called Radio Television Libre Mille Collines, radio RTLM was known in the international community as “Hate Radio.” Transistor radios had become cheap and widely available in Rwanda just before the beginning of the genocide. Radio RTLM was financed by Hutu extremists, including President Habyarimana, his wife, and her associates. Radio RTLM incited the Hutu people to exterminate the Inyenzi (“cockroaches”). After the genocide started, RTLM broadcast names and addresses of people who were to be murdered around the clock. “I listened … ” one survivor recalled, “because if you were mentioned over the airways, you were sure to be carted off a short time later by the Interahamwe. You knew you had to change your address at once.” Power, A Problem from Hell p. 7.

In May, some U.S. officials suggested jamming RTLM broadcasts. The responses ranged from “too difficult technically” to “too expensive” to “we can’t interfere with free speech, especially in another country.” However, the International War Crimes Tribunal has ruled that RTLM managers and announcers were guilty of crimes against humanity. Inciting and facilitating genocide is not protected speech.

The international media could have been instrumental in stopping the genocide. Dallaire was acutely aware of the importance of the media. When the expatriates were being evacuated, he persuaded a BBC reporter to stay by allowing him to live in the U.N. compound, guaranteeing him protection, and promising him a story a day. Dallaire, Shake Hands with the Devil, p. 332. Samantha Power quotes Dallaire as saying: “A reporter with a line to the West was worth a battalion on the ground,” and, “at that point, the journalists were really all I had”. But some reporters fell into the same trap as the diplomats who specialized in Africa, interpreting the violence as one more manifestation of ancient tribal hatreds, rather than a new phenomenon created by extremist politicians. Power, A Problem from Hell pp. 355 – 56.


A genocide is the effort to exterminate an entire ethnic group, culture or race by murder, sterilization, rape, relocation, etc. A genocide is never accidental. It is always planned and requires a hierarchy of command to execute. (In the case of Rwanda, the extremist Hutu government and its sympathizers probably began planning the 1994 genocide years before it occurred.) It requires a ruthless government that can crush and silence opposition, rally an efficient killing force, identify the target group, manipulate the media, and parry any thrusts of intervention from the outside world. It requires people who are willing to kill and many good people who stand by and do nothing.

Are cultures and races of people analogous to species of animals? Many people would say that the death of an individual wild animal is regrettable, but the annihilation of an entire species of animal or plant is something we must work to avoid in the name of biodiversity. Differentiating genocide from large scale massacre and murder infers that we do place a special value on maintaining the human cultural/ethnic equivalent of biodiversity. Extinction, cultural or biological, is forever.


The sine qua non for genocide is people willing to kill: to hack others apart with a machete; to pull the trigger of a gun; to finger someone for the genocidaires. However, it is also true that there are conditions and forces which lead people to abandon their morality and embrace evil. After all, the vast majority of Rwandans (93.6%) claim to be Christians. CIA Factbook Article on Rwanda What happened?

Background Conditions:

  • Historical class/caste divisions and grievances based on the Tutsi role as overlords of the Hutu; this was exacerbated and institutionalized by the “divide and rule” policy of the Belgian colonists;
  • Poverty and overpopulation (only Bangladesh has a greater population density than Rwanda); contraception was effectively banned in Rwanda;
  • Tightly organized and controlled communities;
  • A subservient population used to following orders;
  • A culture of impunity (a society without the rule of law) which tolerated powerful or aggressive people taking what they wanted without any consequences. (Paul Rusesabagina described it this way: “I am convinced that one of the strongest engines of the Rwandan genocide was the culture of impunity that was allowed to flourish after the revolution against the colonists began in 1959. Rwandans killed their neighbors just to take their houses, people killed people for their banana trees, people leaped over the counters of abandoned general stores and started selling the merchandise as if they were the rightful owners.” These activities went on without the perpetrators being called to account. Rusesabagina & Zoellner, An Ordinary Man p. 198; André Sibomana also noted the culture of impunity and its role in the genocide. See Sibomana, Hope for Rwanda, p. 105).

Acting forces:

  • The perception of the Tutsi as “other” and less than human, as vermin (“cockroaches”) to be exterminated;
  • A despotic government comprised of extremists determined to maintain power at any cost and capable of meticulously planning mass killing;
  • An exiled Tutsi rebel force invading from Uganda, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) which the extremists used to stir up the fears of the populace; Hutu Power claimed that the goal of the RPF was to exterminate the Hutu;
  • A ready supply of jobless young men who didn’t see any future for themselves who were recruited into the Interahamwe;
  • Hate Radio, the chatty and entertaining RTLM, which debuted on the airwaves in June of 1993 and spread the poison of hatred until the RPF pulled the plug in July of 1994;
  • France’s Assistance to the Habyarimana government, including the officers who trained the Interahamwe militias. Although the first language of all Rwandans is Kinyarwanda, France was in favor of maintaining the French-speaking, or Francophone, government. The Tutsi rebels had grown up in Anglophone (English speaking) Uganda;
  • Egyptian, South African and Polish arms dealers willing to sell arms; and
  • International aid money (siphoned off to buy weapons for the genocide).

Paul Rusesabagina wrote:

I will never forget walking out of my house the first day of the killings. There were people in the streets who I had known seven years, neighbors of mine who had come over to our place for our regular Sunday cookouts. These people were wearing military uniforms that had been handed out by the militia. They were holding machetes and were trying to get inside the houses of those they knew to be Tutsi, those who had Tutsi relatives, or those who refused to go along with the murders. Rusesabagina & Zoellner, An Ordinary Man, p. xiv.

Mr. Rusesabagina describes a neighbor, about thirty years old. “Peter was just a cool guy; so nice to children, very gentle, kind of a kidder, but never mean with his humor.” That night Peter killed his neighbors with a machete. Rusesabagina asks why, and proposes an answer,

. . . Very simply: words.

The parents of these people had been told over and over again that they were uglier and stupider than the Tutsis. They were told they would never be as physically attractive or as capable of running the affairs of the country. It was a poisonous stream of rhetoric designed to reinforce the power of the elite. When the Hutus came to power they spoke evil words of their own, fanning the old resentments, exciting the hysterical dark places in the heart. Ibid.

He points to the words of the broadcasts of “hate radio RTLM” and how at first it limited itself to ethnic jokes at the expense of the Tutsi. It then stressed long standing Hutu grievances against the Tutsi and stirred up fears that the RPF invaders would triumph and dispossess the Hutu. Step by step, it grew more radical until it denied the Tutsis’ humanity and urged the Hutu populace to kill every Tutsi, including friends and relatives.

The avalanche of words celebrating racial supremacy and encouraging people to do their duty [kill Tutsis] created an alternate reality in Rwanda for those three months. It was an atmosphere where the insane was made to seem normal and disagreement with the mob was fatal.

Rwanda was a failure on so many levels. It started as a failure of the European colonists who exploited trivial differences for the sake of a divide and rule strategy. It was the failure of Africa to get beyond its ethnic divisions and form true coalition governments. It was a failure of the Western democracies to step in and avert the catastrophe when abundant evidence was available. It was a failure of the United States for not calling a genocide by its right name. It was the failure of the United Nations to live up to its commitments as a peacemaking body.

All of these come down to a failure of words. And this is what I want to tell you: Words are the most effective weapons of death in man’s arsenal. But they can also be powerful tools of life. They may be the only ones.

Today I am convinced that the only thing that saved those 1,268 people in my hotel was words. … just ordinary words directed against the darkness…. I used words in many ways during the genocide — to plead, intimidate, coax, cajole, and negotiate. I was slippery and evasive when I needed to be. I acted friendly toward despicable people. I put cartons of champagne in their car trunks. I flattered them shamelessly. I said whatever I thought it would take to keep the people in my hotel from being killed. …. Id at pp. xiv – xvi.


Many of the U.N. peacekeepers acted heroically to save lives during the genocide. Particularly stalwart were the units from Ghana and Tunisia. Officers from several other countries attached to the U.N. mission also acted heroically. Prohibited by civilian authorities at the U.N. from firing their guns except to protect their own lives, UNAMIR soldiers placed their bodies between the genocidaires and people who needed protection. At times they would have to pull and kick the killers from their intended victims. Individuals like Phillipe Gaillard of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the U.N. Force Commandeer commander LT General Roméo Dallaire went to heroic lengths to save Rwandans.

Senegalese Captain Mbaye Diagne, a peacekeeper serving under General Dallaire, was a charismatic man whose official position was liaison between the Rwandan armed forces and the U.N. This provided him with an excuse to move around Kigali. He charmed, bantered, and bribed his way through roadblocks to save lives a few at a time. He saved the children of the Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana, who was killed by the Rwandan Army in the first hours of the genocide. Captain Diagne, a devout Muslim, is thought to have rescued hundreds of people. His actions were contrary to UNAMIR’s rules of engagement. General Dallaire knew what Captain Diagne was doing, but took no steps to stop him. Unfortunately, Captain Diagne was killed by an RPF mortar as he tried to negotiate his way through a government military checkpoint. This occurred just as his unit prepared to leave the country. Captain Diagne was aided by his companion Captain Senyo of Ghana, who also plucked refugees from their houses and found a safe haven for them. See PBS Frontline: Memories of Captain Mbaye Diagne and Rusesabagina & Zoellner, An Ordinary Man, pp. 124 & 125.

An exception to the dismal record of Rwandan clerics in staying quiet, sometimes defending the genocidaires, and even participating in the genocide, was Felicitas Niyitegeka, a Hutu member of the religious congregation of the Auxiliaires de l’Apostolat. Human Rights Watch describes her heroism:

. . . [S]he had given shelter to many Tutsi in Gisenyi since the start of the genocide and had helped them across the border to Zaire. Her brother, Col. Alphonse Nzungize, who commanded the nearby Bigogwe military camp, heard that she was threatened with death for her work and asked her to give it up. She refused. On April 21 she was taken to a cemetery for execution with forty-three persons, including other religious sisters and Tutsi who had sought refuge with them. Once there, militia members who feared retaliation from her brother offered her the chance to leave. She refused to abandon the others. They repeated the offer after they had slain thirty people. She still refused and was shot and thrown naked with the others into the common grave. When her brother heard the news, he went to find her body and had it dressed and properly buried. Human Rights Watch .


