Paul Rusesabagina, the only recognized hero of Rwanda's bloody conflict and the man whose heroism inspired the Academy-Award nominated film Hotel Rwanda, in conversation with Georgette Gagnon, Deputy Director of the Africa Division, Human Rights Watch. April 2006 marks the twelfth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide in which almost one million people were killed in Rwanda. Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager who saved the lives of over 1,200 fellow Rwandans during the horrific events of 1994, and whose story was recently portrayed by Don Cheadle in the film Hotel Rwanda, will discuss the events depicted in the movie, including the international response, and his own role during this chaotic time. In his new memoir, An Ordinary Man, he tells his personal story for the first time.
Georgette Gagnon is an international human rights attorney and Deputy Director of the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch.
Paul Rusesabagina was born June 15, 1954, at Murama-Gitarama in the Central-South of Rwanda; his parents were farmers. In 1962, he entered the SDA (Seventh Day Adventist) College of Gitwe, a Missionary School, and was there for seven years of primary school and six years of secondary studies. From 1975 to 1978, Rusesabagina attended the Faculty of Theology in Cameroon and, in January 1979, was employed by Sabena as a front office manager in their newly opened Hotel Akagera in the Akagera National Park. It was at this time he learned about the Tourism, Hotel, and Catering Industry. Through The Suisse Tourist Consult, Rusesabagina's application was accepted for entrance into the Kenya Utalii College in Nairobi in the Hotel Management Course, which he started in early 1980 and finished in September 1984 in Switzerland. Back from Switzerland, Rusesabagina joined Sabena Hotels again and was employed as assistant general manager in the Mille Collines Hotel from October 1984 until November 1992, at which time he was promoted to general manager of the Diplomate Hotel (also in Kigali). For the 100 days of the genocide, Rusesabagina had to move back to the Mille Collines Hotel. His colleague Bik, manager of that unit, left Kigali on April 11, 1994, despite the number of refugees still left on their own. It was the next morning, when the government (Interim Government) left Kigali for Gitarama. Rusesabagina was there for almost the entire span of the genocide. When the massacre slightly calmed down, in July 1994, Bik came back and joined his unit, and Rusesabagina went back to the Diplomate Hotel where he stayed until September 1996, after which he went to Belgium as a refugee. From that time to date, Rusesabagina has worked as a businessman and owns a transport company. Rusesabagina served as special consultant to United Artists and Lion's Gate Films' production of the Academy Award-nominated film, Hotel Rwanda, starring Don Cheadle, Sophie Okonedo, Joaquin Phoenix, and Nick Nolte.
This month marks the 12th anniversary of the Rwandan genocidefor a hundred days in 1994 nearly a million people were massacred in Rwanda.It was a preplanned campaign Hutu clan, members of the Hutu clan slaughtered the Tutsi populationas well as Hutu moderates. Many of whom had been their friends, their neighbors, their husbands, their wives;the international community stood by unable to act. Retributions followed,the blood shed did not end until a Tutsi rebel group defeated the government.During the dark days of the genocide, there was one man, Paul Rusesabagina,who had the courage to shelter more than 1,200 individuals, Tutsi and Hutu moderates,he saved their lives at des Mille Collines Hotel in Kigali in Rwanda. He used diplomacy,he used flattery, he used a bit of deception with the killers and he saved these refugees as well as his family.Today's program features Paul Rusesabagina whose heroism aspired the Academy Award nominated filmHotel Rwanda. He is the author of a memoir called An Ordinary Man.In this book he looks at the roots of the genocide, the complexities of his own lifeas a Hutu that is married to a Tutsi and he looks at the role played by the United Nations Peacekeeping Troopsduring the genocide. He is the founder and president of the Hotel Rusesabagina Foundationofficially established in the year 2005 to provide financial assistance to women and childrenwho are affected by genocides in sub-Saharan Africa. He is devoting his life toeducating the world about genocide to working to prevent the reoccurrence.He's an outspoken advocate for international intervention to stop the genocide in Darfur,where the killing of course continues. Today's program is in conversation with Georgette Gagnon,an international human rights attorney and Deputy Director of the African division of human rights watch.Please join me in welcoming both of our guests.Early in your book you talk about how some Hutu began attacking some Tutsi in 1959when the Hutu majority overthrew the Tutsi ruling elite and set up a republic. You were a child then,but you write about how your family took in Tutsi who were afraid and had fled their own homes.Your own family slept outside because it feared it too might be attackedand the house had been burned down because you had taken in Tutsi.This is at the root of the historical basis for the genocide. How long did this crisis between Hutu and Tutsi go on?That crazy