Editorial comment from Jewishinfonews–November 02, 2011
Are we all our brothers’ keepers?
Last month, The Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice announced that Rwandan Paul Rusesabagina will be the 2011 recipient of the Lantos Human Rights Prize. The formal presentation of the award will take place in Washington, DC on November 16, 2011.
According to the foundation, “Paul Rusesabagina is widely hailed as a hero of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. As a hotel manager during the time of the conflict, Rusesabagina was able to provide shelter to 1,268 people, both Hutus and Tutsis, ultimately saving them from certain death. His efforts were chronicled in the 2004 Academy Award nominated film Hotel Rwanda and his autobiography ‘An Ordinary Man.’ Today, Rusesabagina continues his efforts for truth, reconciliation and sustainable peace in Rwanda and the Great Lakes region of Africa through his work as President of the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation.”
Katrina Lantos Swett, President of the Lantos Foundation remarked, “We are so proud to award this year’s Lantos Prize to Paul Rusesabagina. I was raised on the idea that we are all our brothers’ keepers, and Paul is the living embodiment of that idea.”
It seems not all Rwandans share this view. Léo Kabalisa, a Rwandan-Canadian school teacher, who managed to escape from Rwanda before the genocide began, lost his father, four brothers, twelve cousins and eight nieces during the genocide. Mr. Kabalisa is a respected and well-known advocate of human rights and is regularly interviewed by Canadian media on matters pertaining to Rwanda. In the past, he has also been a guest speaker at Toronto’s Holocaust Education Week.
Yesterday, in an emotional letter to the Lantos Foundation, Mr. Kabalisa decided to express his personal views about why Mr. Rusesabagina should not receive the 2011 Lantos Human Rights Prize. Here in part is what he had to say:
“After the genocide, my main concern has been that our people would be forgotten and their memory be erased. I worked with members of the Jewish Community through the Holocaust Center of Toronto Federation UJA and other organizations within the Jewish community to build a dialogue between survivors of the Holocaust and Tutsi genocide survivors. My aim was to support the education initiatives within the Jewish community and other Toronto-based organizations dedicated to the preservation of human rights in the hope that through building awareness and knowledge such atrocities could be prevented in the future. I have been invited to speak in schools, universities and have taken part in discussions which were broadcast on radio and on television over the years.
“Over the past few years I have been feeling that the world is betraying Rwanda again. We were betrayed when people were being butchered and the international community closed its eyes. Now, the genocide deniers have been given the public ear to practice revisionism and erase the genocide from history.
“I heard Paul Rusesabagina talking at York University [Toronto] a few years ago. He doesn’t deny completely the genocide, but he is the one who is promoting the theory of a double genocide which ironically turns the tables on the victims of the genocide… and casting deep shadows over the reality of their tragedy. When people like Rusesabagina are being recognized by the world as humanitarians without checking exactly who the person is, beyond the fictitious movie, shows how again the world does not care…”
“If Lantos would like to recognize people who helped our beloved ones survive, you can start by honouring General Roméo Dallaire, who stayed in Rwanda when his mandate was over. You can honour members of Médecins sans frontières, such as Dr. James Orbinski, who stayed atKing Faisal Hospital to take care of the wounded. Among Hutus who protected Tutsis, I can name Damas Gisimba who saved more than 100 Tutsi using his own means, hiding them in his orphanage. These are just a few examples of many of the true heroes who deserve recognition.”
Kabalisa in his letter suggests the foundation go to Rwanda and talk to the people who live there about Rusesabagina and learn the truth. “Talk to Ibuka, the umbrella organization of the survivors of the genocide. Talk to the widows of AVEGA (the widows’ organization of Rwanda). Talk to the survivors of Hotel Mille Collines and learn more,” he says.
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