The character of Colonel Oliver in “Hotel Rwanda” is modeled on the Force Commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), Lt. General Roméo Dallaire. General Dallaire told the U.N. headquarters in New York about the government’s planning for genocide in January, months before it occurred. He appealed repeatedly to the U.N. and the international community for troops and equipment to stop the killing. Instead of increasing his forces, the U.N. reduced his command by 80% to 450 soldiers. All of his pleas were ignored until the RPF won the civil war and millions of Hutu refugees were streaming into neighboring countries. It was only then that the West acted, mounting significant humanitarian aid efforts.

General Dallaire and his truncated force of peacekeepers saved about 30,000 lives by stationing small groups of blue helmeted soldiers outside a stadium and a few other places where Tutsis were taking shelter. It did not take much to turn back the machete-wielding Interahamwe. Hundreds of thousands more could have been saved had the U.N. sent the troops Dallaire requested.

Dallaire left Rwanda shortly after the RPF victory. His experiences in Rwanda had shaken him to the core. In A Problem from Hell — America and the age of Genocide, Samantha Power describes Dallaire’s revelations and mental state in the aftermath of his deployment: The genocide in Rwanda cost Roméo Dallaire a great deal. It is both paradoxical and natural that the man who probably did the most to save Rwandans feels the worst. By August 1994, Dallaire had a death wish. ‘At the end of my command, I drove around in my vehicle with no escort practically looking for ambushes,’ Dallaire recalls. ‘I was trying to get myself destroyed and looking to get released from the guilt.'” Haunted by memories of the gruesome deaths of countless innocent civilians, Dallaire was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) about two years after the genocide. Years of psychological care and medication followed. Dallaire was the first high-ranking military officer to go public with PTSD. On a video made to help fellow soldiers cope with their battlefield experiences, he explained that “Sometimes I wish I’d lost a leg instead of having all those grey cells screwed up. You lose a leg, it’s obvious and you’ve got therapy and all kind of stuff. You lose your marbles, very difficult to explain, very difficult to gain that support that you need.” Information Overload Bulletin 2001 A prosecutor recalled that in 1998 when the General testified at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda his military demeanor began to crack shortly after he began to testify. Dallaire said that he found it difficult to return to the details of the genocide: “I had the sense of the smell of the slaughter in my nose and I don’t know how it, appeared but there was all of a sudden this sudden rush to my brain and to my senses . . . Maybe with time, it will hurt less.” Shake Hands with the Devil, by Romeo Dallaire, forward by Samantha Power, pg. xv, 2005.

General Dallaire was forced to retire from the Canadian military due to his PTSD and his refusal to refrain from criticizing the international community for its failure to stop the Rwandan genocide. He has continued to work to stop genocide. In 2002, he received the first Aegis Award for genocide prevention in London. His book Shake Hands with the Devil won the prestigious Canadian Governor General’s Literary Award in 2004 and was a best seller in Canada for a short time. In 2004-05, he served as a Fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.


How does a society recover from genocide.

How can a society recover from the horror of genocide when the perpetrators and the survivors live side by side? No one knows the answer. There are perhaps three key components. First, the people and those in power must recognize that continuing the way things are is much worse than the pain of giving up their old prejudices and hatreds. From this will come a determination to do what it takes to find the causes and make sure that the genocide does not happen again. Second, there must be some semblance of justice for both the victims and the survivors or a South African style “truth and reconciliation” process. Third, the flaws in society that permitted the genocide to occur must be rectified. For Rwanda, this means embracing the rule of law and eliminating the culture of impunity. It means wiping out the distinctions between Tutsi and Hutu, with equal opportunity for all.


What should the international community do when faced with

catastrophic human rights violations within nation-states?

In 1999, even though Russia’s veto prevented the U.N. Security Council from authorizing the use of force, the United States spearheaded a NATO intervention in Kosovo to prevent ethnic cleansing and genocide of the Muslim ethnic Albanian population. President Clinton, understanding that his leadership had failed in Rwanda, pushed this intervention through despite doubts of the U.S. military. Under the leadership of General Wesley Clark, in conjunction with its NATO allies, the U.S. stopped the genocide. Kosovo demonstrated that the international community could effectively act in concert to stop human rights abuses.

Gareth Evans was Foreign Minister of Australia from 1988 to 1996 and is presently (as of 2006) President and Chief Executive of the International Crisis Group . This organization works to prevent international conflict. In an article published in the Los Angeles Times, The Dogs That Never Barked, Mr. Evans cited many successes of international peacekeeping as of 2005. He reported that the “number of mass killings has fallen 80% since the late 1980s …. And around the world, there has been a spectacular increase in the number of civil conflicts resolved – as in Indonesia’s separatist Aceh province [in 2004] – not by force but by negotiation.” He gave primary credit to “the huge increase in international efforts to prevent, manage and resolve conflicts.” Mr. Evans noted that descriptions of the extensive international diplomatic efforts necessary for these successes are usually not reported on the evening news but they are nonetheless important. Other examples cited by Mr. Gareth include: the successful presidential election in Liberia in 2005 (a country that in the decade before 2005 suffered a devastating civil war that was rife with human rights abuses), diplomatic efforts that prevented a new civil war from erupting in Somalia, and the work of peacekeepers in Sierra Leone.

One of the largest obstacles to an effective system of international intervention to protect human rights is the concept of national sovereignty, i.e., the exclusive right of a nation to exercise supreme authority over its people and its physical territory. Traditionally, governments, even totalitarian dictatorships that retained power by force, have had the right to deal with their citizens as they saw fit. There was no recognized right of outsiders to intervene.

International law develops through experience and by following the practice of governments. The condemnation heaped on the U.S., Belgium, France, and the U.N. for failing to intervene to stop the killing in Rwanda showed that respect for national sovereignty would no longer excuse the failure to protect a people from genocide sponsored by the government in power. The 1999 Kosovo intervention showed that: (1) governments can sacrifice their right to sovereignty by committing genocide against groups within their borders; (2) the international community can act together in stopping that genocide; and (3) international cooperation to stop genocide will be hailed as a great success even if national sovereignty is sacrificed.

Following the practice of nations and most particularly what occurred in Kosovo, efforts have been made to replace the concept of sovereignty with the “responsibility to protect” (“R2P”). This is a national and international imperative that requires governments to protect minorities at risk and justifies international action against governments that fail to fulfill their responsibilities. (Applying R2P to the Kosovo crisis in 1999, the Serb dominated Yugoslav government was persecuting its Muslim ethnic Albanian citizens. It thereby forfeited any right to object to international intervention. As a result of the ongoing human rights abuses in Kosovo, the international community had a responsibility to intervene, even when the U.N. refused to act.) Building primarily on the actions of the international community in Kosovo the R2P was first enunciated in 2001 by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty. It is expressed as a continuum of obligations composed of: (1) the responsibility to prevent human rights abuses, met by addressing the causes of internal conflict and other man-made crises; (2) the responsibility to react to human rights abuses, fulfilled when situations of compelling human need are ameliorated; measures encompassed in the “responsibility to react” include coercive measures such as sanctions, prosecution of wrongdoers, and in an extreme situation, military intervention; and (3) the responsibility to rebuild after coercive action, to help a nation recover if there have been sanctions, military intervention, or other coercive action.

The concept of R2P has come a long way toward acceptance since 2001 and parts of it have been adopted in various U.N. reports and resolutions. (For a description of these events, see From Humanitarian Intervention to the Responsibility to Protect, a speech by Mr. Evans to the Symposium on Humanitarian Intervention, University of Wisconsin, Madison, March 31, 2006.) However, time will tell if this new concept will help the international community ignore the “sovereign” right of nations and permit the international community to intervene to stop genocide.


1. See Standard Questions Suitable for Any Film .


2. What is a “culture of impunity” and how does it relate to the “rule of law”?

Suggested Response:

A culture of impunity is one in which the aggressive or powerful are permitted to take what they want and to hurt others without being called to account. The rule of law refers to a process in which laws are created through a democratic process and then enforced according to their terms without favoritism for any particular group.

3. Could the Rwandan genocide have been stopped?

Yes. If the common people of Rwanda who had been enlisted to perpetrate the genocide had said “no” (as some did, but not enough). If the leaders of society such as the politicians, the clergy, the business people, or the army, had calmed things down, there would have been no genocide. If the international community had sent about 5,000 troops with equipment and a mandate, the killing would have stopped.

4. Who is to blame for the Rwandan genocide of 1994?

Many people. First there are the killers themselves, the people who pulled the triggers and swung the machetes. Then there are the leaders of Rwanda during the time of the genocide and for decades before, especially those who incited the populace, organized the killing, and gave the orders. Then there are the Belgians whose “divide and rule” strategy exacerbated the enmity between the Tutsis and the Hutus. They are followed by the French who equipped and trained the extremist army. Those in Rwanda and throughout the world who stood silent and did nothing while the genocide raged must also bear some of the blame. There is also the international community which failed to intervene to stop the genocide, particularly the United States (the only superpower left in the world at the time), and France and Belgium, which had historic ties to the region.

5. What is necessary for a genocide?

See What Makes a Genocide?.

6. Can genocide happen by accident?

No. It is always planned and requires a hierarchy of command to execute.

