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Human and Labor Rights Lawyer
With the takeover of the city of Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (“Congo”) last year by M23 rebels, and with Rwanda receiving a seat on the UN Security Council last year as well, I wanted to talk to Rwanda’s most famous son, Paul Rusesabagina, about Rwanda’s role in supporting the M23 militia. Paul Rusesabagina was famously portrayed in the movie Hotel Rwanda by Don Cheadle. My first question to Paul was about the criminal charges brought against him in 2010 by the Rwandan government for his questioning the role of Paul Kagame (now Rwandan president) and his RPF forces in the Rwandan civil war and in the Congo. The government accused him of allegedly advocating a “double genocide” theory.
PR: This is what happens to any person who has really been advocating about the genocide that happened in 1994. I was on the inside, and I sensitized the whole world. I called for help. I tried to help people during that period of time. And afterward, I still fought for the truth to come out until I noticed that that was not what the Rwandan government wanted to do. They wanted power — not shared — and they wanted to demonize the rest of the population so that the army appeared to be the only nice people. For that I was not considered a nice guy. I had no choice but to go into exile. In exile, I was the one who spoke real loudly about the Rwanda genocide — the Rwandan genocide; not two genocides … If we Rwandans don’t reconcile, and sit down honestly and talk, then we might see history repeating itself because the Rwandan government as of now also has been involved in many massacres. This is what I talk about. The Tutsi government has been involved in many massacres. And they are still doing it. So that’s what they have been doing in the Congo. If you look at the situation as it has been analyzed, for example, in the Mapping Report which you may be aware of. People analyzing that are recording a genocide.
DK: I think that is right. You are referring to the United Nations Mapping Reportwhich shows that in fact huge amounts of fatalities in terms of where Rwanda had invaded and also where they are supporting the M23 rebels if I’m not mistaken. And I see numbers of close to 6 million dead as a result of that activity.
PR: Actually M23 is not the first militia proxy army to be helped and funded by the Rwandan government; it is one among many others. Since 1996 when the Rwandan army invaded the Congo, they have killed more than 300,000 refugees — Hutu refugees. And they killed them because they were Hutu refugees. And also, they have killed millions of Congolese … Rwanda has provided these proxy armies, including now the M23, with munitions, arms and uniforms. And the result of this is that more than 6 or 7 million people have been killed. Hundreds of thousands of women have been raped. Babies have been butchered. This has been done by [Rwandan President Paul] Kagame in the fields by proxy militas.
DK: And what is the U.S. role in all of this?
PR: Well, all I can say is that Paul Kagame was, how do I say it, “our guy” if you can say it that way. He was trained in intelligence here in the United States in Fort Levenworth [in 1990 before the genocide], and he became an ally to the United States.
[Editor's Note: To read more about how Paul Kagame is "our guy," Read here].
DK: Did the U.S. approve of his invasion into the Congo in 1996?
PR: I can’t say they approved, but still no one disapproved.
DK: And, they knew he was going to do it, because he told the world he was going to invade.
PR: Yes, since 1996 through 2012, for more than 15 years, no one has disapproved, so they have approved.
DK: Was placing Rwanda on the Security Council (“SC”) last year ratification of their conduct?
PR: Let’s say that this is upsetting. This is upsetting for the cause of human rights. I can’t say what all human rights organizations would say, but I can tell you, someone who has been invading neighbors as Rwanda has, and who has been raping the women of their neighbors, I don’t see Rwanda as teaching any lessons of conflict resolution. If you go online and see how many babies are being butchered, if you see how women are being raped, if you see how many young boys are being killed, this [placing Rwanda on the SC] is like a lion guarding the cattle.
[Paul talks at length about his work on fighting inequality in Rwanda, and then stuns me with the following statement]:
PR: And, the governing elite has a special program of sterilizing men so that they don’t produce.
DK: Excuse me, did you say sterilizing men?
PR: Yes, sterilizing Hutu men. Yes, and what did you call this? Is this not a genocide? This is not the people’s choice; it is the government’s choice.
DK: I read somewhere that you think there needs to be a new truth tribunal in Rwanda. And, why is this, what was wrong with the first international criminal tribunal on Rwanda? What were the shortcomings there?
PR: This is the problem. In 1990, the RPF rebels, composed almost entirely of of Tutsis living in exile, invaded Rwanda from Uganda. So, when they invaded Rwanda, there was a civil war for four years. In that civil war, that army, those rebels, we called them rebels at that time, were killing each and every person, every Hutu on their way. People fled their homes. They were occupying slowly. And, by 1993, early 1994, before the genocide, we had about 1.2 million displaced people who were surrounding Kigali the capital city, having to bathe in town, going to sleep in the open air in camps, dying every day, hungry. So, in 1994, these rebels, who had already signed a peace accord with the government, killed the president. That is a fact which almost everyone knows. So, when they killed him, the genocide broke out. Now, we were in a civil war where civilians were being killed by both sides. The civil war never stopped. The genocide happened within a civil war. Both sides killed, and now, afterwards, in July 1994, when the period of the genocide ended, after three months, 90 days, the Tutsi rebels took power. They took power in blood from both sides. And, the international community gathered the United Nations, and they decided to put up a tribunal for Rwanda. That tribunal was supposed to try and convict Rwandans who killed Rwandans for a period of time from January 1 through December 31 of that year . From January 1 through December 31 of that year, I saw myself with my own eyes, this [RPF] army tying people with their hands behind their backs and beating their chests, breaking it, throwing them into containers, burning their bodies, and spraying their ashes into the national game preserve. I am a witness to this. But, because the Hutus lost the war, they are the only ones being tried and convicted. So, the international tribunal, the international criminal court for Rwanda, is a court for the losers. But, both have been killing civilians. They say that the Hutus committed the genocide, but the Tutsis also committed war crimes, crimes against humanity.