started in 1959 and ended in 19, around 1963, but whenever Tutsis who had fled,especially in Burundi, whenever they could attack, come back and attack,many Tutsis were again threatened within the country. And that went up to around 1967.And in October 1990 a Tutsi led guerrilla group, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, or RPF,invaded Rwanda claiming they wanted to ensure the return to Rwanda of those refugees who had been in exilesince the 1960's that you just spoke about and that they wanted to overthrow the increasinglyrepressive Rwandan government of President Habyarimana, did the beginning of this warchange relations between Hutu and Tutsi?Definitely, that changed a lot and if you know too much, because right at the beginning when they first,on (unidentified) of the war, that was October 4th, the President declared a curfewin the whole country and took about 12,000 Tutsis, moderate Hutus, opposition leaders in prisons.Some of them stay there for two months, three months, six months, a year even,so many people were threatened. But also the Tutsi rebels, when they're away from Uganda,in the north, north east of Rwanda where they talked for the first time, they were also killing Hutus,Hutu civilians on the hills, inviting men for meetings, killing them, inviting their sons to join the rebels there,the rebels army, killing them. Today if you go to such places, you notice that about 80% of the populationare women widows because their husbands have been killed. So that affected very much.That then, that also as a result of that, of the killings by 1993 we had more than 500,000 peoplesurrounding Kigali, the capital, coming to because they had fled all the zones occupied by the Tutsi rebelsbecause they were killing them and then they were coming to (unidentified) town in Kigali.Going to sleep outside in the open air without food, without shelter, without water,without education which is the basic need for the future generations. So those peoplefor four years had been fleeing, going slowly and by 1994 they were surrounding Kigaliand when the General (unidentified), they were the ones who for the first time took machetes,went down to the streets and killed each and everyone on the streets.So there was a, there was a lot of conflict between Hutu and Tutsi well before 1994,but lets move to the period just before the genocide. Newspapers and then eventually a new private radio,RTLM, put out increasingly harsh attacks on Tutsi. They labeled all Tutsi including the civilianswho had never gone into exile as enemies and traitors and identified them with the fighters of the RPF,the Tutsi rebel group that you just spoke about, they said Tutsi were a danger to the Hutu.You were then married to a Tutsi and had many other personal and business ties to Tutsi.In the months before April 1994, how did you all asses the situation?Did you think something terrible was going to happen?Being myself, mixed son from a Tutsi mother and a Hutu father and being a Hutubecause one follows his father's line, being married to a Tutsi woman and being threatened myselfand her also, in a way, each and everyone was sensing in Kigali, Rwanda wonder that somethingwas going to happen, the killings were supposed to happen, but never, no one thought that genocidewould kill as many people as we have seen. There were even people in Rwanda, in Kigali,that time, who were talking about a list of 1,500 people who were supposed to be killed by Habyarimana.Most of those people were not necessarily Tutsis, but rather opposition leaders.So did you see or hear about the recruitment and training of militia like the Interhamwein the months before April 6th about the distribution of guns to civilians,to ordinary people like those 500,000 people around Kigali?Well actually already by 1992 the opposition was becoming very strong within the country and the President,President Habyarimana was threatened when one sign by the rebels, armed rebels,fighting his army and winning. On the other hand there was an democratic opposition within the zones he controlled,so he was threatened from both ends, then he created a militia, the militia also started killing people.You could hear that people were gathered in a theater like this oneand militia men came in with grenades, killed many people, injuring many others.You could hear that people were gathered in a bus station, for instance, militia men could come inand throw in grenades injuring and killing many thousands of people.You could hear that opposition leaders who were not necessarily Tutsis, opposition leaderswere from all the ethnic groups. So you could hear then someone was trying to get in to his compound.And militia men were assassinating him on the gates, on his gates trying to get in. That is why by 1993,most of us left our homes and went to stay in, many people stayed in Gitarama, the neighboring city.Many others went to (unidentified), other people went to (unidentified) in 1993decided to flee the country and go outside as we went to the hotel and we were staying in the hotelfor about four months until March 1994, so you, we were always threatened.Militia men were even coming to houses, breaking windows or glassesand throwing grenades in the houses in rooms killing people sleeping.So there was no security, no safety anywhere by 1993 towards the end.In the two or three weeks before April 1994 on April 