7. Should the U.S. have taken the lead in getting the international community to intervene to stop the Rwandan genocide?

Reasons supporting intervention: According to the commander of UNAMIR, who was the senior international military official on the ground at the time, five thousand well equipped and determined U.N. troops would have prevented the vast majority of the murders. Thus, a very small international force would have had a large impact. Just as Gandhi, Mandela and Martin Luther King elevated the morality of the world community by their actions, the leaders in power during the Rwandan genocide allowed the level of international morality to deteriorate. Reasons that the international community should not have intervened: Military commanders on the ground are not always the best reporters. There was little good intelligence from Rwanda. There were no strategic interests in Rwanda for the U.S. or the international community. For example, Rwanda has no important natural resources. There was an ongoing civil war and a possibility that international troops would get caught in the cross-fire. There was no legitimate government to request intervention. Given the fact that the best and most available troops would be from the developed countries and would be white, it could appear to be a colonialist venture. Note that the consensus of opinion, now some 10 years later, is that the U.S. should have intervened. The man who was President of the U.S. at the time, Bill Clinton, has stated that allowing the Rwandan genocide to continue was a major policy failure. A few years later, the U.S. led an intervention in the former Yugoslavia which stopped the genocide of Muslims (ethnic Albanians). President Clinton, in justifying this intervention, cited the failures of Rwanda and the desire of the U.S. not to make the same mistake twice.

8. What is the concept of national sovereignty and what is R2P?

National sovereignty is the exclusive right of a nation to exercise supreme authority over its people and its physical territory. When a national government embarks on a campaign of genocide or human rights violations, or when it is unwilling to protect the human rights of its people, the concept of national sovereignty has historically restricted international intervention. The Rwandan genocide of 1994, in which the government-sponsored the genocide and resisted any international intervention, showed once again the deficiencies of this concept. In Kosovo in 1999, when the Serbian dominated Yugoslav government was murdering and uprooting its Muslim ethnic Albanian population, learning from the experience of Rwanda, the international community ignored national sovereignty and stopped the genocide through armed intervention. International law often develops to describe the practice of nations. Diplomats described the concepts inherent in the Kosovo intervention and many other peace keeping operations as the “responsibility to protect”. In other words, people in grave danger have the right to expect protection, and that countries in which those people live have a “responsibility to protect” (“R2P”) them. If the national government failed to protect its citizens, the international community had the R2P. Thus, national sovereignty becomes an outmoded concept. For more, see HUMANITARIAN INTERVENTION IN

THE 21ST CENTURY — The Responsibility to Protect

9. Can a country with a repressive government, or one which has been engulfed by political and social chaos, go directly to a multi-party democracy or must they go through transitional stages which fall short of full representative democracy?

It is possible but difficult. See, for example, the struggles of Taiwan, Korea, Iraq, Argentina, Chile, Russia and the former communist countries of eastern Europe. People in Uganda who remember the terrible regimes of Idi Amin and Milton Obote are grateful for the less than democratic but stable government of Musaveni. In an April 2006 article in the L.A. Times, several Iraqis were reported as having voiced the wish that a “benevolent strongman” — anyone short of Sadam Hussein — would seize power and restore order.

10. The genocidaires have been treated well in the prison run by the International Criminal Tribunal. They receive adequate food. They are allowed to pray. If they are ill they receive medicine. This is much more than they gave their victims and, in fact, they are living better than many innocent people in Rwanda. Should they be treated this well?

It seems incongruous in this case but prisoners should be treated in a humane fashion. Once a police agency takes power over a person it has a responsibility to treat the prisoner in a humane manner. These prisoners were being treated by international standards which were much better than Rwandan standards.

11. Are the international tribunals in Arusha, which are prosecuting only a few high profile genocidaires, just a way for the international community to wash its hands and pretend that justice has been done?

Everyone has a right to justice and providing justice is an important function. The international tribunal focuses the world’s attention on the problem of genocide. However, the tribunal can only be part of a multifaceted response. Whether the tribunals are a part of the international community washing its hands of the genocide will be determined by what happens in other areas.

12. How does a society move forward from a genocide?

It has to be very hard. See Does Rwanda Have a Future?

13. European colonial powers held sway over large populations with a small number of troops through technological superiority and the strategy of “divide and rule”. The Belgians pursued this strategy in Rwanda and the English ruled through division in some of their colonies. What is “divide and rule” and how was it used in Rwanda and India?

Divide and rule means to keep control by setting one group of people against the other. For example, the British were able to rule India, a country of many millions of people, with a relatively small force by exacerbating divisions between Muslim and Hindu. The Belgians did the same on a smaller scale in Rwanda by preferring Tutsi to Hutu. This bred the resentment that later helped fuel the genocide.


PRE-VIEWING QUESTION – The first question below will help students focus on one of the themes of the film as they view it. Ask the question before the film and let students answer it afterward.

14. At the beginning of the film, the character of the hotel manager comes home and the children at his house are playing a game. He initially asks, “Who is the winner?” He then answers his own question, “It doesn’t matter, I have chocolates” which he then passes out to all of the children. What does this show about the hotel manager and how does it foreshadow what he does in the movie?

It shows that he is a good parent and is going to take care of the people around him. It also shows how he offers food to make people happy.

15. According to the Rwandan journalist in the movie, what are the differences between the Hutus and the Tutsis? Was his description accurate?

Reporter: “According to the Belgian colonists, the Tutsis are taller and more elegant. It was the Belgians that created the division. … They picked people … those with thinner noses, lighter skin. They used to measure the width of people’s noses. The Belgians used the Tutsis to run the country. Then, when they left, they left the power to the Hutus. And of course, the Hutus took revenge on the elite Tutsis for years of repression.” The journalist blamed the Belgians for the depth of the class/caste divisions in Rwandan society, but the Tutsis who went along with the Belgian “divide and rule” scheme to institutionalize their preeminence also bear some of the blame. But of course bearing part of the blame for problems in a society is no justification for genocide.

16. What was the role of the radio in the genocide?

“Hate radio” RTLM helped set the stage for genocide by referring repeatedly to the Tutsi as “cockroaches”, vermin, and less than human. Radio announcers exhorted the Hutu to kill and broadcast the names and whereabouts of top Hutu moderates and Tutsis.

17. What does the bearded reporter say to Paul’s belief that people around the world would act when they see the footage of the murders? What do you think he means?

He said: “I think if people see this footage, they’ll say, ‘Oh my God, that’s horrible,’ and then go on eating their dinners.” There are several reasons that might cause this reaction. Here are a few: people would regard the tragedy as remote from their own lives; people are indifferent to the tragedies of others who are not like them; people feel helpless to do anything; people are racist.

18. What tactics does the hotel manager use to keep the hotel open and the people there safe?

There are several. He does favors for powerful people. He bribes people. He offers hospitality. He charms people. In his April 2006 lecture in Los Angeles, Paul Rusesabagina said that, “In Rwanda if you offer someone a drink or food and sit next to them and look them in the eye and ask them for something, it is impossible for them to refuse you.”

19. In the movie, a genocidaire offered to let the hotel manager have a few Tutsis of his own in exchange for turning over the rest of his neighbors and friends. What did the hotel manager do?

Mr. Rusesabagina bribed the man and paid for another chance for his neighbors and friends to survive.

20. When he finds out that the European soldiers are there only to take the foreign nationals of out Rwanda, Colonel Oliver tells the hotel manager that “The West, all the superpowers, everything you believe in, Paul. They think you’re dirt. They think you’re dumb. You’re worthless.” He goes on to say, “You’re the smartest man here. You got’em eating out of your hands. You could own this hotel, except for one thing … You’re black. You’re not even a nigger, you’re African. They’re not gonna stay, Paul. They’re not gonna stop the slaughter.” What did Captain Oliver mean by saying to the hotel manager that he was not even a “nigger”?

As poorly as blacks have been treated in the U.S., the whites would not have stood around while they were slaughtered en masse. Being a black African meant that, to the West, you were not worth caring about.

21. At the beginning of the movie, the hotel manager talks to his assistant about the importance of style. What role did style have in saving the Tutsi and moderate Hutu who had sought refuge in the Hotel Mille Collines?

Style is an impression of grace and ease which is often simply shown. However, it was the appearance that the Hotel Mille Collines was an operating, stylish, four-star hotel that kept the militias at bay long enough for the rescue to be arranged.

22. What were the similarities between Paul Rusesabagina and Oscar Schindler?

They both knew many in the elite of their country’s power structure. They both undertook great risks to save over a thousand people. They used their charm to delay and deflect killers from their victims. See Learning Guide to “ Schindler’s List “.

23. Did the hotel manager do the right thing by staying at the hotel and not leaving with his wife and children on the first attempt to get them out?

There is no one correct answer. A good answer will discuss the conflict felt by Mr. Rusesabagina between his duties to his family and to the refugees at the hotel. He thought his family would be safe and that the people at the hotel would be massacred if he left.


PRE-VIEWING QUESTIONS – The following two questions will help students focus on some of the themes of the film as they view it. Ask the questions before the film and let students answer them afterward.

24. Look for a visual symbol of the genocide in the opening scene of Augustin’s classroom. What is it? Hint: check out the faces.

One of the boys has a scarred forehead and could have been attacked by a person wielding a machete during the genocide.

25. Look for irony in the rap song the students are listening to on a boom box after the class. What is it?

The lyrics to the song are: “I hate you. I hate you.” They are a chilling reminder of the role played by hate radio, RTLM in the genocide.

26. In “Sometimes in April”, the leader of the Rwandan government army during the genocide reminds a U.S. State Department official that Rwanda has no oil and no natural resources. Why did he say this?

He wanted to remind the official that he knew that the U.S. had no strategic interests in Rwanda and therefore no reason to risk its troops and prestige in an intervention to stop the genocide.

27. In “Sometimes in April”, the U.S. government officials say that they properly executed a policy that was in the best interests of the United States but they had doubts about the ethics of it. What did they mean?

