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Lt Gen Romeo Dallaire, 'Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda'

Random House of Canada, 2003. ISBN 0 6793 1171 8; HB 562pp; price US$39.95

April 2004 marked the tenth anniversary of the start of the Rwandan genocide, making this publication both timely and important. It uncovers a side of that terrible story largely hidden from public view. Shake Hands with the Devil is an intensely personal account, written by the head of the UN mission before and during the slaughter.

Informed that he was being posted to Rwanda, Lt General Dallaire remembers that the only information he had about the country was a photocopied page from an encyclopaedia. As commander of UN peacekeepers in Rwanda from late 1993, General Dallaire was uniquely positioned to witness the planning of the genocide, such as the importation and stockpiling of hundreds of thousands of machetes.

All the urgent, faxed warnings to his superiors in New York were ignored. And then the murdering started. Over the next 100 days more than 800,000 people were killed, making this the swiftest slaughter in human history.

Making extensive use of daily notebooks from that time, Dallaire, a career soldier in the Canadian army, relates the events in a way that makes the tragedy as real as is bearable. Our sensitivities are not spared between these covers, and nor should they be. While Dallaire gave everything one human could be expected to, the world responded with silence.

Unsurprisingly, since 1994 he has suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder - for which he was released from the army in 2000 - and fought both depression and alcoholism and attempted suicide. He has had to struggle to keep his demons under control, for in truth they are not likely ever to leave him. This book is the result of that struggle.

The passage of time has aided the writing greatly, ensuring that the voice that cried in the wilderness is not just angry or bitter, although it is justifiably both, but also able to see a way forward too.

For all that has been written about Rwanda, this book is the most powerful and most damning. This is the story of both a man and a country, and it shows all too clearly what can happen to both when pleas for peace are ignored. In a world that seems divided between brutality and complacency, one wonders when will be the next time we say “Never again”.