DK: I’ve seen a couple of reports saying that more Hutus were killed during that period than Tutsis; is that possible?
PR: Yes. That is correct. Because Hutus killed Hutus, and Hutus killed Tutsis, and Tutsis killed Hutus exclusively. But the killing of Hutus never ended. I’ll give you an example. On April 17, 18, 19 and 20, 1995, the new army, the Tutsi army that took power in 1994, killed, destroyed actually, a displaced camp within the country by bombardment, helicopter bombardment, and, machine guns on the ground. At that time, in that camp, we had 8,500 people, Hutus only. So, of those people, how many were killed, how many escaped? That is the problem. So, the killing never stopped. And, what took place in the Congo was something else.
DK: What you’re saying, Paul, jives with things that I’ve read as well. So, it is interesting that at the end of the movie, Hotel Rwanda, it really leaves the impression, and really more than that, it really says that once the Tutsis took power, everything was fine, the genocide ends. I would think you would have some disagreement with the end of that movie.
PR: Well, the movie is something different. And, I would tell you that I did not want to portray the genocide as such, but I wanted to teach a lesson. And, this lesson was to young people on how to make a difference. That was my mission. Many companies like HBO wanted to portray my story, but we could not agree on how to make it. So, the movie had to have, had to show, a kind of small island of peace in a kind of sea of fire, so that people can see something that was supposed to be better, nicer. This is why you see it that way. The ending was supposed to be a happy ending. And, I did not leave Rwanda, as you see in the movie, with the Canadian general telling me to go to Tanzania. I did not leave the country, but the movie had to end somewhere anyway. I did not leave the country until September 6, 1996 when I was almost assassinated myself. When I was almost assassinated myself, I said that is enough, I’ve had enough, and I decided to leave the country in exile.
DK: So, it’s a Hollywood movie, so it needed a Hollywood ending.
PR: Well, I think that the Hollywood ending is a better message to the world than that the massacres went on and on and on.
DK: But that is your perception — that they did go on and on and on, really?
PR: If we see what is going on in the Congo, what do we think they are doing within their own country? Their main objective has always been to take the international community’s attention from the real target which is Rwanda to a different place. That does not mean that Rwanda is safe; that does not mean that the killings have ended in the country.
DK: I will say, Paul, that from a quick Google search, it appears that your willingness to say these things has drawn a lot of fire for you. I mean you could have retired with that Academy Award nomination for Don Cheadle and been a happy guy but you’ve, you know, the things you are saying are good, you speak the truth, but it’s very controversial, and I’m sure it has not been easy for you.
PR: I know when I started talking out it was around 2004, the Rwandan Patriotic propaganda campaign was so powerful that they have convinced each and everyone, listen guys, we are the good guys, and everyone else are the bad guys. They have travelled all over the world to convince the world of that. So to get people from the international community on my side took a while and a lot of energy you can imagine.
During the genocide, there were 10,000 people being killed every day. You can imagine what happens after three months, almost 15 percent of the population were already dead. No one can understand that.
DK: You really could have rested on your laurels. You could have gone around high-fiving everyone, but instead you’ve continued the work, really treading some controversial waters, and I really applaud you for doing that.
PR: If I had been willing to sit down and shut up, yes, I would maybe be a better-off man. But, I would still have my conscience which would tell me otherwise. My conscience would not agree.
By Ian Birrell
PUBLISHED: 18:49 EST, 11 January 2013 | UPDATED: 04:07 EST, 12 January 2013
When Tony Blair visited Beijing a few weeks ago to open a prestigious conference on philanthropy, he showed he had lost none of the evangelical fervour that once dazzled British voters.
Giving an impassioned sermon to an A-list audience on the crucial role of compassion, the former Prime Minister spoke of how societies should be measured not just by what people do for themselves, but by what they do for others.
‘The best philanthropy is about changing the world,’ he proclaimed. ‘Flourishing philanthropy is an essential part of a flourishing society.’
Blair told well-heeled listeners paying nearly £1,500 a head how he found a new role after politics doing good deeds around the globe. He had seen how people’s lives had been improved through his efforts, he said.
It was the perfect start for China’s first major forum on philanthropy, where guests included Bill Gates, the multi-billionaire Microsoft founder who is giving away much of his fortune, and Andrew Forrest, Australia’s richest man and another generous charity donor.
‘We need philanthropy to lessen hostility towards the rich,’ Blair warned them.
Heartfelt words for a man said to have raked in nearly £20 million last year, big chunks of it by delivering platitudes dressed up as profundities to gullible global paymasters.
It was the sort of event the former Labour leader seems to love: a private jet to take him there, a £3,000-a-night hotel suite, and networking with the super-rich.
Yet his sanctimonious speech was little more than hypocritical hogwash coming from a man who, to my mind, has turned amorality into an art form.
For all his honeyed words about serving humanity, this is a man who used his contacts book from Downing Street to launch a lucrative career advising absolute monarchs, wealthy bankers and despots.