Governments are charged with protecting the “national interest” of their countries. U.S. policy at that time was not to get involved in Rwanda. Protecting the national interest does not always involve acting ethically. For example, in the name of national interest the U.S. has often supported ruthless dictators. (Just a few examples are: the Shah in Iran, Pinochet in Chile, Noriega in Panama (until he turned on the U.S. and was removed from power by U.S. armed forces); Saddam Hussein in Iraq (until about 1991); the ruling family in Saudi Arabia; Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines; and Chiang Kai Shek of China). That is not always the most ethical response. There was no important interest that affected the people of the U.S. or its government regarding Rwanda, such as oil or other natural resources. Thus, even though hundreds of thousands of people were being hacked to death, these officials saw no reason to risk the lives of U.S. soldiers or U.S. prestige by intervening. The U.S. had just been through a disastrous intervention in Somalia in which 18 U.S. soldiers were killed and the bodies of some of them were dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. However, this was a short-sighted view of U.S. interests. The U.S. was the undisputed leader of the international community in 1994 and had a responsibility to come to the assistance of the helpless Tutsis of Rwanda.

28. The scene in “Sometimes in April” in which the Hutu girls in the classroom at the Catholic school choose to risk death and refuse to be separated from their Tutsi classmates recalls an actual event. Virtually all of the girls were killed. Why did they do this?

The Hutu girls decided it was better to risk death than to betray their Tutsi classmates. They also decided to take a stand against the genocide by not cooperating. It is also undoubtedly true that peer pressure was involved. Some of the girls who were leaders in the class first stated that they would not go and that they would not allow their Tutsi friends to sacrifice themselves for the Hutus. The other Hutu girls could not separate from their Tutsi friends without seeming to be traitors. Clearly, both factors were operating and the girls were heroes. Peer pressure will not account for a decision by all of the Hutu girls to stay with their friends in the face of near certain death. Heroic deeds are seldom totally altruistic. There will usually be other reasons that help the hero or heroine make a courageous choice. This does not detract from the heroism.

29. The Hutu girls in the class in the Catholic girls school knew that there was a strong possibility that they would be shot if they stood with their Tutsi friends. If you had been in the class, what would you have done?

There is no one right answer to this question. One good answer is that they could have rushed the soldiers and tried to get their guns. Even if unsuccessful, they would have died trying to do something. (Note that it’s easy to reason this way after the fact.)

30. What role, if any, did the Arusha Peace Accords play in the genocide?

The Peace Accords are not to blame for the genocide. It was the reaction of Hutu extremists, fearful of losing power and privilege, that caused the problem. In addition, diplomats focused on the Accords, trying to keep them alive even while genocide was occurring. This made them reluctant to further alienate the Rwandan government out of fear that the government would withdraw completely form the Arusha Accords.

31. All genocides are gruesome. What was the special and particular horror of the Rwandan genocide compared to the Nazi extermination of six million Jews and six million Gypsies, Russian prisoners of war, Poles, the handicapped, and their political opponents?

The Rwandan genocide was person to person. The percentage of the population who participated in the genocide in Rwanda was much higher than in Germany. Although the deaths of the 12 million victims of the Nazis (Jews and non-Jews alike) were horrendous and cruel, the public was insulated from it. Most often, people were taken away from the general population and put into ghettos or moved by cattle cars to concentration camps where they were shot or gassed by government functionaries. In Rwanda, the killing was person to person, with machetes and guns, often by the friends and neighbors of the victims.

32. Honore said, “When I finally realized that I was an actor in this tragedy I chose not to live with that. I thought death would bring me peace. I was wrong. Only the truth can ease my guilt.” What did he mean?

Only by telling the truth, taking responsibility, accepting the punishment, and attempting to make amends can a person begin the process of accepting his own guilt. Honore did not want to die burdened with his guilt.

33. Remember the priest who cooperated with the Hutu officials and helped them cull the people seeking refuge in his church? He justified his conduct by saying “I do not have the power to change this situation.” Did he act correctly?

There is no one right response. He was a collaborator but then again he may have been able to save some people.

34. At the beginning of “Sometimes in April”, and again at the end of the movie, we see a meeting in which people who participated in the genocide are being called to account for their actions. What is this process?

It is called “gacaca” (pronounced ga-cha-ca) or “justice on the grass”. The word “gacaca” is derived from the Kinyarwanda word for lawn or grass. The Rwandan government tried to use gacaca to dispose of the cases of low level genocidaires. It didn’t really work because gacaca was designed for small scale property disputes and not for crimes like murder and genocide.

35. Even though the Rwandan genocide was low tech, there was, for Rwandan society, a new technology which helped spread the genocide. What was it?

Cheap transistor radios had just become widespread. This allowed the extremists to communicate with the Hutu masses and incite them to kill their neighbors.

36. Why does Augustin have difficulty taking off his wedding ring?

It would be an acknowledgment that his wife was permanently gone and that his relationship with her was severed.

37. After the RPF won the civil war, two million Hutus (including many genocidaires) streamed into refugee camps. The West, including the U.S., sprang into action and mobilized a massive relief effort. Was this the right thing to do?

Yes, better late than never. There were many innocent people among the two million, including children and others who didn’t participate in the genocide. It would be an act of genocide itself to allow them to die just because many of them had participated in the killing of the Tutsis. Just because the West didn’t act ethically when the Tutsi needed protection was no reason to justify continuing to act unethically as new situations presented themselves.

38. What was the role of the civil war in setting the conditions in which the genocide could occur?

It was a major factor. First, it led the Hutu leaders to fear for their positions of power. They used the genocide to secure their positions and deflect the people from their failures as leaders. Second, it gave the Hutu leaders a reason to give to the people to kill the Tutsi; they claimed they were traitors. Third, it caused confusion and blunted the foreign response. It is very risky to get mixed up in a civil war.

39. Give some of the code words broadcast over the radio at the start of the genocide.

“Cut the tall trees”, “clear the brush”, and “do your work”.


See questions above.

1. In “Sometimes in April” when Augustin’s friend was killed at the checkpoint, did Augustin act in a cowardly manner by not helping his friend?

There was nothing he could do. He was outnumbered and the Interahamwe had guns.

2. How did the character of the hotel manager in “Hotel Rwanda” display courage?

By charming or bribing the killers so that his family and neighbors and then the people who had taken refuge in his hotel would not be killed.

3. Is it realistic to expect that a soldier who endures horrific experiences in war will emerge emotionally unscathed?

Clearly, the answer is no. Many times enduring terrible experiences lead to PTSD. It is a normal human reaction.


Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.

1. Both the citizen who killed his Tutsi neighbor with a machete and the government leader who convinced his people to do the killing but did not himself kill anyone are criminals. Who commits the greater wrong?

The deeds of both are so criminal that if brought before a court of law they should both receive the highest penalty allowed. There is no one correct answer to the question of who has committed the greater wrong. The actions of the government leader have a broader impact and, in that he is a leader, he has more of a duty to act correctly. However, the individual who kills another with his own hands acts directly and there is something especially horrible about serving as the instrument of genocide.

(Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don’t threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults, and disagreements)

2. Are the genocidaires, the ordinary people who took up machetes and killed their neighbors, and the leaders who encouraged the genocide deserving of any respect at all?

They are not deserving of respect in the sense of looking up to someone as a person worthy of admiration but their rights as human beings deserve respect. They have the right to a trial before they are punished. They have the right to be free from torture, etc.


(Do your share to make your school and community better; Cooperate; Stay informed; vote; Be a good neighbor; Obey laws and rules; Respect authority; Protect the environment)

3. Some of the genocidaires may have thought that they were doing their patriotic duty and protecting themselves by killing their neighbors. (This doesn’t account for the atrocities.) The communists in Cuba who persecute people for being counter-revolutionary believe that they are being patriotic. In the United States there have been times when, in the interest of patriotism, the rights of citizens have been abused. An example is the excesses of the McCarthyite era or when Japanese Americans were interned during the Second World War. Should ethics limit patriotism?

Ethics are the limits of patriotism. Any time a person is asked to do something unethical for the purpose of furthering the interests of their country or their community, they must go through independent analysis and decide on their own if their actions are justified. See Principled Decision Making — How to Get the Results We Really Want, Maximize our Strength and Power and Be Proud of Our Actions.


1. See Assignments, Projects, and Activities for Use With Any Film that is a Work of Fiction .

2. Recall an incident when you witnessed cruelty (physical, social, or emotional ) to another person, group of people, or an animal. Did you intervene? Did you stand silent? Did you participate? Please discuss your feelings and actions at the time, the way you felt afterwards, and your perspective on the incident now after viewing and discussing the film and supporting material. Would you do it differently now?

3. Go to the Hotel des Milles Collines website, and write an addendum to the description of Kigali’s famous “4 star hotel” that informs prospective clients of the heroic resistance of Paul Rusesabagina and the staff.

4. Write an imaginary script of “counter-hate” propaganda for an imaginary “Radio Rwanda United” during the period leading up to the genocide. Describe the effect you think it would have on the ramp up to the genocide. Does it stop the genocide from occurring? Does it limit the outcome?

5. Rwanda has the appearance, or shell of a political democracy as we understand it. However, there is no true opposition party. There are human rights abuses, and freedom of speech is not absolute. Research Internet articles on the present political situation in Rwanda and write a report on the plusses and minuses of the Kagame government for the people of Rwanda.

6. Write a report on the International Criminal Tribunal in Arusha. Is it just a whitewash, or is it an important venue for bringing justice to the genocidaires?


Multimedia: Anchor Standard #7 for Reading (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). (The three Anchor Standards read: “Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media, including visually and quantitatively as well as in words.”) CCSS pp. 35 & 60. See also Anchor Standard # 2 for ELA Speaking and Listening, CCSS pg. 48.

Reading: Anchor Standards #s 1, 2, 7 and 8 for Reading and related standards (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). CCSS pp. 35 & 60.

Writing: Anchor Standards #s 1 – 5 and 7- 10 for Writing and related standards (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). CCSS pp. 41 & 63.

Speaking and Listening: Anchor Standards #s 1 – 3 (for ELA classes). CCSS pg. 48.

