CORAL GABLES — “What happened in Rwanda in 1994 is beyond any words we can use to describe it,” said Paul Rusesabagina, the real-life hero portrayed by actor Don Cheadle in the acclaimed film Hotel Rwanda.
In an exclusive interview with the South Florida Times, Rusesabagina recalled some of those memories.
“Fifteen percent of our population was wiped out. To be there and live to be a historical witness, even today almost 16 years later, it will always be fresh in my mind like it was yesterday,” he said.
The Rwandan genocide erupted after the assassination of Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana, when the Hutu-elite government and the
Interhamwe militias took horrific actions against Tutsis and many Hutus. Close to one million people were killed over the course of 100 days.
While serving as manager of the Hotel des Mille Collines in Kigali, Rusesabagina helped save the lives of 1,268 people. His actions have earned him several international awards, including a Presidential Medal of Freedom from the United States.
Rusesabagina will speak on Friday in Coral Gables, participating in a panel discussion at the University of Miami Law School's Student Organization for Human Rights.
He said he plans to share his unique understanding of how to combat the seeds of conflict.
“I’m advocating for equal rights and urging everyone to get involved. I’ve tried to teach people that the whole region will be saved by telling the truth,” Rusesabagina said.
Rusesabagina is still working to be his brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.
He said many people accused of war crimes have yet to be brought to justice and, because of political interests, much of the truth is still hidden from the public.
“People get caught up in this thing called politics. But we must remain who we really are and not follow the majority because the majority is not always right. The only solution is to speak openly and honestly…” Rusesabagina said.
Until that truth is told, Rusesabagina said he doubts true healing and reconciliation will come to Rwanda and its surrounding countries.
Through his Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation, he hopes to change that. The foundation’s mission is to “prevent future genocides and raise awareness of the need for a new truth and reconciliation process in Rwanda and the Great Lakes Region of Africa.”
“I have made it my mission and I know it’s a hard mission, but someone somewhere has got to stand up and stand for the truth and that person is me. I have learned to believe in the power of words. Because of what I went through I know that silence about injustice is ugliness,” he said.
Photo: Paul Rusesabagina
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Paul Rusesabagina speaks about his experiences in Rwanda.
WHEN: Friday, Jan. 22 at 7 p.m.
WHERE: Gusman Hall at the University of Miami’s main campus, 1311 Miller Drive, Coral Gables.
COST: Admission is free. There will also be a fundraiser for the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation at Gaetano's Ristorante, 162 Alcazar Ave., on Saturday, Jan. 23 from 6-8 p.m.