6th ,did you often see the soldiers of the U.N. Peacekeeping force around Kigali?What did you think they were to do?Well, unfortunately we never knew the mission of the international soldiers or the international community,because if we have known their mission, the way it was, all the people that had fled the country in 1993when they saw the U.N. Peace keepers as recording them, when we saw them, all the people came back.Many others who had fled to neighboring cities also came back. We trusted the international community.We were very confident in the U.N. We were seeing their soldiers very proud in 4x4 carsmoving throughout the country and we trusted them, even myself. I'll give you an example of myself.In March 1993, I had a manager's meeting in Brussels. I left Kigali with my wife and my sonwho was then one half years old, just the age of some of those guys, my friends of mine.We went to Brussels, stayed, attended my meetings. After my meetings, I came back,we came back with, flew back to Kigali. When March 31st at 7:30 we landed in Kigali.We had been staying at the hotel for four months, but when we came back on March 31st,just a Thursday morning, and the genocide was going to take place, to start on April 6th,just the following Wednesday, we went to our house because we trusted the international community.We took them to be peacekeepers, but when the genocide started, we saw them just standing thereunable even to defend civilians just being attacked by militia men.Even refugees, we saw the international community now, insurgents.we had 2,500, 500 soldiers. They, all of them, pulled out. Left only 260, that was a shame.And 260 without any weapon, without even a knife.A U.N. soldier was just that day was a U.N. uniform, a military uniform.So all Rwandans did not know at that time about the restricted mandate of the U.N. Forces,that they were just observers, they weren't actually there to intervene, to protect?Actually, the, I like the way those young children, those young people put it,the U.N. soldiers are just bystanders, they come, stand there, watch people killing each other,in the end, they just say, ah we have seen them killing each other, that's it, but anyone can say that.And this is what they did in Rwanda.I'd like to move now just to the genocide period.It began when the plane of President Habyarimana was shot down. When an importantRwandan official who was out of the country heard that the plane had been shot,he supposedly said, "Rwanda is finished". Do you recall having that kind of reactionor did you think that the crisis might end quickly?On April 6th I found one of my friends and I said listen my friend, your uncle has just been killed,because I immediately knew what was going on. I was immediately phoned,a half an hour later I was aware, I knew that the person had been killed.When I told him, he told me that "listen Paul, tell me, I'm going to celebrate" I told him,"But be careful, watch out, you, if you try to do that, your head, you'll be beheaded that very same minute,"because we were afraid of what was going to follow. And each and,almost each and everyone in the country was very much scared of what might happen if that President was killed.If the full force of 25-2,800 of peace keepers had been left in place and given a stronger mandate to act,what effect would that have had?Well, very positive. If the U.N. would have increased, even left that 2,500 soldiersthey would have done a tremendous work because Rwandis are just like that,they do never like to kill a neighbor or a friend or any stranger in front of a foreigner.People all over the world fear to do such a thing in front of a disturbing witness.To us the U.N. were disturbing witnesses, but when they pulled out, when they saw them pulling out,all the people, that is when militia men went down to the streets and started singing,"We are the strong, the strongest, we have won. Even the international community is afraid of us."That's when people started killing people, piling them on the roads, making road blocks, sitting on them,drinking beers; that is when we saw women killing husbands, husbands killing their wives,pastors and priests killing their church members and church members killing their pastorsbecause there was no more, any witness.In your book, you show how often you used persuasion and words to keep the killers at bay from Mille Collines.Were you and others at the hotel working to persuade decision makers outside Rwanda to act?Definitely. I was, I was spending almost 24 hours a day phoning the whole world, the international community,the United Nations, The White House, The Peace Corps the, phoning, calling Paris,asking them to intervene, to do something. Asking them, phoning Brussels, 24 hours a day.I remember on April 23rd I went to sleep at 4am. When I went to my bed,I was woken up two hours later by soldiers, guns at my head with an order by the Ministry of Defenseto turn out all the Mille Collines refugees despite all I had done, or had been doingthe 24 hours previous that day, I was forced to do it, but fortunately I couldn't because as I say,or as we say, I believe in the power of words. I had to negotiate with them for a long timeand after a long time I was given a few minutes to give up at least and then do what they wanted.And by that time the hotel was surrounded by militia men, by soldiers,many soldiers were