By Tom Godfrey
Genocide survivors in the Toronto-area are outraged and protesting humanitarian Paul Rusesabagina, an inspiration behind the hit movie Hotel Rwanda, who is receiving a top U.S. award for human rights.
Rwandans in Toronto and elsewhere accuse Rusesabagina, 57, of taking money from his countrymen fleeing the 1994 genocide in exchange for refuge at the UN-protected Sabena Hôtel des Mille Collines, where he was assistant manager.
They claim the hotelier is a “genocide revisionist and denier” for his role during the slaughter of 800,000 Tutsi by a majority Hutus.
Rusesabagina has been internationally honored for saving the lives of 1,268 Tutsi refugees at the hotel by using his influence to shelter them from death. His efforts were highlighted in the 2004 Academy Award-nominated film Hotel Rwanda.
Pressure from Toronto Rwandans led to Rusesabagina being dropped from a We Day celebration this month in Winnipeg, that will be attended by former U.S. vice-president Al Gore, actress and UNICEF goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow and former Prime Minister Paul Martin.
Demonstrations in Canada and the U.S. are growing over Rusesabagina being presented Nov. 16 a Lantos Foundation Award for Human Rights And Justice in Washington, D.C. Former recipients include the Dalai Lama and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel.
Survivor Victor Munyarugerero, 62, of Brampton, said he doled out $35,600 to Rusesabagina so 220 fleeing Tutsis could obtain refuge at the hotel during the genocide.
“This man (Rusesabagina) made money from many people who stayed at that hotel,” Munyarugerero said through an interpreter on Thursday. “There is no way he should receive this award for what he has done to his own people.”
He said more than 800 Tutsi and some moderate Hutus were packed in the hotel and after two days they had drank all the water in a swimming pool and run out of food.
Award president Katrina Lantos Swett said protestors are trying to smear Rusesabagina’s name before he is honoured.
“This is the latest attempt to smear the good name of this year’s Lantos Prize recipient,” Swett said. “The attacks are consistent with a disturbing pattern of censorship, intimidation and violence directed at those who voice concerns about the government of Rwanda.”
Swett said some Rwandans have complained Rusesabagina charged money from guests who sought refuge in the hotel.
“Money was needed to feed the 1,200 people living in the hotel and to bribe the ever murderous gangs that prowled outside the hotel gates,” she said.
De-Ruta De-Ruta, of Brampton, said his son was born at the hotel during a seven-week stay.
“The condition in the hotel was terrible and there was no food,” De-Ruta said on Thursday. “The refugees had to pay for everything and this man (Rusesabagina) is not a hero or even a great man.”
De-Ruta said Munyarugerero paid for his safety and that of his family at the hotel. He knows of four others who paid hotel staff to stay there.
“In our case, my cousin paid with a cheque,” he said. “He signed over a business cheque.”
John Ruku-Rwabyoma, of the Rwandese Canadian Association of Greater Toronto, said his mother-in-law had to dish out $350 to stay at the hotel.
“Everyone one had to pay a price to get in,“ Ruku-Rwabyoma said. “This man should not be honoured with a human rights award when he didn’t help anyone.”