It’s International Genocide Prevention Day; Why is Rwanda Hero Rusesabagina still in jail?

Paul Rusesabagina and Don Cheadle — Getty Images
Don Cheadle and Paul Rusesabagina — Getty Images

Today marks the “International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of this Crime” or “Genocide Prevention Day.” It is also the 72nd anniversary of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (the “Genocide Convention”). On the United Nations’ (UN) official website dedicated to this day, one conflict is highlighted above others. It is the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.

While the world looked on and did nothing, a few people inside Rwanda did what they could to save their family members, neighbors, coworkers, and friends. One such person is Paul Rusesabagina from Hotel Rwanda. Acting as the Manager of the Sabina Hotel Des Milles Collines, he was able to save the lives of 1,268 fellow Rwandans. His courage stood out against the barbarism that surrounded him and stood in stark contrast to the cowardice shown by the international community.

While the UN uses the Rwandan Genocide as a kind of “teachable moment,” they are actively ignoring the plight of one of the heroes of that terrible time. In August, Rusesabagina was kidnapped from Dubai, tortured, and returned to Rwanda. Once there, he was arrested and has been incarcerated ever since. He has been denied visits by the Red Cross, communication with his family, and for months he was denied the basic human right of conferring the lawyers he selected.

Rusesabagina has said that he did “not survive the genocide to be silent.” Since that tragedy, he has been an advocate for the human rights of all people. In 2005, George W. Bush awarded him the President Medal of Freedom for “remarkable courage and compassion in the face of genocidal terror.”

Rusesabagina has spent his time since 1994 as a humanitarian and speaker raising awareness about what happened in Rwanda during the Genocide so that Never Again can mean Never Again. Not another Holocaust. Not another Genocide in Rwanda, or Armenia, or Cambodia, or Cameroon, or anywhere. Rusesabagina educates students and adults about the need to create sustainable peace in the Great Lakes Region of Africa and around the globe with the hope of preventing genocide and mass atrocities.

Rusesabagina has also been a fierce critic of Rwandan President Paul Kagame and a staunch advocate for the human rights of people in Rwanda and around the globe. Kagame uses the genocide to control his citizens in the nation and outside. To remind Rwandans of the horrors of 1994, every April the nation remembers the tragedy by reenacting it. There is no reason to do this but to scare people. The world remembers and commemorates the survivors of the Holocaust but no one reenacts it.

Genocides are not random acts. There is a pattern and path they all follow. Edmund Burke wrote, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” To allow one good person who did not stand by and do nothing when people all around him were being butchered to be railroaded to prison for political reasons would set a horrible example. Genocide is not a relic of the past or something that happens in a vacuum. From the Rohingya in Myanmar, the Uyghurs in China, the Kurds in Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and others, multiple populations remain at risk. We need anti-genocide heroes more than ever.

The world failed Rwanda in 1994. The UN failed. If they really want to use the 1994 Genocide as a cautionary tale, the first order of business needs to be sending Paul Rusesabagina home to be with his family.

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