Television Review: Panorama

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The Independent Culture
"YOU MET men and women together at roadblocks, holding the machetes and all of them singing war songs. And what were they looking for? Human beings to hack to death."

Feargal Keane reported for Panorama from Rwanda in the aftermath of the genocide of 1994, producing a worthy visual document. "When Good Men Do Nothing", last night's harrowing Panorama (BBC1) should be seen as its appendix. While Keane catalogued the grim actualite, Steve Bradshaw examined the incriminating passivity of the United Nations Security Council and how it stood by as one million people were murdered.

Keane has been accused by some of sentimentalising the reporter's brief - of not being quite "John Simpson" enough; this was a trap which Bradshaw by and large avoided. It was unnecessary to ask a Belgian soldier what he would say to the mother of a child who had been murdered after his troops abandoned her to the Hutus, but perhaps it reflected his frustration of there being no "one" person to blame.

At one school, 2,000 Tutsis were protected by 100 Belgians as Hutus circled the camp. When the UN ordered the troops' withdrawal, refugees asked their former protectors to shoot them, preferring that to death by machete. When the troops left, they had to fire their guns into the air to clear a path through the crowd. In a grim irony, this was the signal for the Hutus to begin the killing.

Panorama's own weapon of choice was to mix the emotional with the rational. A detached explanation of the US's cynical delaying tactics to avoid a messy African conflict was intercut with footage of corpses coursing down river.

The programme's most salient point was about insidious bureaucracy and the redefinition of the individualistic notion of evil, which is so easy to define and seek retribution for when it inhabits a single figure such as a Hitler, Amin or Pinochet.

Panorama left me feeling culpable and, in a sense, I was. In 1994 I didn't think about Rwanda, except in the vaguest sense. I didn't lobby my MP or campaign for intervention, barely even talked about it, in fact. Unfortunately, the UN Security Council took much the same approach and it could have helped. "There was no political will," as one contributor pointedly remarked, and that there was no British voice on the programme left me feeling ashamed and guilty.

One of the more self-flagellating contributors - then a desk officer at the US mission to the United Nations and now a professor of political science in Wisconsin - wondered what would have happened if he'd argued for, rather than against, UN involvement and had bucked the official Pentagon line, which only described the killings as genocide after they had happened. The sad truth is he would probably have been sacked.

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