Questions for Paul Rusesabagina
Before a packed audience at Wednesday’s Assembly Series, Paul Rusesabagina described in vivid detail his experiences during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Following the lecture, the internationally recognized humanitarian sat down with Student Life to discuss today’s most urgent global conflicts, future reconciliation between Rwandans, protests against Rusesabagina and the movie “Hotel Rwanda.”
Student Life: How accurate is the movie “Hotel Rwanda” in its portrayal of your actual experiences?
Paul Rusesabagina: “Hotel Rwanda” is a portrayal of what was going on in the Mille Collines Hotel during the genocide. Almost 100% of it is a true story. A few composite characters have been made here and there. Also, a few events have been portrayed less violently compared to real life.
SL: Was there ever a moment when you wanted to evacuate?
PR: I never had that moment. All the opportunities I had to leave the hotel, I never left. My own conscience was telling me that if I was to leave then those refugees will be killed. Up to that time, I was the only person who could speak for them.
SL: You’ve recently received criticism from some survivors of the Rwandan genocide. Specifically, President Kagame has accused you of misrepresenting actual events to profit from people’s hardships. How do you respond to these claims?
PR: President Kagame, like Habyarimana who was the president before him, is a dictator. Those people would always like to hear you speaking about others, but not them. They want me to speak only about those three months of the genocide, but the genocide did not come from nowhere.
He, like many others, is afraid to face our history. If we want to reach a solution, we need to face the past. We need to see what happened, why it happened, who did it.we should not keep quiet because I call that silence complicity. Silence is agreement.
PR: Actually, history repeats itself because, for so long before the killing takes place, the world is always there to see how situations always start to escalate. This was the case in Cambodia, with the Jewish Holocaust, Rwanda and the Romanian Holocaust. The whole world was watching, seeing the situations escalating, and they never did anything. It is the same thing in Darfur. Since 2003, more than 250,000 people have been killed. And the world just closes its eyes and ears and doesn’t want even to talk about it.
SL: Does the U.S. have responsibility to step in now in Darfur?
PR: The U.S. can stop what is going on in Darfur. The U.S. administration recognized Darfur as a genocide in March 2005, when Colin Powell was still the secretary of state and foreign affairs. Declaring it as a genocide is good, but it is not enough. We need to join words with actions.
SL: Was the punishment of the leaders of the Rwandan genocide adequate?
PR: There was no punishment. Most of the genocidaires are free all over the world. War criminals are free. Justice has been a very big issue in Rwanda and it still remains an issue. Of course, reconciliation has not yet started, because you cannot reconcile a nation without doing justice, without speaking. Through dialogue only we find solutions.
SL: Is complete reconciliation between the Hutus and Tutsis possible?
PR: Reconciliation is very possible. If you go back in history, each and every [Rwandan] has been involved in one way or another. The only solution for us is to sit around a table with young people who can ignore what has happened in the history.
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