Not all assignments reach all Anchor Standards. Teachers are encouraged to review the specific standards to make sure that over the term all standards are met.


Three personal memoirs offer the most engaging reading on the genocide for high school students:

  • An Ordinary Man — An Autobiography, by Paul Rusesabagina with Tom Zoellner, Viking Penguin, The Penguin Group, New York, New York, April 2006; this is a fascinating and outstanding book; Mr. Rusesabagina shows that he is wise as well as courageous; his memoir has much to say to people of any nation;
  • Shake Hands with the Devil; The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, Lt General Roméo Dallaire, The Avalon Group, New York, New York, 2005; this book was Winner of the 2004 Canadian Governor General’s Literary Award for Nonfiction;
  • Surviving the Slaughter; The ordeal of a Rwandan refugee in Zaire, by Marie Beatrice Umutesi, Translated by Julia Emerson, The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, Wisconsin, 2004;

Other interesting books include:

(The first two books are literary treatments of the ruinous encounters of colonialists and missionaries who invade the Congo.)

  • Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad;
  • The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver;
  • Speak Rwanda by Julian R. Sparks and Ejo: poems, Rwanda, 1991-1994 by Derick Burleson, Madison; University of Wisconsin Press, c2000;
  • Eyewitness to a Genocide; the United Nations and Rwanda by Michael Barnett, Cornell University Press, 2002;
  • Leave None to Tell the Story by Allison Des Forges;
  • A People Betrayed; The Role of the West in Rwanda’s Genocide by Linda Melvern, Zed Books Ltd, London and New York 2000;
  • We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families: stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch, New York : Picador USA : Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1999;
  • A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide Samantha Power; New York : Basic Books, c2002;
  • Hope for Rwanda: Conversations with Laure Guilbert and Herve Deguine by André Sibomana, Pluto Press London, England and Sterling, Virginia 1999;
  • Hotel Rwanda, Bringing the True Story of an African Hero to Film Edited by Terry George, (director of the film). The book contains the script to the film and the to the PBS Frontline Documentary, “The Triumph of Evil” and several articles on the Rwandan genocide; and
  • Journey Into Darkness: Genocide in Rwanda Thomas P. Odom; foreword by Dennis J. Reimer. College Station, Texas A&M University Press, c2005.


  • PBS Website for “The Triumph of Evil” . This site contains interviews with the participants and scholars, a timeline texts of official documents, and many other materials;
  • PBS Website for the Ghosts of Rwanda ;
  • Captain Mbaye Diagne ;
  • Wikipedia Article on the Rwandan Genocide ;
  • Wikipedia Article on Paul Rusesabagina ;
  • Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda ; a comprehensive site from Human Rights Watch;
  • National Security Archive — The US and the Genocide in Rwanda 1994 Evidence of Inaction ; this site contains links to many original documents generated by the U.S. government during the crisis;
  • CIA Factbook Article on Rwanda ;
  • The Responsibility to Protect , an article by Garth Evans on the PBS website;
  • International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda ;
  • U.S. Department of State Report on Rwanda ;
  • Website for the Movie from United Artists ;
  • UNHCR The UN Refugee Agency ; search for articles on Rwanda;
  • provides news about the continent;
  • Hate Radio: Rwanda ; for excerpts of the announcements from Radio RTLM;
  • Bystanders to Genocide by Samantha Power for the Atlantic Monthly;
  • Ethnicity as Myth: The View from Central Africa; and
  • Genocide in Rwanda : Fundamental Questions from the Irish Peace Society.


The books and citations referred to in the text, in the Bridges to Reading section, and in Links to the Internet Section.

In addition, we consulted the following:

  • The New Africa: Dispatches from a Changing Continent by Robert M. Press; photographs by Betty Press. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, c1999;
  • When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda by Mahmood Mamdani, 2001 Princeton Universtiy Press, Princeton, N.J.

This Learning Guide was last updated on July 21, 2011.

hotel rwanda summary essay pdf

This  Learning Guide  is dedicated to the memory of the victims and to the survivors, with hope for a better life for the people of Rwanda and the East Africa region.


Benefits of the Movie Possible Problems Parenting Points Selected Awards & Cast Helpful Background Discussion Questions Social-Emotional Learning Moral-Ethical Emphasis Assignments and Projects Bridges to Reading Links to the Internet Bibliography


hotel rwanda summary essay pdf


At the beginning of the movie, the character of the hotel manager is unwilling to use some of the favors he has stockpiled to help a neighbor. By the end of the movie, his attitude was different. When did this change begin and what caused it?

Suggested Response: 

The hotel manager’s attitude changed when he knew people were being killed and he came home to find his house full of frightened neighbors. He realized that he had to try to protect all of them. Later he tried to protect anyone who was able to make it to the Hotel Mille Collines.

hotel rwanda summary essay pdf


Should Augustin forgive his brother, Honore?

Honore and all of the genocidaires need to be punished. But this question relates to the personal relationship between the two brothers: should Augustin condemn his brother and renounce all brotherly love? It is generally recognized that there are certain preconditions to forgiveness. The first is that the wrongdoer restore any ill-gotten gains and, to the full extent of his power, make amends. The second is that the wrongdoer recognize the error of his ways, apologize, and reform. It appears that Honore came to understand that he had participated in a crime of monstrous proportions. He changed his plea to “guilty.” He had tried to help Augustin’s family. However, forgiveness for losing a beloved wife and three children is very difficult.

There is another aspect of forgiveness that is important: the benefit to those who forgive. Moral and religious leaders as well as psychologists tell us that harboring anger and hatred is harmful. It is difficult for victims of crime to heal from their injuries until they have released their anger against the perpetrator.

Here is an example of the importance of forgiveness that recently came to our attention: A man, we will call him Bill, was in his 40s. As a young child, Bill had been the victim of sexual and physical abuse.

Before the age of ten, Bill had suffered two broken legs and a broken arm. The perpetrator was his father. Bill had left home as a young boy and in his 40s he was still bitter. He hadn’t visited his family for decades. As his father lay dying, Bill responded to his mother’s plea that he come home.

In the hospital room Bill finally came to resolution. This did not come about because his father apologized or sought forgiveness. Bill said that when he saw his father dying, “I recognized my own role in the abuse.” He explained that this was not because, as a child, he had done anything to deserve or bring the abuse on himself. (No actions by a child can ever justify an adult crossing the line into child abuse, sexual or physical.) What Bill meant by his “role” was that by not forgiving his father he had kept the wound open. Once Bill let go of his anger and forgave his father on a personal basis, Bill was finally free to heal.

Augustin should forgive Honore as a brother because Honore admitted his guilt and tried to save Augustin’s family. He will be punished for his role in the genocide by the court. Augustin needs to heal and get on with his life. His focus should be on marrying Martine and raising his new son. Releasing the bitterness against his brother and the other genocidaires will allow him to find satisfaction in his new life rather than dwelling on the genocide.


A PBS Documentary that can be obtained from some libraries is “Front Line: The Triumph of Evil.” This film describes the genocide and the inadequate response of the Western powers. It contains footage shot from about 1000 feet showing people being hacked to death with machetes and of people, who most likely were later killed, begging for protection from white soldiers sent to extricate foreign nationals (almost always white). The film is 60 minutes. The current PBS documentary on sale is 120 minutes and is called “Ghosts of Rwanda.”

A word created in 1944 by Dr. Raphael Lemkin. It is derived from the Latin words “geno” meaning race or tribe, and “cadere,” meaning “to kill.” Examples of words derived from “cadere” are: homicide, suicide, patricide, and infanticide. Dr. Lemkin was one of the few people in his extended family to escape the Nazi death machine.


genocide, brokered, denounced, Interahamwe, agitators, reprisals, massacres.

BUILDING VOCABULARY: “Sometimes in April”:

genocide, proxies, Interahamwe, Inyeri.

When asked by a priest from the Episcopal Church about the role of the Christian clergy in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, Mr. Rusesabagina responded that the Christians in Rwanda remained silent in the face of the genocide and that the Muslims were more active in objecting to it than the Christians [Note that Rwanda is one of the most Christian nations on earth: Roman Catholic 56.5%, Protestant 26%, Adventist 11.1%, Muslim 4.6%, see  CIA World Factbook .] The relative lack of protest and even the active complicity in the genocide by established Catholic and other Christian churches, with certain exceptions, is reported by many sources. See e.g., Human Rights Watch  and Gérard Prunier in The Rwanda Crisis – History of a Genocide , Columbia University Press, New York, 1995, p. 250 – 253. Others contend that the role of the clergy and church hierarchy was mixed in the extreme circumstances of the genocide. Sibomana,  Hope for Rwanda pp. 121 – 136. Note that Mr. Sibomana was a Catholic priest and human rights activist. He was denied the opportunity for medical treatment because of his criticism of the new regime and died in Rwanda in 1998.

Paul Rusesabagina and others report that the only organized religious group to protest the genocide were the Muslims. Rusesabagina Lecture, Los Angeles California, April 4, 2006. “The only faith which provided a bulwark against barbarity for its adherents was Islam. There are many testimonies to the protection members of the Muslim community gave each other and their refusal to divide themselves ethnically.” Prunier, above, p. 253.

RWANDA GEOGRAPHY: Rwanda is located in the Great Lakes area of central East Africa, along the Great Rift Valley. The mountainous West of the country borders the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and parts of Uganda to the North and Burundi to the South. Eastern Rwanda is mostly high uplands, which it shares with its neighbor, Tanzania. See  free blank map of Rwanda and adjacent countries  and  CIA Factbook Map of Rwanda

Even after the genocide, Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Africa. In world-wide comparisons, its population density is second only to that of Bangladesh.

The source of the Nile River is in Rwanda.

Most genocides have been explained to the public as being preemptive and defensive. The concept is to get them before they get you.

Some commentators doubt that there would have been a genocide if the Rwandan government had not felt so threatened by the Tutsi rebels returning from Uganda. However, there is no excuse for genocide, ever.

