Paul Rusesabagina
2000 Recipient of the Immortal Chaplains Prize for Humanity

What follows are two articles written about Paul Rusesabagina's role in saving thousands of lives during the Rawandan Genocide.
Recommended reading includes:
We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With our Families by Philip Gourevitch.

Leave None to Tell the Story

Genocide in Rwanda

Human Rights Watch report of the Rwanda Massacre
An Exceptional Case: The Hotel Mille Collines

In the first month of the genocide, international authorities once spoke clearly to avert slaughter. They were heeded immediately.

Beginning on April 7, hundreds of people-most of them Tutsi or Hutu threatened by Hutu Power supporters-took shelter at the Mille Collines, a luxury hotel in central Kigali owned by Sabena airlines. Although set apart from city streets by its spacious, well-groomed grounds, this expensive hotel offered no defense against attack beyond its international connections. On April 15, Paul Rusesabagina, temporarily manager of the hotel, called for its protection in an interview with a Belgian newspaper, as did an official of Sabena, who spoke on Belgian television. Rwandan authorities responded by posting some National Police at the hotel. In later contacts with the press and others, by telephone calls and fax messages, occupants of the hotel made the Mille Collines a symbol of the fear and anguish suffered by the Tutsi and others during these weeks.

On April 23, a young lieutenant of the Department of Military Intelligence, reportedly a nephew of Bagosora named Iyakamuremye, arrived at the hotel at around 6 a.m. and ordered Rusesabagina to turn out everyone who had sought shelter there. Told that he had half an hour to comply with the order, Rusesabagina went up to the roof and saw that the building was surrounded by military and militia. He and several of the occupants began telephoning influential persons abroad, appealing urgently for help. Their calls were presumably relayed byrepresentatives of Sabena, who would have been eager both to save lives and to protect their costly investment. According to Rusesabagina, one of the foreign authorities called from the hotel was the Director General of the French Foreign Ministry. Before the half hour had elapsed, a colonel from the National Police arrived to end the siege and to oblige the lieutenant to leave.

In a similar incident on May 13, a captain came to the hotel in the morning to warn that there would be an attack at 4 in the afternoon. On that day, the French Foreign Ministry "received a fax from the hotel saying that Rwandan government forces plan to massacre all the occupants of the hotel in the next few hours." It directed its representative at the U.N. to inform the secretariat of the threat and presumably also brought pressure to bear directly on authorities in Kigali, as others may have done also. The attack never took place.

None of the people who took shelter at the hotel was killed during the genocide and none was killed at a small number of other sites under foreign protection, like the hospital in Kigali run by Doctors Without Borders and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Perhaps these sanctuaries could not have been replicated so successfully elsewhere. But certainly it would have been right to try.

 

Excerpt from

A share in the genocide

The West must share the responsibility for killings in Rwanda and Bosnia. Victoria Brittain and Jonathan Steele on the price of doing nothing
We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families by Philip Gourevitch 356pp, Picador, 18.99

Saturday March 13, 1999
The Guardian

The genocide in Rwanda in 1994 changed the course of African history. It brought down the dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko in neighbouring Zaire, the lynchpin of successive US and French governments' destructive policies in Central Africa, and unleashed waves of instability which have threatened to engulf not only the re-named Congo, but also Congo-Brazzaville, Angola, Central African Republic, Zimbabwe, Burundi, Southern Sudan, Uganda, and Rwanda itself.

Philip Gourevitch, a writer on the New Yorker with no previous experience in Africa, has written the book which is the key to these dramatic and terrifying events still being played out. When he says, 'A precise memory of the offence is necessary to understand its legacy,' he is talking of Rwanda itself, but the point goes too for the whole region now involved.

