"In Burundi people have been killing people. Nobody talks about Burundi" - real-life hero of Hotel Rwanda urges action on Burundi, Sudan, and Congo
The man whose work to save 1,200 refugees from death squads in Rwanda's 1994 genocide was featured in the movie Hotel Rwanda urged Americans to press their government to help stop wars in Africa.
"Stand up and let your leaders know all that is happening all over Africa," said Paul Rusesabagina in a speech at Iowa State University. "What we need is you, as a stronger country, to help them to talk, bring negotiations, discussion and dialogue," he said Wednesday. In Rwanda's genocide, an estimated 800,000 to 900,000 people were killed in just 100 days.
Rusesabagina criticized the UN and western countries for not stepping in to stop the killing and said the world's most powerful and wealthiest nations continue to ignore atrocities.
He said a bloody war in the Congo has taken nearly one million lives since 1996.
"Nobody lifts a finger to save them," he said.
"In Burundi people have been killing people. Nobody talks about Burundi," he said.
In Darfur, a region of western Sudan, millions have been displaced and sleep in the harsh temperature extremes of the open desert with no food, clothing or shelter, he said.
"That is a shame to mankind," he said.
The United Nations has since set up an international tribunal to prosecute war criminals in the Rwandan genocide, and western countries have sent in millions of dollars of aid.
Rusesabagina, now 51, was manager of the Mille Collines Hotel in the Rwandan capital of Kigali when the country's president died in an airplane crash on April 6, 1994, prompting the collapse of the peace agreement between the Hutu-led Rwandan government and Tutsi guerrillas.
That night, Hutu-led forces began the mass killing of Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Hutus were the majority in the country, but Tutsis were traditionally the rulers.
Rusesabagina moved to Belgium in 1996 where he lives with his wife, his three children and two children of slain family members.
However, he said Belgium's colonization of his country caused the fighting between Hutus and Tutsis that sparked the slaying.
The small central African country was ruled by kings until Belgian troops took control of the country in 1915. In the 1950s, Belgian rule encouraged fighting between the majority Hutus to overtake the ruling Tutsis, he said.
"Instead of improving, instead of making it better, instead of thinking about a better future, they made it worse," said Rusesabagina, who is a Hutu.
Hutus and Tutsis shared the same culture, the same religion and language but the division created by outside forces turned them against one another over decades, he said.
Three events contributed to hate that culminated in the massive slaughter in 1994: Hutu concentration camps in the late 1950s, a genocide in the 1970s in which 300,000 Hutus were killed and a war brought into Rwanda from Uganda in the early 1990s.
On the night the genocide began, Rusesabagina took his family to the hotel and provided sanctuary for more than 1,200 others, including orphaned children fleeing the death squads, who wielded machetes and other weapons.
As a Hutu, Rusesabagina was safe, but his wife, a Tutsi, and his children were not. As depicted in the film Hotel Rwanda, he used his influence as a well-known businessman and bribery - with alcohol, cigars and money - to keep the killing squads at bay.
He said he was invited to join the Hutu forces but refused.
"I made a different choice," he said. "I decided not to fight with the guns, but rather with my mouth. That is the best weapon."
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Burundi, human rights, Current Affairs, Politics, Africa