In 2014, Rwanda and the world commemorated the 20th anniversary of the genocide. At the time, Paul Rusesabagina was living in Texas and enjoying what he thought were the protections afforded to him as a Belgian citizen and permanent U.S. resident. Today, as he sits in jail and on trial for crimes he did not commit, this piece he wrote back then carries a different significance.
By Paul Rusesabagina
I wish I could be in Kigali. This month especially I wish I could be in Kigali for the commemoration of the 20th Anniversary of the Rwanda Genocide. I wish I could be in Kigali every other day because it is my home and I miss it. Sadly, I was not invited and am not welcome.
20 years ago I spent the days of Genocide as a hotel manager, sheltering as many people as I could at the Hotel Milles Collines. I spent those long days and nights desperately trying to reach the outside world and to keep everyone in my care alive. I believed that if the international community heard what was going on in Rwanda, they would come and save us from slaughter. I called and called and no one came. I knew that at any time I could be dead and that the 1,268 people who sought shelter at the Hotel Milles Collines would be dead as well. But somehow we survived.
After the Genocide, we mourned our family, friends and neighbors who had been killed. I vowed to help rebuild my country. To make certain to tell the international community that Never Again must mean no more Holocausts and Never Again for Rwanda, for Darfur, for Cambodia, for Syria, for Bosnia, and for every place on Earth. I hoped that if I talked about the Rwandan Genocide, I could insure that it would not happen again. I educate tens of thousands of people every year about the Genocide and how the world needs to prevent another one. But I am very worried.
Today the Genocide memorials in Rwanda are a tourist attraction and are filled with bones. I wish that instead of glorifying the death of my fellow Rwandans, we had memorials to glorify the memory of their lives. For the 20th Anniversary of the Genocide my Foundation will open a virtual Genocide Memorial on our website so that survivors can post memories of their life before Genocide and tributes to the friends and relatives that they lost in 1994.
The best commemoration will be to gather all Rwandans, Hutu and Tutsi, around a table and conduct a truth and reconciliation process, so that we can walk forward together in sustainable peace. I want all of us, young and old, to be able to understand one another and to forgive.
Rwandans need a government that recognizes the importance of power sharing to stop another war. When a small group of elite Hutus oppressed the majority of Rwandans, the situation did not last. When a small group of elite Tutsis oppress the majority of Rwandans, the situation can not last. Rwanda must change so that we don not relive the worst of our past.
I can’t go home to Kigali to mourn our losses and celebrate our gains because since the Genocide, I dare to speak out against injustice, human rights violations and a totally closed political space. I would not stand silent then when the Hutu militias were killing innocent civilians. I can not stand silent now when the current Rwandan government sends proxy armies in to the Congo where the President says they are chasing Hutu rebels, but they come back with conflict minerals to put money is his pockets and fuel in his Bombardier jets.
More than anything, I wish I were in a peaceful, democratic Kigali with freedom of the press, an open civil society and human rights abuses in check. But I can’t go home. Millions of Rwandans in the Diaspora would like to go home, but we can not safely speak freely and go home.
Today I wish I were in Kigali. Not this Potemkin Village Kigali, but a free Kigali. That is my wish.
In August, Paul was kidnapped from Dubai and taken to Rwanda. The Kigali he is in now bears little resemblance to the home he wrote about in 2014 or the one where he grew up. Today, if you criticize the president, you are committing treason and subject to up to five years in prison.
If we are to think that being a permanent U.S. resident means anything or carries with it any protections from the American government, we need to do everything we can to bring him home. One way to start is to sign and share this petition.