The very title of Gourevich's book, We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families, catches some of the terror of those three months of killing, in which the victims knew their fate only too well, and mainly accepted its inevitability. The title comes from a letter written in April 1994 by seven Adventist pastors to their boss, Pastor Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, president of the US-supported Seventh Day Adventist church in the region of Kibuyu. These seven were among 2,000 Tutsis gathered in the church and hospital complex at Mugonero, believing it could be a sanctuary from the massacres of Tutsis spreading rapidly throughout Rwanda under the direction of the Hutu Power government which took power after the death of President Juvenal Habyarimana in a plane crash. The pastor replied, according to one survivor of Mugonero, 'your problem has already found a solution. You must die.' Another remembered the words differently, 'You must be eliminated. God no longer wants you.' Gourevich later visits Pastor Ntakirutimana in Laredo, Texas where he is living in comfort with one of his sons, after fleeing Rwanda through Zaire when Hutu Power lost out to the guerrilla army of the Rwanda Patriotic Front and the pastor was on the list of those wanted by the UN's tribunal. He was to be charged with three counts of genocide and three of crimes against humanity. Like the survivors of Mugonero, he sits down with Gourevitch and talks to him.

It is interviews like these which make the book not just bearable, but compulsive reading. It is impossible to trick your mind into veering away from the enormity of what happened in this tiny country in the centre of Africa.

After describing standing among the bodies, bones and skulls in one of the massacre sites, Gourevitch writes to his readers, 'Like Leontius, the young Athenian in Plato, I presume you are reading this because you desire a closer look, and that you, too, are properly disturbed by your curiosity. Perhaps, in examining this extremity with me, you hope for some understanding, some flicker of self-knowledge - a moral, or a lesson, or a clue about how to behave in this world . . . the best reason I have come up with for looking closely into Rwanda's stories is that ignoring them makes me even more uncomfortable about existence and my place in it.' One part of the legacy of the genocide is its heroes. Paul Rusesabagina was the manager of the Hotel Milles Collines during the first week of genocide, and he is one such. Gourevitch describes how Rusesabagina spent his days buying lives of Tutsis with liquor, reasoning, persuading, so that each band of killers who came to the hotel to take out various Tutsis on their lists for killing somehow ended up going away. Mr Rusesabagina would then stay up until four in the morning using the one phone line which the Hutu Power authorities had not managed to cut off as they did not know its number, sending faxes to Bill Clinton, ringing the French Foreign Ministry, ringing the King of Belgium, telling them what was going on.

One of the Tutsis he protected, Thomas Kamilindi, a journalist who had had several brushes with death before he managed to get to the hotel, used the phone to give an interview to French radio. 'I described how we lived, with no water - drinking the swimming pool - and how it was with the killing . . . '. The interview was broadcast and next day a soldier arrived at the hotel to assassinate him. In this extraordinary intimate genocide most people knew their killers, friends, neighbours, family members. Thomas moved into a friend's room, used the house phone to get his wife to find out the name of the soldier. 'He had been a friend since childhood, so I called him and said, 'OK, I'm coming,' and I went. He explained that the military command wanted me dead. Then he said, in effect, 'I don't know who's going to kill you. I can't do it. But I'm leaving the hotel and they'll send someone for sure to kill you.' Nobody else came for me.' The Rwandese individuals who spent time with Gourevitch have lived through the unthinkable, and many made choices of unbelievable bravery. From the hotel manager to Vice President Kagame, who finally emerges here from the usual cliches of the 'strongman', these are modest people, who see their extraordinary lives as just a series of problems which had to be solved. Gourevitch's pages make them live. Knowing them, Rwanda becomes not just a word associated with horror.

The real horror in this story is how well Gourevich brings out that it was not only the victims who knew precisely what Hutu Power planned and how it was carried out: the UN's appalling negligence has been well documented, as has the responsibility of many church leaders. Bill Clinton, unlike the others whose guilt springs fresh out of these pages, has even made an apology.

This is not quite good enough. Many of the players themselves and their international supporters now involved in the wars in and around Congo have preferred not to understand either the genocide or its perpetuation for more than a year by the UN's camps in Zaire. To understand what happened is to know who is guilty of this historic crime against humanity, and to know that the guilty men are not just the tens of thousands in pink pyjamas in Rwanda's overcrowded prisons. This crime is one which our common humanity has an obligation to pay for. Gourevitch's short book should be compulsory reading for Heads of State and Ministers of Defence all over Africa, as well as for all UN officials involved in peace- keeping operations and humanitarian aid, from the Secretary General on down, and the heads of missionary orders in the US, France and Belgium.

© Copyright Guardian Media Group plc. 1999

 

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