Rebuilding Rwanda with the survivors and the genocidaires living side by side is “as though in 1945 the Jews and the Germans were to live together in Germany after the Holocaust under a Jewish-dominated army….” Melvern,  A People Betrayed , p. 222.

“Sometimes in April” ends with a scene of a gacaca meeting.

In a lecture in Los Angeles, California, in April 2006, Paul Rusesabagina, explained why he could not leave the Hotel Mille Collines until the last refugee had been rescued. “I never would have been free. I would have been a prisoner of my own conscience.” He went on to say that had he left a refugee in the hotel he would not have been able to enjoy the simple pleasures of life such as being with his wife and children or enjoying a good meal.

Some actual survivors of the genocide played the “swamp people” who were called out of hiding in “Sometimes in April.”

The necessity of Justice: Justice is a basic human right. Every human being has a right to have justice done. Acknowledging this universal principle, André Sibomana describes a situation in which a Hutu peasant hid a Tutsi family for several weeks but was finally found out. The militia told him, “‘Now prove that you are a good Hutu. … If you don’t kill these cockroaches yourself, we will kill your wife and children. Make your choice!’ So he killed with his own hand the family he had hidden and fed for several weeks. But that was not enough for the  Interahamwe . Before they left, in order to punish this bad Hutu who had been an ‘accomplice’ of the Tutsi, they killed his wife and children. Today, this peasant is asking ‘Who am I? If those militiamen are not punished, then who am I? If they are still free, then what about me, where do I belong?” Sibomana,  Hope for Rwanda , p. 105.

Can a country with a repressive government or which has been engulfed by political and social chaos go directly to a multi-party democracy? It is possible but difficult a shown by the struggles of Taiwan, Korea, Iraq, Argentina, Chile, Russia, and the former communist countries of eastern Europe. People in Uganda who remember the terrible regimes of Idi Amin and Milton Obote are grateful for the less than democratic but stable government of Musaveni. In an April, 2006 article in the L.A. Times several Iraqis were reported as having voiced the wish that a “benevolent strongman” — anyone short of Sadam Hussein — would seize power and restore order.

“A three-year-old child who had just seen his siblings killed, pleaded with the attackers to spare his life: ‘Please don’t kill me. . . . I’ll never be Tutsi again’. But the killers, unblinking, struck him down.” Power,  The Problem from Hell , pg 334.

Some Tutsis paid the Interahamwe to shoot them instead of hacking them to death.

How do you face down a killer? Read the autobiography of Paul Rusesabagina,  An Ordinary Man , pp. 88 – 91 and 118 – 120. Should Mr. Rusesabagina have kept up his friendships with men in the Hutu Army or the militia? He contends that it saved his life and the refugees at the Mille Collines, Ibid, p. 128 – 131.

More than 300 children younger than 18 years of age were accused of killing people in the genocide. At least 100,000 Tutsi or children from moderate Hutu families were orphaned by the genocide or kidnapped and taken from their parents. Melvern,  A People Betrayed , p. 222

In his April, 2006 lecture in Los Angeles Paul Rusesabagina said, “In Rwanda when you offer someone drink or food and you sit next to him and look him in the eye and ask him for something, it is impossible for him to refuse.”

At one point, Clinton’s Secretary of State Warren Christopher, had to pull out a map of Africa to see where Rwanda was. Power, The Problem From Hell , page 352.

Colonel Bagosora is now on trial before the International War Crimes Tribunal in Arusha. He is not to be confused with Lt. Colonel Bizimungu, who is shown in Hotel Rwanda negotiating with Paul Rusesabagina over the fate of the refugees.

Important Documents:  The Dallaire Fax informing the U.N. in January that Hutu extremists were planning a genocide. See also  Bushnell Cable . For more documents, see  The US and the Genocide in Rwanda 1994 Evidence of Inaction , William Ferroggiaro, Editor, at the National Security Archive.

“Is it Tutsi and Hutu or Tutu and Hutsi?” questioned a member of Lt General Wesley Clarke’s staff after Habyarimana’s plane crashed. Power,  Bystanders to Genocide , Atlantic Monthly, September 2001.

Interahamwe  is roughly translated as “those who fight together”

During the negotiations in Arusha, Rwandan Army Colonel Bagosora walked out saying that he was going back to Rwanda to prepare the second apocalypse. Melvern,  A People Betrayed  p. 54.

Both movies show clips of Christine Shelley, the State Department spokesperson, twisting herself into a pretzel to avoid using the “g” word:

  • Reporter: How would you describe the events taking place in Rwanda?
  • State Department Spokesperson: Based on the evidence we have seen from observations on the ground, we have every reason to believe that acts of genocide have occurred in Rwanda.
  • Reporter: What’s the difference between “acts of genocide” and “genocide”?
  • State Department Spokesperson: Well, I think the—as you know, there’s a legal definition of this … clearly not all of the killings that have taken place in Rwanda are killings to which you might apply that label … But as to the distinctions between the words, we’re trying to call what we have seen so far as best as we can; and based, again, on the evidence, we have every reason to believe that acts of genocide have occurred.
  • Reporter: How many acts of genocide does it take to make genocide?

This exchange is taken from Power, Bystanders to Genocide , Atlantic Monthly, September 2001.

“Any time you mentioned peacekeeping in Africa” said one U.S. official, ” the crucifixes and garlic would come up on every door.” Power,  Bystanders to Genocide  Atlantic Monthly, September 2001.

Ironically, Inyenzi was a term coined by the RPF (mainly Tutsi) forces to describe themselves: stealthy and impossible to eradicate. It was later co-opted by the Hutu extremists and used to incite the extermination of all Tutsi.

The Guilt of the Press and the Intelligentsia: André Sibomana pointed out that “Intellectuals bear an overwhelming share of responsibility. The ideologues of the genocide were not unemployed young men from [the slums of Kigali] but highly intelligent people who had studied at the best universities in Europe or the United States.”

“The other thing you have to understand was that the message [from Radio RTLM and other media outlets] crept into our national consciousness very slowly. It did not happen all at once. We did not wake up one morning to hear it pouring out of the radio at full strength. It started with a sneering comment, the casual use of the term ‘cockroach,’ the almost humorous suggestion that the Tutsis should be airmailed back to Ethiopia. Stripping the humanity from an entire group takes time. It is an attitude that requires cultivation, a series of small steps, daily tending. I suppose it is like the famous example of the frog who will immediately leap out of a pot of boiling water if you toss him into it, but put it in cold water and turn up the heat gradually, and he will die in boiling water without being aware of what happened.” Rusesabagina & Zoellner,  An Ordinary Man , p. 64.

It’s easy for those of us who live safe and secure lives to judge those who participated in the genocide of 1994. Many, perhaps even most of the genocidaires, deserve our moral condemnation. However, it is also true that you never know what you will do until you are tested. Those of us who live safe and secure in peaceful communities can only hope that if put to the test, we would respond in an ethical manner.

It all happened as if those who committed the genocide were submerged in a hatred which had been contained for a long time. … Where did it come from, this hatred of others? I can only explain it by an insurmountable hatred of one’s self. Indeed some killers committed suicide after they had killed…. After several days of this horrific bloodbath, the killers went completely mad. Politics, ethnic divisions, the war, none of this even entered their minds. Sibomana,  Hope for Rwanda , p. 69.

In April the Belgian UNAMIR contingent was ordered out of the country by Belgium’s civilian leaders. The Belgian commander refused the order three times before he finally complied. He was responding to the extreme situation in Rwanda and to the craven nature of the order. However, military officers must always obey lawful orders from their civilian leaders and he should have left sooner. There is a saying in the U.S. military that you get only one chance to challenge an order that you think is wrong or ill-advised; only one, “But, sir ….”

Should General Dallaire have ignored the orders from the civilian leaders at the U.N. and gone after the weapons caches or attacked the genocidaires? The answer is clearly no. Military officers are not elected or selected through a political process which is designed to express the will of the people. While the U.N.’s orders to Dallaire were probably ill-conceived and contributed to the deaths of many people, the problems caused by military officers making policy decisions is so great that the principle of civilian control is essential to democracy. An example is the successful NATO intervention in Kosovo spearheaded by the U.S. President Clinton pushed the Kosovo intervention through despite doubts from many in the U.S. military that it could be successfully accomplished.

Don Cheadle, adding his voice to the calls for decisive action to stop the genocide in Darfur, said: “I don’t want to make “Hotel Darfur.”

See  Witness To Evil: Roméo Dallaire and Rwanda  for many film and audio clips of General Dallaire and of Rwanda at the time.

For more on General Dallaire’s leadership, see Leadership in the Canadian Armed Forces — Conceptual Foundations  and  LAW OF ARMED CONFLICT AT THE OPERATIONAL LEVEL RWANDA AND AN UNLAWFUL ORDER  By Colonel B. W. MacLeod, a paper submitted to the Canadian Armed Forces College.

The hotel depicted in “Hotel Rwanda” is the “Hotel Mille Collines.” It is still in operation today under new owners. “Mille Collines” was also the name of the hate radio station RTLM (Radio Television Libre Mille Collines). “Mille Collines” means “a thousand hills” in French. Rwanda is often referred to by its people as the land of the “Mille Collines.”

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Ethics on Film: Discussion of "Hotel Rwanda"

Jul 14, 2008

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The decades following Rwanda's independence from Belgium in 1962 saw growing ethnic tensions and periodic violent attacks and reprisals between Rwanda's Hutu majority and its Tutsi minority. Thousands of Tutsis fled into exile in neighboring countries and in 1990 a failed invasion by a Tutsi rebel exile group sparked a civil war that officially ended in August 1993. On April 6, 1994, the Rwandan president, a Hutu, was killed when his plane was shot down over Kigali airport. Hutu politicians blamed Tutsis for the president's death and within hours, loosely organized Hutu militia groups known collectively as the Interhamwe began mobilizing across Rwanda. In a preplanned campaign, these Hutu gangs killed roughly 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus over the course of 100 days. And, in full awareness of the situation, the international community did virtually nothing to halt the slaughter.