Yesterday, it emerged that his money-making operation may be about to expand even further after talks over a commercial alliance with one of the most highly-paid bankers in the world.
Michael Klein, 48, an American who was once the leading investment banker in London for the huge firm Citigroup, is now an international deal-broker who once earned $10 million for two weeks’ work. He is described as ‘very clever and a very canny operator’, and it is thought that he and Blair have worked on a number of deals together in the past.
The combination of their two enterprises would create an extremely powerful and lucrative platform for Blair to ply his trade around the world: the Prime Minister who promulgated an ethical foreign policy already spends much of his time serving the sleazy interests of repressive autocrats from Africa to central Asia. His moral blindness has no borders.
Take the mystery of his fee for that Beijing speech. Sources in China said he was handed about $200,000 (around £125,000) to deliver the lecture on philanthropy.
But when I asked his office if he was paid — which might seem at odds with the spirit of both the conference and his speech — they flatly denied it. His spokeswoman gave me an unambiguous, one-word answer: ‘No.’
Yet when I queried this, saying that it conflicted with what I had heard from Beijing, her reply changed. He was not personally paid, she said, but a payment went to one of his charities.
Such smokescreens are all too familiar from this politician with such a tenuous relationship to the truth. Most shamefully, this was shown with the distortion of intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq, which backfired so badly with disastrous consequences for millions of people.
Not that Blair, 59, shows any signs of guilt, or of retreating to a quieter life. Indeed, he seems obsessed with trying to recreate the whirlwind world he once inhabited as Prime Minister.
Recently he has been to a dizzying list of countries including Germany, Guinea, India, Jordan, Kuwait, Liberia, Nigeria and the U.S., as well as China, nurturing his byzantine web of businesses, charities, consultancies, speechmaking and diplomacy.
Friends and admirers say he is making pragmatic efforts to improve governance around the world. ‘I don’t think he is this money-grabbing, morally compromised individual he is made out to be,’ said one. ‘On the whole, I still give him the benefit of the doubt.’
But critics fear that divisions between his many operations are blurred. Anti-corruption campaigners have raised concerns that some of his business links conflict with his diplomatic role as a peace envoy in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, young executives from J.P. Morgan, the bailed-out U.S. bank paying him a reported £2.5 million a year, are put to work at the heart of African governments advised by one of his charities.
But criticism seems to have no effect on Teflon Tony. Recently he was back in Britain, joking with journalists in Westminster at a Lobby lunch. He sidestepped a question about his earnings while undermining the policies of current Labour leader Ed Miliband, an ally of his detested successor Gordon Brown.
The appearance was a reminder that he still holds ambitions for a leading role on the world stage, perhaps as President of Europe. Unfortunately, it coincided with a key Palestinian official giving a damning verdict on his peacemaking role as ‘useless, useless, useless’.
The lunch also came days after another sharp reminder of one of the most sordid episodes in Blair’s decade in power — his disgraceful ‘deal in the desert’ nine years ago with Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, which brought the despot in from the cold in return for him renouncing his weapons of mass destruction programme.
Less publicised was the apparent agreement for our intelligence services to act as outriders for a regime infamous for its barbarity.
Now, the British Government has given £2.23 million to a Libyan dissident and his family to stop a court case threatening to reveal embarrassing details of how British officials helped to round up Gaddafi’s enemies across the world.
Now, I understand from lawyers that a second case, involving Gaddafi’s most prominent opponent, is likely to go ahead.
Abdul Hakim Belhaj, the former leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group who led the attack on Gaddafi’s Tripoli fortress in 2011, wants his story heard in open court unless there is an official apology.
He says that MI6 was involved with his detention in Malaysia in 2004, from where he and his pregnant wife were flown in hoods and shackles to Libya. Once there, he claims he was tortured and isolated for four years by Gaddafi’s goons.
Blair, who held private meetings with Gaddafi after leaving office, dodged questions on these cases last month on the grounds that legal action was being pursued.
Perhaps he should offer to recompense taxpayers for the multi-million-pound payout, given how his government prostituted British interests to appease a bloody dictator.
Days after Gaddafi’s fall, I stood in the wrecked home of the British high commissioner to Libya and found piles of secret documents revealing the disturbingly close links between Blair and the oil-rich tyrant in Tripoli.
There were obsequious letters from Downing Street to Gaddafi, suggested questions from our security services to put to detained dissidents, and even offers to use British special forces to train the regime’s most feared troops.
Little wonder that Saif Gaddafi — whom Blair infamously helped with his dodgy PhD thesis at the London School of Economics — called him ‘a personal family friend’.
Another friend of the former British PM was ousted Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, who used to lend Blair a luxury villa on the Red Sea for holidays. When the Arab Spring erupted and protesters poured into Cairo’s Tahrir Square, Blair hailed his corrupt pal — who embezzled billions — as ‘a force for good’.
These days he ignores such uncomfortable facts as he jets around the world discussing good governance and declaiming support for democracy movements in the Middle East.
But then this is the man who earned a seven-figure sum advising the Kuwaiti royal family, now facing growing protests from a generation frustrated by the lack of real democracy in that country.
Or take his dubious activities in central Asia. Three years ago, Blair was thought to have been paid £90,000 by an obscure oligarch to officially open a methanol plant in Baku. ‘I’ve
always wanted to visit Azerbaijan,’ he gushed.