already within the building and when I saw that I said to myself now this is the end of everything.But fortunately it was not the end because with the words you can always get very far.I happened to persuade the Assistant General Chief of Staff and he came to the hotel and removed those guys.Were you able to follow international press coverage of Rwanda at the time?I know the hotel had some CNN coverage for a while, what do you think of the quality of the reporting?Actually the Rwandan genocide was not reported, unfortunately.The international media did not look at the running issue. Sometimes we say thatthe whole of the international community was more or less concerned with South Africawhere the first democratic elections were taking place. Many times we say that Rwandais a small land locked country, which is forgotten in the center of Africa.Many times we say many different things, but the Rwandan genocide was not reported accordingly.Would better reporting have increased pressure on decision makers to intervene, to stop the genocide?Of course. There was only one journalist (unidentified), a friend journalist.He's the only one who was there, who could witness what was going on on the army's side,the others were just on the rebel behind the rebels, and the rebels showing them,were showing them what they wanted to see. So there was no,no one was informed on what was going on in the whole country.Did you hope that there might be widespread call for actiononce news about genocide actually reached the rest of the world?I was, my wish was to give the international community a vote, but unfortunatelyI did not have too much hope, because when the international community pulled out,when they decided to evacuate all the foreigners, including the U.N. soldiers.Can you imagine a soldier being evacuated during such a horrible time,when he's supposed to settle order, to sit up, assist him, he's controlling the situation?That is when the U.N. decided to pull out. So I was sure they were not going to come back.But in my nature, I do never give up. I insist and I insisted.Do you remember what you and others at the hotelwere thinking and saying in reaction to the genocide in countries outside Rwanda?Well, that time we were self centered. We were thinking about ourselves, calling the whole world,reminding our uncles that were not very much concerned by what was going around in the other countries.Would widespread public reaction, general public reaction, have pushed governments to act in other countries,for example, huge rallies by public here in the U.S., in Canada, in Europe,would that, do you think that would have helped?I believe that even, it would have been a very simple, simply done by President Clintonif he had gone to the t.v. and said, and told the government, the Rwandan governmentthat the then government, the armies and you guys are not untouchable,you are answerable about what is going on in your country.That itself, only would have been a strong message to the killers.In the past there have been several horrific cases of massive killings of civiliansthat have passed with little attention. But the Rwandan genocide is somewhat different.There have been several acclaimed films, your book and many othersthat have provoked debate continuing press attention. Does this indicatea new awareness of what is often called a new principle, a new doctrine, the international responsibilityto protect, that in cases of mass slaughter of genocide when a country is unable or unwillingto protect its own people, the international community has a responsibility to intervene to protect?Yes. All of the films, my book and everything have helped to raise awareness.Two years ago when we started promoting Hotel Rwanda, wherever we went,all the people that saw that movie that film for the first time, they were always in tears at the endtelling us that "listen, we are sorry. We did not know. We did not know what was going on in Rwanda".That is when we started talking on Darfur in Congress lightly. That is when that we created, we...For the first time, Don and I, when we spoke about save Darfur and we even went to Darfur last year.This is raising awareness, but still it is going, it is going on a very, very, very slow speed then.We are not really taking responsibilities, the whole world, the world leaders,always fear to take their own responsibilities and still those guys that you either stop or we come in.What we wish to happen in Africa is what happened about seven years agowhen the NATO went in Yugoslavia and removed Milosevic. That was a strong message.We have seen another one, a very poor message. When they got a hold of Charles Taylor,one of the well known dictators of our times, but he was no more in the office, he was caught in the law.He had his lieutenants, where are they? So I believe that the international community is always afraid.They do not want to get involved in what is going wrong around us.How can we increase awareness about a situation like Darfur, learn lessons from what happened in Rwandaand turn it into more effective pressure for action by decision makers,by the security council of the U.N. for example, by President Bush and others?Well, last year I went to Darfur. What I saw in Darfur is exactly what I was seeing,what I described in Rwanda between '90 and 1994. Exactly the same thing. Ethnic cleansing.People are