Hotel Rwanda tells the true story of one man's courage in the midst of this genocide.

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Paul Rusesabagina , a manager at a Belgian-owned luxury hotel in Kigali, Rwanda's capital, is as skilled at pleasing the hotel's (mostly white) guests as he is at currying favor with the Rwandan army officers who frequent the hotel bar and the local businessmen with whom he deals. Paul, a Hutu, is married to a Tutsi and his children are considered mixed. When the mass killings begin, Paul's Tutsi neighbors rush for safety to his house. Reluctantly, Paul takes them in and bribes a Rwandan army officer to allow him to bring them to the hotel. This is only the beginning of the flood of refugees to come to the hotel. In total, the number of Tutsis and moderate Hutus sheltering in the hotel and its grounds would rise to over 1,000.

As the violence worsens, the UN withdraws most of its peacekeeping force (there to implement the Arusha Accords that ended the civil war), leaving roughly 300 soldiers behind. Foreign governments send in troops, but only to evacuate their citizens, many of whom are guests at the hotel. The head of the UN peacekeeping force, distraught over the withdrawal of his troops, tells Paul to look at himself from a Western perspective to try and understand why the international community has abandoned them—because they are African.

Paul holds firm, and through his connections, his guile, and his courage, he manages to save not only himself and his family, but also 1,268 innocent people.

Historical Accuracy

The history of the peoples of Rwanda and its neighboring countries is complex and disputed, so inevitably this movie contains some simplifications.

For instance, a conversation between a journalist and a Rwandan at the hotel bar gives the impression that there were no social distinctions between Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda before Belgian colonial rule. The reality was not so simple.

Prior to Belgian colonial rule, it seems that were distinctions between Hutu and Tutsi, but they were primarily economic rather than racial. The Tutsis were the aristocracy and the Hutu were the common people. It was not impossible to change status, and "become" a powerful Tutsi (which means "rich in cattle") or an ordinary Hutu. The Belgians heavily favored the Tutsis and exacerbated and codified the formerly flexible divide between the two groups. For a good explanation of the genocide and what led up to it, see the History section of the Human Rights Watch Report, Leave None to Tell the Story .

Another historical inaccuracy in the film concerns its portrayal of the leader of the UNAMIR mission. In Hotel Rwanda, he is Colonel Oliver, a fictional character based on Lieutenant General Romeo Dallaire . To see Dallaire's version of events as well as his struggle and work after the genocide, we suggest reading Shake Hands with the Devil or watching the documentary based off the book and his experiences.

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Ethical Issues and Discussion Questions

1. At the beginning of the film, Paul places far greater value on protecting his family than protecting his neighbors. But as the film progresses his sense of obligation to his neighbors and his countrymen deepens. Indeed, rather than abandon the refugees he is sheltering, he sends his family to safety while he stays behind. Is his decision the morally right one? In making decisions, how much weight should one give to the welfare of one's family compared to the welfare of one's neighbors? How much weight should governments give to the welfare of foreign peoples compared to that of their own citizens?

2. The UN Colonel tells reporters that his troops are "peace-keepers," not "peace-makers." By UN mandate, UN troops were permitted to use their weapons only in self-defense. If the Colonel had disobeyed orders and authorized his troops to fire on Interhamwe fighters, would he have done the right thing?

3. Do you agree that racism played a role in the international community's failure to act to stop the genocide, as the UN colonel says? The film makes no mention of other possible contributing factors, such as the disastrous U.S. humanitarian intervention in Somalia in 1993, less than a year before, which ended after a U.S. helicopter was shot down and the bodies of U.S. soldiers were dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. Does this justify the U.S. and the UN's refusal to intervene?

4. The film shows that there was a close relationship between the French and Hutu governments, even while the killings were going on. On the tenth anniversary of the genocide, Rwanda's president accused the French of consciously training and arming the Hutus, knowing that they would massacre Tutsis. The French deny this, yet it is indisputable that France was the Rwandan government's number-one supplier of weapons. Does this fact alone make France more culpable for the genocide than the rest of the international community? How should responsibility be allocated for what happened, both inside and outside Rwanda?

How has the international community, in particular Belgium, France, the United States, and the UN, faced up to the question of responsibility and blame in the years since the genocide?

5. In 2005, world leaders formally adopted the Responsibility to Protect [R2P]—the duty to intervene in when national governments fail to fulfill their responsibility to protect their citizens from atrocious crimes—and in 2006 the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1674 , which commits the Council to protect civilians during armed conflicts. Do you agree that under certain circumstances, R2P should override sovereignty? Can you cite any examples where R2P has been or should be implemented?

Outside Resources

Paul Rusesabagina: No 'Ordinary Man' National Public Radio interview with Mr. Rusesabagina. (April, 2006) The Responsibility to Protect-Engaging Civil Society project works to advance Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and to promote concrete policies to better enable governments, regional organizations and the UN to protect vulnerable populations. An Ordinary Man: An Autobiography Paul Rusesabagina, 2006

Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda Romeo Dallaire and Samantha Power, 2004 We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda Philip Gourevitch, 1998 " Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda ", Human Rights Watch, March 1999 " Resolution 1674 (2006) ", United Nations Security Council, April 28, 2006Subscribe to the Carnegie Ethics Newsletter for more on human rights issues.

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Home — Essay Samples — Entertainment — Movies — Hotel Rwanda

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Essays on Hotel Rwanda

When it comes to choosing a topic for an essay on the movie Hotel Rwanda, there are countless options to explore. The film, directed by Terry George and released in 2004, is based on the true story of hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina, who sheltered over a thousand Tutsi refugees during the Rwandan genocide in 1994. The movie is a powerful and thought-provoking exploration of the human capacity for both cruelty and compassion, and it offers a wealth of material for analysis and discussion.

Portrayal of the International Community

One possible essay topic is the portrayal of the international community in Hotel Rwanda. Throughout the film, Rusesabagina desperately seeks help from foreign diplomats and peacekeepers, only to be met with indifference and inaction. This raises important questions about the responsibilities of the global community in the face of humanitarian crises. An essay on this topic could explore the reasons behind the international community's failure to intervene in the Rwandan genocide, as well as the broader implications for the concept of global responsibility.

Role of the Media

Another compelling essay topic is the role of the media in shaping public perception of the genocide. In Hotel Rwanda, we see journalists and camera crews capturing the horrors unfolding in Rwanda, yet their footage fails to prompt meaningful intervention from the outside world. This raises important questions about the power and limitations of media representation in influencing public opinion and driving political action. An essay on this topic could examine the ways in which the media portrayed the genocide, as well as the ethical and practical challenges of reporting on such atrocities.

Character of Paul Rusesabagina

A third possible essay topic is the character of Paul Rusesabagina and his moral dilemma. Throughout the film, Rusesabagina grapples with the impossible choice of protecting his family and hotel guests while risking his own life, or prioritizing his own survival. This raises profound questions about the nature of moral courage and the complexities of ethical decision-making in the face of extreme adversity. An essay on this topic could delve into Rusesabagina's internal struggle and the broader implications for our understanding of heroism and sacrifice.

Psychological Impact of the Genocide

Another potential essay topic is the psychological impact of the genocide on its survivors. In Hotel Rwanda, we see the devastating effects of trauma and loss on the characters who endure the violence and chaos of the genocide. This raises important questions about the long-term psychological and emotional consequences of mass violence, as well as the challenges of healing and rebuilding in its aftermath. An essay on this topic could explore the experiences of the survivors in the film and consider the broader implications for our understanding of trauma and resilience.

Legacy of the Rwandan Genocide

A final essay topic to consider is the legacy of the Rwandan genocide and its relevance to contemporary issues. The events depicted in Hotel Rwanda are a stark reminder of the human capacity for violence and cruelty, as well as the urgent need for vigilance and action in the face of hatred and injustice. An essay on this topic could examine the ways in which the lessons of the Rwandan genocide continue to resonate today, as well as the ongoing efforts to prevent similar atrocities in the future.

The choice of essay topics for Hotel Rwanda is rich and varied, offering a wealth of possibilities for exploration and analysis. Whether delving into the complexities of international intervention, the power of media representation, the moral dilemmas faced by individuals, the psychological impact on survivors, or the contemporary relevance of the genocide, there is no shortage of compelling themes to consider. Ultimately, an essay on Hotel Rwanda has the potential to prompt meaningful reflection and discussion on some of the most pressing issues facing our world today.

The Rwandan Genocide in The Film, Hotel Rwanda

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Tutsi and Hutu Differences and Genocide in "Hotel Rwanda" by Terry George

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The Movie “Hotel Rwanda” Analytical Essay

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Realistic intergroup conflict theory.

Hotel Rwanda is an American film that was produced in 2004 by Terry George. It is based on the events that took place in Rwanda in 1994 when the country faced a serious problem related to genocide.

Don Cheadle is presented as a proprietor of the hotel who endeavours to liberate his fellow citizens from effects of the genocide. The movie is referred to as the African schindler’s list. Nick Nolte and Sophie Okonedo are some of the main characters in the movie who play critical roles. Rusesabagina tries to save the lives of close family members, as well as other refugees.

Over a thousand refugees face different problems, as they do not have the means of travelling to secure places. Rusesabagina houses the refugees in a hotel by providing them with basic needs, such as food and clothing. The movie talks about the genocide that claimed the lives of close to a million people in Rwanda. Moreover, it highlights some of the problems that led to the massacre.

During the war, corruption and heightened ethnicity were some of the major problems that faced people since they had to save their loved ones. Finally, the movie looks at the consequences of the war whereby the producer claims that the country experienced a variety of crises just after the genocide since mistrust and hatred was so intense.

