'Hotel Rwanda' manager asks what you're doing on World Refugee Day
Genocide is madness. It makes monsters of normal people. In Rwanda, it was not just men who used machetes against their neighbors. Women and children participated. The people of Rwanda, poisoned by hypnotic and ubiquitous hate radio and by years of economic suffering, turned against their fellow citizens.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
On July 12, 1994, my wife, a friend, and I drove south of Kigali to see what remained of a district where my relatives lived. The whole country smelled of dead bodies. You couldn't see a live human being; you could only hear dogs barking.
When I arrived at my town, the whole region was empty, but by luck, I saw my older brother. He and his wife were the only ones left in a place that had had about a thousand people. We asked him what had happened to his neighbors. He told me that some had been killed by the militia, others by rebels, and others were still burning in houses.
I could see bodies burning, the houses that had been torched.
My brother was worried for me.
"Listen, my brother," he said, "please do me a favor and leave this place, because the trees and the walls have ears and eyes."
We then drove to my mother-in-law's. Her two houses had been destroyed. She had been killed with her daughter-in-law and six grandchildren. We sat in the ruins of the houses and cried like children.
That experience opened my mind very wide. It was like coming out of a fog. Up until then, I had not realized the scale of a genocide. Hundreds of thousands of people fled the combat zones surrounding Kigali. The fortunate ones were forced to start their lives anew as refugees.
Refugee life means all of your plans, goals, and objectives vanish. Hunger, bitterness, and hopelessness take over.
Survivors become very angry, while life loses its meaning. If there is any good fortune for refugees, it is that they escape death and their torturers. They find refuge, a safe haven.
The people and nations that suffer like this are desperate for anyone they can believe in. Small acts of humanity amid the chaos of inhumanity provide hope. But small acts are insufficient.
On this World Refugee Day, my heart is heavy for the refugees in Darfur, in Congo, in Burundi, in Somalia, all of whom are experiencing that terror - the hunger, the hopelessness of refugee life.
I ask that the nations of the world provide hope to these people right now. I have received a humanitarian award from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for my part in helping 1,268 refugees stranded in the hotel I managed in Kigali during the 100 days of slaughter over 11 years ago. But I ask that the symbol of hope for today's refugees not be the long-ago action I took at a hotel, just trying to do my job. Rather, the nations of the world can and must provide hope to those people right now.
The UN should implement its resolution on Sudan and bring the war criminals before the International Criminal Court. An arms and oil embargo should be imposed. We know that the Sudanese weapons are bought with the profits from oil.
We know helping refugees is a temporary solution. The long-term solution is to hold the Sudanese government and militias accountable.
It's the responsibility of all of us to ensure that our governments stop genocides. We cannot allow them to evade their duty where thousands or millions perish. Otherwise, we will all be responsible for perpetuating the genocides that will inevitably occur in the future.
• Paul Rusesabagina, who inspired the movie 'Hotel Rwanda,' lives in exile in Brussels. Last week Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice presented him with the first annual UN High Commissioner on Refugees' World Refugee Day humanitarian award. He originally read a version of this commentary on National Public Radio.