Despite immense wealth from natural resources, one in five of this troubled nation’s citizens has fled in search of a better life elsewhere. Human rights activists have recounted savage beatings by security forces, while the website Wikileaks revealed that U.S. diplomats had compared the president, Ilham Aliyev, to mafia dons in the Godfather film trilogy.
Mr Blair, however, met Aliyev and praised a leader with ‘a very positive and exciting vision for the future’.
Even more disheartening are Blair’s dealings in Kazakhstan, where President Nursultan Nazarbayev is reported to have paid an astonishing $13 million to hire him in 2011.
The Kazakh government was delighted by the coup: ‘We could not have a better adviser,’ said one official. No wonder — a nasty regime had bought itself a fig-leaf of respectability, albeit for a small fortune.
It seems they did not just get Blair but his acolytes: former spin doctor Alastair Campbell was spotted at the airport in the capital Astana, and Lord Mandelson has reportedly been paid to speak by the state’s sovereign wealth fund. Business leaders close to New Labour are also active there.
Blair insists that the money he was paid by the Kazakhs is being spent on supporting political, economic and social reform there, and praises the country’s progress. He does, however, seem to have a soft spot for oil-rich nations run by repressive rulers.
Nazarbayev is a former Soviet leader who wins elections with unbelievable levels of support, jails human rights activists, tortures prisoners, shoots striking workers and intimidates independent journalists. His family is said to have salted away more than $1 billion.
One leading rival was found shot dead three weeks before an election. The official verdict was that he shot himself twice in the chest before shooting himself in the head.
On YouTube there is a long and tedious Soviet-style video exalting this supposed visionary. Prominent among those giving praise is Blair, who says that Nazarbayev is putting his country on the right path, even comparing it to thriving Singapore.
It is hard to equate this toe-curling tribute to a tyrant with the pious politician who claims to be driven by the desire to shape a better world.
One New Labour insider told me that Blair was transfixed by money and power. ‘His view of the world is totally realist,’ the source said. ‘So there is nothing to inhibit him from doing business with some of the world’s most awful people.’
‘My appeal to Mr Blair is not to talk about leadership, but to demonstrate it,’ he said.
Now, another African human rights hero is calling on Blair to stop propping up the regime in Rwanda, which is accused of atrocities and war crimes.
Paul Rusesabagina is the hotel manager who became a Hollywood icon thanks to the film Hotel Rwanda. It told how this gentle man defied savagery when genocide engulfed his nation, saving the lives of 1,268 people who sought sanctuary behind his gates.
Since then, he has displayed similar courage standing up to the murderous regime of President Paul Kagame. It has clamped down on internal dissent, sent hit squads to kill dissidents overseas and provoked chaos in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, inflaming the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II.
Kagame has been helped by huge sums in foreign aid, but in recent months even his biggest backers in Britain and America suspended funding after the United Nations showed that he was fomenting unrest again in the Congo.
Blair, however, still supports this monstrous man through his personal charity, the African Governance Initiative, which is advising governments in five countries in Africa. Indeed, their relationship is so close that Kagame even put a £30 million private jet at his disposal.
Paul Rusesabagina sent Blair a letter recently begging him to use his influence to stop the bloodshed in the Congo.
‘Please do not let your personal friendship with President Kagame stand in the way of your conscience,’ he implored. ‘Show the moral leadership that I know you are capable of and denounce President Kagame.
‘The price that has been paid to carry you and President Kagame around on these planes is too high.’
Will Blair listen to this admirable man, who pledged to fight for human rights amid the carnage of genocide? Don’t hold your breath.
For all that fine talk about philanthropy and serving others, it is hard not to wonder these days if any price is too high for Mr Blair.
HRRF’s Paul Rusesabagina Calls for More International Involvement to Stop Slaughter in the Congo
Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundaiton
PRLog (Press Release) – Nov 21, 2012 -
Contact: Kitty Kurth Phone: 312-617-7288
Over the weekend, the U.N. Security Council held an emergency session to call for the Rwanda backed M23 rebels to stop their advance further in to the Congo. Last night they adopted Resolution 2076 to demand immediate withdrawal of M23 rebels from Goma, the Congolese city seized days ago. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Rwandan President Paul Kagame over the weekend to ask him to intervene and stop the M23 offensive, according to a statement issued at U.N headquarters in New York.
Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation (HRRF) applauds the actions of Secretary General and the Security Council.
HRRF President Paul Rusesabagina also calls upon the international community to intervene and stop the killing in the Congo. Rusesabagina said, “During the dark days of the Rwandan Genocide in 1994, I tried every means to get the international community to pay attention to what was happening. Today, I am pleading with them again. Do not let Kagame’s dictatorial regime and his M23 henchmen continue to kill and maim people, and then fill their pockets with conflict minerals on the way back home to Rwanda. It is estimated that more than 7 million people have already died in the Congo. How many more millions will the international community allow to die while we sit watching on the sidelines? The Security Council has demanded the immediate withdrawal of M23 from Goma and we need to make sure that happens before more slaughter ensues.”
Rusesabagina added, “For years I have warned about the Great Lakes Region of Africa being like a dormant volcano. I am afraid that the Rwandan backed M23 rebels are causing the region to begin to erupt.”