The movie shows that tension between the two warring communities in Rwanda led to a large-scale war that shocked the whole world. The Hutus and the Tutsis engaged in armed conflict after a very long time of peace. The producer wonders why communities could rise against each other after living together for several centuries.

Before the war, corruption and bribery characterized the behaviour of many politicians. Rusesabagina was a Hutu while his wife was a Tutsi yet they lived peacefully for several years. During the war, Rusesabagina had problems convincing the Tutsis that he was supporting them.

Moreover, the Hutu extremists never trusted him since he was suspected of leaking critical information to the Tutsis. Rutaganda is presented as Rusesabagina’s friend who supplied goods to the hotel. Moreover, the supplier was the leader of Interahamwe, an organization that was formed specifically to exterminate the Tutsis. Rutaganda had problems with Rusesabagina since the hotel owner hosted the Tutsis.

Rusesabagina became helpless as tension between the two communities worsened. He witnessed the killing of his neighbours, as well as friends, but he did nothing. The situation exacerbated, which forced Rusesabagina to intervene by engaging in corruption and bribery to save his close friends and relatives.

He gave money to the Hutu extremists in order to spare his relatives. He did everything under his power to save his family. His behaviour was noticed after playing tricks for several weeks, something that attracted the attention of the army. He was warned not to prevent the Hutu militias from executing their assigned duties.

He decided to take his relatives to the hotel since they would be save there. As the situation worsened, many refugees joined Rusesabagina’s family at the hotel. The huge number of refugees overwhelmed the camp at the United Nations offices to an extent that the UN agencies could no longer support. The Red Cross and the orphanage homes were also unable to provide adequate help to refugees because of the increasing numbers.

Rusesabagina had several responsibilities, including diverting the attention of the Hutu militias, taking care of the refugees in terms of providing basic needs, providing leadership to the family and other refuges, and managing the affairs of the hotel. This was a challenging moment in the life of Rusesabagina since very many people relied on him for guidance.

The international community could not act effectively because of poor coordination and lack of cooperation from the government. The UN head of peace operations, Colonel Oliver (Nolte), failed to stop the genocide since the international law did not allow the UN to intervene militarily.

Employees of the diplomatic missions in the country were evacuated to safer places as the war entered a critical stage. All foreign nationals were advised to leave the country since the situation had become volatile. Unfortunately, the United Nations did nothing to salvage the lives of the Rwandese.

The Hutu militias were well organized since they understood the operations of the United Nations very well. When peacekeepers tried to evacuate Rusesabagina’s family from the hotel, they were ambushed and were forced to go back. Rusesabagina pleaded with the military generals to help him evacuate the family, but this did not work out. Corruption and bribery did not work as the war intensified.

Rusesabagina was unable to bribe the military, something that forced him to change the strategy. He convinced the military generals to take him for trial as a war criminal only for his family to be safe. Finally, the military generals allowed the UN forces to evacuate his family in a convoy.

The theory observes that conflicts happen because of contradictory interests among groups. This means that various groups will always compete for resources in society, which results to serious problems, such as the ones witnessed in Rwanda.

In the Movie, the Hutus accused the Tutsis of controlling the state resources yet the majority of societal members were languishing in great poverty. Realistic group theory is always utilized in explaining tension among groups. Scholars supporting the theory are of the view that conflicts are usually rational given the fact that groups have varying interests, which are generally incompatible.

In many cases, competition is the order of the day whereby groups play a zero-sum game meaning that the loss of one group is the benefit of the other. Even though the theory applies to groups, it is as well used to explain individual interests. Realistic scholars are of the view that individual interests will always guide people hence an individual will act in a manner that would fulfil his interest in any relationship. One of the major tenets of the theory is rationality.

Rationality suggests that an individual uses logic when interpreting an event or when acting. The theory explains a conflict in economic terms meaning that people are simply interested in fulfilling their economic ambitions. In fact, many conflicts in the world are always related to resource distribution or allocation. The theory posits that human beings are selfish and will always aspire to maximize their profits.

The theory confirms that what is best for an individual might not be necessarily be the best for the group. The individual accepts to be part of the group just in case he notices that his or her interests will be fulfilled. Some of the individual interests cannot be fulfilled without forming groups.

Therefore, individuals develop a sense of consciousness to realize their dreams. An individual is always willing to be a member of the group even if the group is illegal. However, research shows that individual interests might sometimes be in conflict with group interests, but the relationship between the two is inescapable. For the case of Rwanda, Hutus noticed that they could realize their dreams by joining hands to exterminate the Tutsis.

The problem started when colonialists subdivided the country into various spheres of influence. Since colonialists had no numbers that would allow them to rule, they collaborated with local communities that embraced Christianity. They also formed strong relationships with minorities, such as the Tutsis. The Tutsi utilized this opportunity to accumulate wealth, which rendered the Hutus poor.

The situation worsened when the colonial power surrendered power since the Tutsis controlled all major investments in the country. When opportunities presented themselves, all Hutus were willing to take part in exterminating the Tutsis since they had made them poor. Realistic theory would explain this scenario based on the economic situation of the Hutus. The only way to regain their lost glory was to eliminate all Tutsis and inherit their wealth.

In Germany, Hitler applied the same strategy to see off the Jews who had become a menace in the economy. Forcing Jews to live in the concentration camps was rationally justified, but it was not justice. Similarly, killing the Tutsis was rational as far as the interests of the Hutus were concerned. Realistic group theory explains the conflicts presented in the movie based on economic matters.

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hotel rwanda summary essay pdf

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Hotel Rwanda

Hotel Rwanda

  • Paul Rusesabagina , a hotel manager, houses over a thousand Tutsi refugees during their struggle against the Hutu militia in Rwanda, Africa.
  • 1994. In Rwanda, the classification of the native population into Hutus and Tutsis, arbitrarily done by the colonial Belgians, is now ingrained within Rwandan mentality despite the Rwandan independence. Despite the Belgians having placed the Tutsis in a higher position during the Belgian rule, they have placed the majority Hutus in power after independence. Paul Rusesabagina , a Hutu married to a Tutsi, Tatiana Rusesabagina, is the House Manager of the Hotel Des Milles Collines in Kigali. The Milles Collines, owned by Sabena (the national airline of Belgium), is a four-star hotel catering primarily to wealthy white westerners. Paul, who knows how to work the system to run the hotel effectively for its guests and for Sabena, is proud that most of the Caucasians who he meets in this professional capacity treat him with respect. After a specific incident, the relative calm between the Tutsi guerrillas and government-backed Hutu militia takes a turn. Paul's thought that the native population as a whole who are not directly involved in the conflict will be protected as the UN peacekeeping forces and thus the world is watching doesn't happen as the western world largely evacuates from Rwanda and abandons the natives. Such begins what will become a genocide of the Tutsi population. Paul, who is able to get his immediate family to the hotel which is still largely seen as a place of sanctuary, will have to use the considerable skills he has used to run the hotel as well as he has instead to keep himself, his family and any others taking refuge at the hotel alive, whether they be Hutu or Tutsi. Meanwhile, Colonel Oliver, a Canadian heading the UN peacekeeping forces, and Pat Archer with the Red Cross do what they can to assist Paul and to get people to safety first to the hotel then out of the country, while field journalists, like photographer Jack Daglish, try to bring the genocide back into the global media to have the world once again care about what is going on. — Huggo
  • The true story of a hotel worker sheltering multiple people from the danger of the war that takes over their country. Doing everything that he possibly can, with the support of his family, the hotel worker helps both the people who are affected and fight back to protect his country. — RECB3
  • During 1994, some of the worst atrocities in the history of mankind took place in the country of Rwanda--and in an era of high-speed communication and round the clock news, the events went almost unnoticed by the rest of the world. In only three months, one million people were brutally murdered. In the face of these unspeakable actions, inspired by his love for his family, an ordinary man summons extraordinary courage to save the lives of over a thousand helpless refugees, by granting them shelter in the hotel he manages. — Sujit R. Varma
  • Tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi peoples lead to a civil war, in a country where corruption and bribes are routine. Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle), the manager of Sabena Hôtel des Mille Collines, is Hutu but his wife, Tatiana (Sophie Okonedo), is Tutsi. His marriage is a source of friction with Hutu extremists, most prominently George Rutaganda, a friendly supplier to the hotel who also is the local leader of Interahamwe, a brutal anti-Tutsi militia. As the political situation in the country deteriorates, Paul and his family observe neighbors being dragged from their homes and openly beaten in the streets. Paul curries favor with people of influence, bribing them with money and alcohol, seeking to maintain sufficient influence to keep his family safe. When civil war erupts and a Rwandan Army officer threatens Paul and his neighbors, Paul barely negotiates their safety, and brings everyone to the hotel. More refugees come to the hotel from the overburdened United Nations camp, the Red Cross, and orphanages. Paul must divert the Hutu soldiers, care for the refugees, be a source of strength to his family, and maintain the appearance of a functioning high-class hotel, as the situation becomes more and more violent, with mobs in the streets just outside the gates. The UN Peacekeeping forces, led by Colonel Oliver (Nick Nolte), are unable to take assertive action against the Interhamwe since they are forbidden to intervene in the genocide. The foreign nationals are evacuated, but the Rwandans are left behind. When the UN forces attempt to evacuate a group of refugees, including Paul's family, they are ambushed and must turn back. In a last-ditch effort to save the refugees, Paul speaks to the Rwandan Army General, Augustin Bizimungu (Fana Mokoena) and when the bribes no longer work, he blackmails him with threats of being tried as a war criminal. The family and the hotel refugees finally leave the besieged hotel in a UN convoy, and they travel through retreating masses of refugees and militia to reach safety behind Tutsi rebel lines. limited details only

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Don Cheadle, Nick Nolte, Joaquin Phoenix, Mosa Kaiser, Sophie Okonedo, Ofentse Modiselle, and Mathabo Pieterson in Hotel Rwanda (2004)

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