________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 14 . . . . March 17, 2006


The Peacekeepers.

Paul Cowan (Writer & Director). Adam Symansky (Producer). Éric Michel (Executive Producer).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2005.
83 min., 7 sec., VHS or DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: C9105 021.

Subject Headings:
United Nations - Armed Forces.
United Nations - Canada - Armed Forces.

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.

Review by Thomas F Chambers.

**** /4


With unprecedented access to the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping, The Peacekeepers provides an intimate and dramatic portrait of the struggle to save a failed state. We follow the determined and often desperate manoeuvres to avert another Rwandan disaster, this time in the Democratic Republic of Congo (the DRC). We are with the peacekeepers in the "crisis room" as they balance the risk of loss of life on the ground with the enormous sums of money required from uncertain donor countries. And we are with UN troops as the northeast Congo erupts and the future of the DRC, if not all of central Africa, hangs in the balance.

In the background, and often impinging on peacekeeping decisions, are the painful memory of Rwanda, the crisis in Iraq, global terrorism and American hegemony in world affairs. (From the liner notes.)


The theme of The Peacekeepers is the relevancy of the United Nations in today's world. It begins with an address by President Bush to the UN General Assembly in 2002 when he pointedly raised the issue. This question of relevancy is constantly on the viewer's mind as the UN tries to prevent a disaster in Congo during 2002-2003 when genocide and tribal war threatened to break the country apart, much as they did to Rwanda in the 1990s. Congo is Africa's most violent country where conflict has existed since the early 1960s. If the UN failed here, it would indeed be irrelevant.

     Many words can be used to describe The Peacekeepers. It is colourful, dramatic, gripping, provocative, and above all, disturbing. None do it justice for this is a film that is impossible to watch without feeling a profound sense of helplessness. It is also very objective in its attempt to determine responsibility for Congo's tragedy. The Congolese, themselves, shoulder much of the blame for trading gold for guns. So too do Congo's neighbours, Uganda and Rwanda, who want the country's resources. Their armies massacre people just like those of rival Congolese warlords. The developed nations are also singled out for blame because they are the only ones that can afford to send enough troops to halt the bloodshed but most refuse to do so. The UN, itself, cannot escape blame as it seems unable to do much at all to stabilize the country.

     Filmed, mostly in Congo, The Peacekeepers has scenes, which while common enough in much of today's TV news, will shock and disturb. They are very graphic. We see ample evidence of catastrophe. Buildings everywhere seem covered with pockmarks from bullets. Hospitals are filled with patients suffering from machete attacks. Burnt villages and corpses abound. Set against the tragedy is the faint hope, in New York and in Congo, itself, that democracy and political stability will take root.

     The Peacekeepers could easily be used to stimulate discussion on global political and economic issues. Even the most uninterested students cannot help but be enthralled by the power of this film, particularly the point made over and over again, that many of the killers in Congo are children. Most are very handsome and appear to be in their early teens or younger. Students are bound to ask questions for which the film has few answers. Why, for example, have children become killers? Who gives them arms, and why? Where are their parents? Why are troops from neighbouring countries killing Congolese? Is Congo too weak to expel them? Why does the rest of the world ignore the killings? Why is the UN so weak?

     In addition to showing us how chaotic Congo was in 2002, the film provides a look behind the scenes at the UN in New York where we attend committee meetings and listen while Congo's problems are endlessly debated. The relevancy, or irrelevancy, of the UN becomes obvious during these scenes. At one point the sum of $3 million a year to try and stop the carnage is mentioned. Such a pitiful amount illustrates the problems facing the UN as it tries to determine its role in the 21st century. In the case of Congo, the multilateral force sent to stabilize the country was given a Chapter 7 Mandate, which meant the troops could shoot to kill. This was what was missing in Rwanda and showed that the UN realized just how fragile is its continued existence. To have sent troops without this mandate would have been an exercise in futility.

Highly Recommended.

Thomas F. Chambers is a retired college teacher living in North Bay, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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