Here is the link to the UN Security Council press release which is excerpted below. http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs//2012/sc10823.doc.htm
An exiled Rwandan general who went from close aide to outspoken critic of the country’s president, Paul Kagame, has described his former ally as a “dictator” determined to kill him, according to a newspaper report.
Kayumba Nyamwasa, who now lives in South Africa where he survived a shooting in 2010, called for an uprising in Rwanda to overthrow Kagame and was quoted as saying: “Don’t be surprised if we extract him from a pipe like the Libyans did with Muammar Gaddafi.”
The near fatal attack on Nyamwasa, and developments in other countries, have raised suspicions that Rwanda’s government has deployed hit teams against dissidents abroad. Rwanda denies the accusations.
Nyamwasa, 53, whose case is currently being heard at a court in Johannesburg, told South Africa’s City Press newspaper that Kagame was a “vicious, spiteful, erratic, insensitive, greedy and murderous” man who “wants me dead because I know too much”.
During and after the war to end the Rwandan genocide, Nyamwasa was Kagame’s closest confidant and held senior posts including army chief of staff and head of the country’s intelligence services. He fled the country in 2010, claiming his life was under threat, and took refuge in South Africa.
He was shot a few months later in his car after a shopping trip with his wife in Johannesburg and has testified that a bullet remains lodged at the base of his spinal column. Three Rwandans and three Tanzanians are on trial.
Nyamwasa is the co-founder of a dissident group, the Rwanda National Congress. “At the moment I don’t envisage war,” he added. “I believe we can get rid of Kagame through peaceful means.
“We are hoping for an uprising in Rwanda. In that case, he’ll be gone within three months. He’s a coward; he’ll run. Don’t be surprised if we extract him from a pipe like the Libyans did with Muammar Gaddafi.”
But he denied harbouring presidential ambitions of his own. “I want to rest – once I’ve helped to rid the country of the dictator,” he told City Press.
Nyamwasa alleged that Kagame ordered the 2001 assassination of Laurent Kabila, then president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “At a meeting of military chiefs, Kagame said we must get rid of Kabila. I said it would be too expensive in terms of life. We cannot do it … It’s an open secret that Kagame went ahead and did it.”
During the ongoing trial, Nyamwasa has also accused Kagame of shooting down the plane carrying the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi that sparked Rwanda’s genocide in 1994. He cites this as a reason why he is being targeted.
Rwanda’s government has denied involvement in the attempted murder. On Monday a spokesperson said only: “Do you know of any government who would dignify that kind of outburst with a response? We are not commenting on an ongoing court case.”
Rwanda’s high commissioner to South Africa, Vincent Karega, also dismissed Nyamwasa’s claims. “He worked with Paul Kagame for more than 20 years. They shared ideology and plans and programmes. He even never complained about him as a wrong person.
“He’s got his own ambitions. Now he’s out in the cold he can say anything because he thinks it will help him get power. He’s not a significant political figure. These are low-level words and insults; these are the frustrations of his life.”
Nyamwasa fled to South Africa, Karega added, not for political reasons but because of allegations of embezzlement, mismanagement and nepotism during his time in charge of the army. A military court in Rwanda last year convicted Nyamwasa and three other dissidents in absentia and sentenced them to 20 years in prison for threatening state security and on other charges that they deny.
Asked about the allegation regarding Kabila’s death in Congo, Karega replied: “There were people arrested and jailed for the death of Laurent Kabila. Nyamwasa is using the momentum of the crisis in Congo now. But Rwanda is a very steady country and these things will not distract us.”
The high commissioner’s reference to Congo follows a UN report that implicated Rwanda in arming rebels and causing instability in its giant neighbour. The Congolese president, Joseph Kabila, son of Laurent, said on Sunday: “As for the involvement of Rwanda … It’s an open secret. You know, the whole world knows.”
Major donors including Britain, the US, the Netherlands and Germany have suspended some of their financial aid to Rwanda over its alleged backing of the rebels led by Bosco Ntaganda, a warlord wanted by the international criminal court on war crimes charges.
Rwanda has condemned the measures. “This child-to-parent relationship has to end … there has to be a minimum respect,” said the foreign minister, Louise Mushikiwabo. “As long as countries wave cheque books over our heads, we can never be equal.”
Soldiers backed by UN helicopter gunships battled rebels around a strategic army garrison near a mountain gorilla reserve in eastern DR Congo, as thousands of people continued to flee a three-month-old rebellion allegedly backed by neighbouring Rwanda.
The Netherlands has suspended an aid budget worth $6.15m to Rwanda over its alleged backing of the rebels.
This comes a week after the US announced it was cutting military aid to the country.
Rwanda has rejected reports made by UN experts that it is supporting the M23 movement rebels in eastern DR Congo.
UN Radio Okapi said the rebels on Thursday began attacking Rumangabo military camp, which the soldiers had only retaken from the M23 rebel group on Wednesday.
The radio station said the rebels continue to hold Rutshuru town and nearby Kiwanja, and that thousands of people had fled in recent days.
Major Olivier Hamuli, an army spokesman, said soldiers made a strategic retreat from Rutshuru “to avoid a bloodbath” of civilians.
On Tuesday, the rebels came within 25 kilometres of Goma, battling soldiers at Kibumba and forcing into flight the thousands of people who have made Kibumba a centre for refugees from a 2009 rebellion.
The rebels are accused of numerous human rights abuses including rape and forcefully recruiting children into their ranks. Soldiers also are accused of rape and widespread looting.