killing people just to kill them all. More than two million people were displaced within Darfur,many, a few of them had fled. Darfur who were just [children], they were sleeping in the Saharan sun,without food again, without shelter, without education for their future generations.I was very ashamed to see that when their children saw us, they gathered, about 2,000 kids gatheredwith a black board and written "Welcome to our Guests, but we need Education".That is a shame to mankind. And on my way back , when I was on Air Francejust sitting on the plane watching the news, all the superpower leaders were gathered in Auschwitzrepeating every now and again, "Never" and "Again", "Never Again", "Never Again", "Never Again".Those two words have become the most abused words in the worldthan any other words I've ever heard in my life. (Applause) It is high time... thank you.It is high time to join words with actions. What I propose is for instance,a strong message as I said earlier, from the world leaders, for instance to the Sudanese government,telling them, "That listen, you guys, you are not untouchable". All of those guysare stealing money from their own nations, their own countries, that money where is it?A lot of it is in the United States, the other bit of it is in Europe all over the developed countries in the west.Why can' t we freeze that money and send them a strong message,that will be a strong message that listen you guys, this money is not your money, its your people's money,you won't benefit from it. That message then will let them know that even if they happento free their country, come to the United States, they would never get that money because its not theirs.They will stop stealing and stopping stealing will also encourage them to stop killing.In your book, you have a very, very important message about the need for justiceand the need to get rid of impunity, arguing very clearly that by not bringing to justice those responsiblefor atrocities, you are simply sewing the seeds for future atrocities and injustice.Can you tell us more about the real need for impunity? And how a real need foraccountability and no impunity and how important it is?Well, when I said that I was referring to the case of Rwanda.And the case f Rwanda is similar to any case, before colonization, Hutus were slaves to Tutsis.After colonization in 1959, when colonizers left the country and went out also Tutsis followed thembecause they had been used to oppress Hutus. And then all those Tutsis who fled the country,their plantations, their cows, their cattle, their houses were occupied immediately by ther neighbors.Instead of bringing those neighbors to justice, punishing them, their plantations, their cattle,everything was transferred from the real owner to a thief who had stolen them actually.This happened again, repeated itself in 1973 when the second exodus, Tutsi exodusin Rwanda took place and was repeated in 1990 when the war broke out.The president took in prison 12,000 people and many others fled the country.I saw with my own eyes, the government in Rwanda selling, the government,selling people's shops, goods from the shops. I sometimes wonder whether that governmentsend the money to the real owner or the goods. So that was impunity.And many other people went and settled on other people's land, in other people's shops.And unfortunately in 1994, when the government, which is now there took over,they again came in and, I saw people just breaking shops doors,just jumping to the other side of the counter starting to sell things they never bought.I saw people breaking other people's doors getting, settled in the housesand even now there are many people who occupy houses they never rent for the last twelve years,they are people who are occupying houses they never built . Impunity has been the biggest trouble,the biggest problem, especially in Rwanda, but almost in the whole of Africa.And that is, now what do we need? We need to take all of those guys who have that, been doing that,whoever they are, there's no one is supposed to pretend to be untouchable.We have to take them to justice and then after doing justice, we then sit down through dialog,reconsider and the only way to reconstruction is through first of all solve those problems that are already there.Do you think that efforts at justice and reconciliation in Rwanda nowbecause there are some efforts, do you thing they're bearing any fruit?Well, they are and always will be unfruitful because you can never reconcile people who are not equal,who do not have equal rights. People, what we need in Rwanda is to take what I call civil society,you people, the government officials, the peasants on the hills, church people. All of us around the table,sit down and talk. I believe, as I told you, in the powers of words. This is what we need in Rwanda,but not telling people that we are reconciling, we are reconciling who and who?Justice has never been done. We have more than a hundred thousand prisoners who are on one side,one ethnic group, the others that have killed since 1990 up to now are not appearing anywhere.So that is not justice, as wrong justice, which is prior to everything to me.As long as that justice is priority to everything is not done, we would never be able to reconcile.We are not really reconciling.Well thank you. I think we can now move to questions from the audience...Q & A