In April, I went to see Hotel Rwanda, one of the few true stories of good triumphing that came out of the Rwandan genocide where Hutu militias supported by the Rwandan army, and quietly encouraged by the French army massacred nearly a million Tutsis, including women and children over the course of 100 days.
It showed how disturbingly helpless the UN force were in the face of murder and genocide, but it was good that it followed the story of a man who managed to save others rather than the many who tried and were killed. Reading into the events and background afterwards, it became more and more obvious that the rest of the world hadn’t just turned a blind eye to the problem, but at least France and the US had set back attempts to stop the killings. The UN general on the ground knew exactly what was going on in advance and had asked for reinforcements and a greater mandate but it was refused by the UN, who reduced his man power and insisted that his men used their weapons only for self defence despite the atrocities they were witnessing. I think it’s appropriate to feel angry about what happened in Rwanda, and Hotel Rwanda is an excellent way to learn about it and form a response. How many times are we going to watch massacres that make us say “never again”, before we start to do something about it? The word genocide was coined specifically to ensure that the world would act if it happened again. There’s a lot of good information about what happened in Rwanda on PBS’s site The triumph of evil.
One of the things that came out of it for me was the positive role Helsinki Watch had played there in publicising what was going on, when other agencies were quiet. When I went to their website the day after seeing Hotel Rwanda, I discovered that the UK was one of the countries believed to be circumventing anti torture rules by sending prisoners to countries where they could be tortured.
Fired up by the memory of Hotel Rwanda, I decided to take my own small stand and immediately went to FaxYourMP.com (which since then has become WriteToThem.com) to let my MP know what I thought. It was at that stage that I realised that I didn’t know who my MP was. I’ve moved a couple of times in England in the last year that I was there, and for a year since then I’ve lived in Switzerland. I decided to phone the electoral commission to find out where I was registered. Strangely, they couldn’t tell me where or even if I was registered, apparently the electoral roll isn’t computerised or something, so the best they could do was give me the phone numbers of electoral departments in every council area that I’d lived in over the last few years. Armed with a bundle of phone numbers I started ringing. At each one, I had to give a specific address, and they would tell me if I was registered to vote at that address. In the end, after phoning them all, I still had no idea. This was getting irritating, since the elections were coming up, and I actually wanted to vote.
Strange as it might seem, 192.com know substantially more about the electoral roll than the electoral commission. I discovered though that if you don’t do the free sign up, you can get some historical electoral roll information for free that otherwise you have to pay for. It’s scary what they know about you and the people you live/lived with. Various searches (and cookie deletions) later, I discovered that I had been on the electoral roll, but had been removed. AboutMyVote.co.uk gave me all the forms I needed to register to vote, but informed me that I was too late. In order to vote in the UK 2005 elections on the 5th May, I would have had to register before the 5th March, a whole month before Tony Blair even asked the Queen for permission to have the election.
Eventually resigned to my voicelessness I turned to The Power Inquiry in the hope of at least making my voice heard somewhere. You can read the ramblings about the problem with politics that I sent to them here.
One of the issues I wanted to talk about as I filled in the Power Inquiry form was the goverments obsession with ID cards. In theory, I like the idea of ID cards if done correctly, but in practice, I do not trust a government to issue them. One of the things that annoyed me about the governments handling of them was that their report had ignored a massive amount of feedback received over the internet. No2ID has a lot of information on the debate as it unfolds (including a nice idea, called ‘The Public Whip’, and a link to pledgebank, from the same people who are doing writeToThem.com and TheyWorkForYou.com).
Trawling google for more information about the UK ID card, brought me across this article from preventgenocide.org on ID cards as factors in genocide. It seems that there have been very few genocides that didn’t start with issuing standard ids with information on the holders ethnicity. If you didn’t find the fact that the UK governments website on id cards is listed as under the “Community & Race” section a little chilling (or at least in poor taste) when you visited the site, perhaps you do now. On the preventgenocide.org page, I found a link to the images. This one is the id card of a Rwandan Tutsi, a document that would have been the death sentence at any of the militia road blocks.