More than 260,000 civilians have been forced from their homes in recent months, according to UN agencies, some across the borders to Uganda and Rwanda, while others towards Goma.
Rwanda, which vigorously denies having anything to do with the rebels, this week accused Congolese troops of ill-treating Rwandan nationals.
“This is an extremely serious incident – we have confirmation that one of the tortured Rwandans has died,” Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said in a statement posted on Thursday on her ministry website.
“We have asked the government of the DRC (Congo) to ensure that the mistreatment of Rwandan citizens stops immediately.”
Many Rwandans have been abused and some attacked since a UN report last month said it provided overwhelming evidence that Rwanda’s military helped create, arm and support the M23 rebel group, including by sending Rwandan troops to fight alongside them against Congo’s army.
The rebels are members of an earlier Rwandan-backed rebellion who were integrated into the Congolese army in 2010 and began deserting in April, demanding better implementation of a peace pact.
The United States last week announced it was cutting $200,000 in military aid to Rwanda to show it is “deeply concerned about the evidence” implicating the country.
The amount involved is small compared to all US aid to Rwanda, but it was seen as a very public rebuke from a usually staunch ally.
Thank you Mr. Paul for accepting to talk with us today. Could you please start by telling us more about yourself?
I am Paul Rusesabagina. Sometimes when I tell people the meaning of my name they just laugh. Rusesa in kinyarwanda means “to disperse” and bagina means “enemy”. So Ru is “he who disperse enemies“. This is the meaning of the name. Who am I? I am the real character that was played in the movie “Hotel Rwanda” that people have been seeing on the screen all over the world. I happened to find myself as a general manager in a hotel where I hid 1268 people who have come to seek asylum in all of the, none of them was killed, none of them was taken out, none of them was even beaten. This is why that movie was made about me.
If I am not mistaken you had a Hutu father and Tutsi’s mother. You must have clearly understood the reality of these two people. What was their relationship like before the 1994 genocide?
Well it is so ironic even to have two different parents who came from different groups. I was not very much aware of the ethnic differences until February 1973 when I saw many of my friends been kicked out of schools because of what they were.
How was the situation at that time?
The situation in Rwanda has ever been very tense and very nervous. You could always see people suspicious of each other. We had about 250.000 Tutsis who fled the country between 1959 and 1963 and went to exile. So those in exile were attacking the country, coming very often. There were always tensions between the two. But there was a short period of silence kind of around 1980 and 1988 and then came 1990 when the war started. Rwanda went through genocide when it was also going through a civil war which started on that date and the civil war created an exodus; an exodus of the populations behind the rebels because the rebels were killing the civilians remaining behind. So people were fleeing slowly all over the zones. There was a very heavy tension until around 1993, early 1994 when we could see about 2 million people surrounding the capital city of Kigali leaving this place, coming to beg in town, going back to sleep in the open air under the rains, under the sun, under the dust, without food, without shelter, without school for the children, the situation was so bad.
When did you first realize that the war was going into the dimension of genocide?
Well from the day that both presidents of Rwanda and the one of Burundi, their fellow cabinet ministers were assassinated on April 6 the situation had changed, completely changed. You could see that someone wanted the power and wanted the whole of it and this is when the mass murder and the mass massacres started. This is when I saw that government was no more existing; that is when I realized that things have changed and I decided to take my responsibility. The people who had come to our house I had to take them from the house to the hotel because I knew they were in danger.
Considering the risk involved, how did you manage to come up with the idea to hide over 1000 people in your hotel?
You see when you go through such experiences you are never prepared; you never prepare for such experiences; you only do what you believe, what your conscience tells you is the right thing. You listen to yourself, and this is the best way to deal with it; just no one has been created to be killed b
As some experts have pointed out, do you Rwandans believe that there could have been a foreign influence in the genocide?
Definitely. This is what I have been saying and let me tell you again, behind each and every African dictatorship there is always a western superpower manipulating everything. It has been so long that many western superpowers wanted to get into the Congo and of course especially the Anglo-Saxon world, so having the East African Anglo-Saxon countries there was a bridge which was not yet open and this small bridge was to be Rwanda and also Burundi. It was so clear that to get into the Congo that bridge had to be opened. It has been going on for so long.
Let me ask you a general question regarding Africa. Why is it that in many parts of Africa unlike in Europe or the Western world generally, people tend to be less nationalist and more tribal and sectional in their social behaviors?
This is not only in Africa but in most of the developing world. In the developing world where people actually ascend to power not democratically but sometimes by guns they always tend to maintain this force, this power by all means. So their politics is always “divide and conquer”. So it is not only in Africa but in Africa there’s an exception … The West do not like to see a clever human being leading Africa because the very day that a clever person, a nationalist leads their continent then no one else will cross to abuse our minerals, our raw materials.
Do you have a particular message you would like to pass to the African community here in Padova?
Well to the African community here in Padova, in Italy and the entire African Diaspora, my message is very clear. These people have been here. They are our ambassadors, the ambassadors of their respective countries; they need to let the world know that the hurtful events in Africa are not yet over. The struggle continues. The killings continue. The lack of political space is still a problem. Human rights issues are still a problem. The freedom of speech is still lacking. So they have to be our ambassadors. Let the World know what is going on all over the Continent.
Thank you very much for your time.
Interview by Ewanfoh Obehi Peter
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Paul Rusesabagina saw a spear shoved from the top of a person’s body to the bottom; he saw another person tied to a tree with his own intestines.
And he’s trying to tell the world that such atrocities still are happening.
“I am a messenger. I am the voice of the voiceless who are still suffering in that kind of jungle of Africa in the Congo where approximately 45,000 people die
every month and the people don’t seem to be involved,” he said Tuesday during an interview at Cleveland State Community College.
Rusesabagina told students at Cleveland State — and anyone else who will listen — to write their government and ask political leaders to learn of the atrocities happening in Africa and to help end them.
“Students here like elsewhere, they are tomorrow’s leaders. They’re the ones who can shape the world differently,” he said. “I’m inviting young people to get involved, to ask the government, the U.S. administration, their elected representatives to get involved in what is going on in the rest of the world.”
From April through July of 1994, nearly 1 million people were slaughtered in his home country of Rwanda, while the United Nations and the U.S. government did little, according to news reports.
But nearly 20 years later, the killing in Africa hasn’t stopped and most of the world still does nothing, Rusesabagina said.
And he knows one man can make a difference. He’s done it. During the killing in Rwanda, he helped save more than 1,200 people by hiding them in his hotel, the Hotel des Mille Collines, where he was general manager. The Academy Award-nominated movie “Hotel Rwanda” was based on his efforts.
Rusesabagina is the first speaker for Cleveland State Community College’s 5th annual Multicultural Week. The festival will culminate with a multicultural fair on Saturday.
Tracey Wright, the college’s director of special programs and community relations, said Rusesabagina was chosen to speak because his life exemplified a message of doing what was right and attempting to bridge gaps even with the threat of death.
Rusesabagina is a Hutu. His wife and many of the people he helped to save are Tutsis, the people who the Hutus in power were killing in 1994.
Tim Patterson, a sociology student at Cleveland State, was among a handful of students watching a 3 p.m. showing of “Hotel Rwanda” at the school auditorium.
“You look at the news and just get a hint of what’s going on. Unless you have another outlet of news you’re not going to know, because our news doesn’t get to that stuff until it’s all blown up and then you get 15 minutes,” he said.
Patterson said he could relate to the story of genocide because his grandfather was Jewish and spent time in a concentration camp. He criticized the U.S. government for not being more involved in saving the lives of people in other countries.
“The government needs to quit being so [weak],” he said. “It’s like if there’s no economical investment, our government doesn’t care if you’re killing off your own people.”
Lantos Foundation Responds to Protests
2011 Lantos Prize Controversy is Manufactured
CONCORD, NH – Katrina Lantos Swett, President of The Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice, responded today to a protest staged in opposition to the upcoming award of the 2011 Tom Lantos Human Rights Prize to Rwandan humanitarian Paul Rusesabagina:
“The protest staged today is only the latest attempt to smear the good name of this year’s Lantos Prize recipient, Paul Rusesabagina. These protests were not staged when the Oscar-nominated film “Hotel Rwanda” was released, nor were they staged when Paul received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bush. It was only once he started to speak out about the need for more freedom and democracy in Rwanda, including a Truth and Reconciliation process, that these attacks were suddenly manufactured. Unfortunately these attacks appear to be consistent with a disturbing pattern of censorship, intimidation and even violence that has been directed at those who have dared voice concerns about the government of Rwanda. This pattern is not unique to Rwanda. Other authoritarian regimes have responded in a similar fashion.
The most recent high profile example happened in 2010, when the Chinese government vehemently protested the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo and tried to bully governments into boycotting the Prize ceremony. The irony of such manufactured protests is that, in the end, they only serve to provide a brighter spotlight to the intended target.
As the child of Holocaust survivors, I, along with the Lantos Foundation staff, have made particular efforts to listen to the concerns of Rwandan genocide survivors who have contacted us. While many have thanked us for our decision to honor Paul Rusesabagina, there are others who have expressed contrary views. We have spent hours talking to these individuals by phone and email, and even meeting with some in person. The bottom-line is that the more we speak to them, the more it becomes painfully obvious that there is a “script” in place. This script is at times absurd and at other times petty. They accuse Paul of denying the genocide when in fact he has devoted his life to telling the awful story of Rwanda’s genocide and working to achieve genuine peace and reconciliation. They complain that Paul charged the guests who found refuge in the hotel a fact that Paul readily shares in his book, in person and in the movie Hotel Rwanda- money was needed to feed the 1200 people living in the hotel and to bribe the ever murderous gangs that prowled outside the hotel gates. At the end of the day, it seems that his real offense in their eyes, is that he has been outspoken in defense of democracy in Rwanda even in the face of determined efforts to silence him.
We did not intend to cause controversy with this year’s Lantos Prize, but it seems the controversy has found us anyway. We did not intend to step into the political disagreements that are currently swirling in and around Rwanda, but it seems we are not able to avoid that either. We originally chose Paul Rusesabagina as the Lantos Prize recipient purely based on his heroic actions during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, not for his work since then through the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation. But we now find ourselves quite in awe of Paul’s willingness to stand up and speak out for freedoms in his home country, despite the backlash that work has caused.
In the end, the most poignant take away from today’s events is that the very freedom to take part in these protests is something that wouldn’t be allowed in Rwanda under the current government. Paul Rusesabagina is simply asking for his native country to experience the same of freedom and openness that we deeply value here in America.”
The Lantos Foundation established the Lantos Human Rights Prize in 2009 to honor and bring attention to heroes of the human rights movement. It is awarded annually to an individual or organization that best exemplifies the Foundation’s mission, namely to be a vital voice standing up for the values of decency, dignity, freedom, and justice in every corner of the world. The prize also serves to commemorate the late Congressman Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor ever elected to the U.S. Congress and a prominent advocate for human rights during his nearly three decades as a U.S. Representative. Former recipients of the Lantos Prize include His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel. This year’s award will be presented to Paul Rusesabagina in Washington, DC on November 16th.
Smearing a Hero
By Terry George
Paul Rusesabagina, the real-life hero of the movie “Hotel Rwanda,” is being denounced by some in his country as a traitor and a criminal. Perhaps he helped bring some of this abuse on himself, but none of it is deserved. As director and producer of the film, I’d like to explain.
To make a film of a true story you must compress timelines, create composite characters and dramatize emotions. When it came to making “Hotel Rwanda” — the story of how Paul Rusesabagina saved the lives of hundreds of people who took shelter from the 1994 genocide in the hotel he managed — I was obsessed with getting it right. The Rwandan episode was a slaughter of unimaginable horror and magnitude, yet I firmly believed I had found a story that showed that even in the midst of such horror the human capacity for good can triumph.
Before making the film, I grilled Rusesabagina and read all I could about his experience. I traveled to Brussels and Rwanda, and I met survivors from his hotel, some of whom still worked there. No one contradicted his story.
When the film was released, Rusesabagina was acknowledged as a hero not just by ordinary people across the United States and Europe but also by diplomats, politicians, journalists and Rwandan officials in diplomatic posts here. Rwandan expatriates gave testimony to the veracity of the film, as did people who had been in the hotel and who tearfully acknowledged Rusesabagina’s role.
Last May I had the chance to meet Rwandan President Paul Kagame in Rwanda. I sat beside him as he and his wife and most of Rwanda’s parliament watched the movie. Afterward he leaned over to me and said the film had done much good around the world in exposing the horrors of the genocide. The next evening, I screened the film at Amahoro Stadium for some 10,000 people. It was the most emotional screening I have ever been at. I spent close to an hour afterward accepting thanks and congratulations.
But there was one empty seat at both screenings — the one reserved for Paul Rusesabagina. Two days before, as I waited for him to join me at the boarding gate in Brussels for the flight to Kigali, he called to say he had decided not to travel to Rwanda. On his speaking tours around the United States and Europe, he had begun to criticize Kagame’s government, saying that the last election in Rwanda, in which Kagame received 90.5 percent of the vote, was not democratic and that true peace would come to Rwanda only when it had an inclusive government. Because of his criticism, Rusesabagina said, he had been advised that it would not be safe for him. I could not persuade him to come.
Last fall his fears were borne out when Rwandan journalists and politicians began a smear campaign against him. On Oct. 28 a reporter for the Rwandan daily newspaper the New Times ran a long story on the “true nature” of Rusesabagina, which quoted a former receptionist at the hotel as saying that he had saved only his few friends, and that he had charged people to stay in the rooms (a fact we had highlighted and explained in the film). Buried at the end of the piece was probably the true fear of the Rwandan authorities: that Rusesabagina planned to form a political party.
The newspaper attacks on Rusesabagina have steadily escalated. In November he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bush. Six days later a New Times editorial said he would “go down in the annals of history as a man who sold the soul of the Rwandan Genocide to amass medals.”
In February Kagame joined the campaign — cryptically at first. In a speech at Amahoro Stadium to mark National Heroes Day, Kagame said Rwanda’s heroes are not made in America, Europe or in Asia; cinema or film stars have no place on the list of national heroes. He went on to make several veiled comments about “a manufactured hero.”
A few days later Rwandan Radio ran a two-hour live talk show about Rusesabagina. The speakers included genocide survivors and, sadly, some old friends of Rusesabagina’s. Francois Xavier Ngarambe, the president of Ibuka, the umbrella body of genocide survivors’ associations, ended the show by claiming: “He has hijacked heroism. He is trading with the genocide. He should be charged.”
I called Rusesabagina in Brussels to discuss what was going on. He said he saw the smear campaign as confirmation of his previous fears and of his reservations about the Kagame regime. His new autobiography, “An Ordinary Man,” will only make things worse, as in his last chapter he writes, “Rwanda is today a nation governed by and for the benefit of a small group of elite Tutsis. . . . Those few Hutus who have been elevated to high-ranking posts are usually empty suits without any real authority of their own. They are known locally as Hutus de service or Hutus for hire.”
On April 6, the 12th anniversary of the genocide, Kagame launched his first attack on Rusesabagina, saying, “He should try his talents elsewhere and not climb on the falsehood of being a hero, because it’s totally false.” I pray that this situation can be resolved. The millions who saw “Hotel Rwanda” and received its message of hope ought to know that they were not duped.
I understand Paul Rusesabagina’s desire to foster inclusiveness in Rwanda. I understand, as well, Kagame’s legitimate fear that the country has suffered too much, too recently, to allow divisions to be fostered. There are many politicians here and abroad who could mediate this clash. “Hotel Rwanda 2″ is a sequel I never want to make.
Terry George was co-writer, director and producer of the film “Hotel Rwanda.”