Rwandan Survivor Calls for International Action in Darfur
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MARGARET WARNER: This movie, “Hotel Rwanda,” made an international hero out of the hotel manager who saved more than 1,200 of his countrymen from the 1994 genocide in his African country. Some 800,000 Rwandans were butchered there in just 100 days, as the world stood by and did nothing.
DON CHEADLE, Actor: Have you printed the bills? Thank you. Now, please erase the register.
ACTRESS: Erase it?
CHEADLE: Yes. I want no names to appear there.
ACTOR: Boss, the carpenters are ready.
CHEADLE: Tell them to remove all of the numbers from the doors.
ACTOR: Ask put what?
CHEADLE: And put nothing.
MARGARET WARNER: American actor Don Cheadle played hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina in the award-winning film.
The real Paul Rusesabagina, who ultimately left Rwanda for Europe, received the U.S. Medal of Freedom last November from President Bush. He has also emerged as an outspoken advocate for international intervention to stop the genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region, where 200,000 people have been killed.
Now Rusesabagina has written his own memoir of his life and the dark days of the Rwandan genocide. We called it “An Ordinary Man.”
Paul Rusesabagina joins us now.
PAUL RUSESABAGINA, Author, “An Ordinary Man”: Thank you. MARGARET WARNER: You call this book “An Ordinary Man.” You say you don’t think what you did was at all heroic. Do you truly believe that ordinary men can do what you did?
PAUL RUSESABAGINA: Actually, I believe that an ordinary man is the one who remains himself.
As a hotel manager, I remained a hotel manager, right from the beginning to the end, as I always have been a hotel manager since I started my career. So, nothing changed. To me, an ordinary man is the one who is ordinary, doesn’t change.
MARGARET WARNER: The other mystery, at least reading this book, to me was the killers. Why did the — all your negotiations actually work with them?
And there’s one scene in which you have just concluded negotiating with this Rwandan colonel for the life of one of your hotel guests. And, finally, after two or three hours and a case of wine, it works. He goes away. And I wonder if you could just read this reflection you had afterwards for us.
PAUL RUSESABAGINA: “I had dozens of conversation like this throughout the genocide, surreal exchanges in which I would find myself sitting across a desk or a cocktail (AUDIO GAP) with a man who might have committed dozens of killings that day. In several cases, I saw flecks of blood on their uniforms or work shirts. We would talk as though nothing was out of the ordinary, as if we were negotiating the purchase of new kitchen equipment or discussing an upcoming special event in the ballroom.”
MARGARET WARNER: What was it about these killers — and you — and you negotiated with so many of them — that made them open to your words, that — that allowed you to persuade them — or dissuade them from killing?
PAUL RUSESABAGINA: I believe in the power of words. Words can be the best weapons, if used for a good cause, or the worst, if used for evil.
And I believe that each and every heart, even the hardest heart, has got a very small part of it which is soft. And whenever you can play with it, you can always come up with a positive solution to any problem.
MARGARET WARNER: And you found that, sometimes, that soft spot might be decency. Sometimes it was just insecurity, and you could play on that.
PAUL RUSESABAGINA: Sometimes. Also praising. You tell someone that he is great, he always agrees with you, and then you get what you want.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, if we go to Darfur, where 200,000 people have been killed already, over — over a longer period of time, but what — what parallels do you see between what is happening now in Darfur and what happened in Rwanda?
PAUL RUSESABAGINA: Actually, what happened — is happening today in Darfur is exactly what was going on in Rwanda between ’90 and 1994, when the rebels on the hills were butchering men, inviting them for meetings, killing them, killing young men, inviting them to join their army — and, also, the militia, on the other hand, also killing civilians, and the whole world closed eyes, ears, turned backs, didn’t want to see what was going on.
Today, in Darfur, you have about two million people displaced in Darfur, in that part of the world, and the whole world doesn’t — seems not to care.
MARGARET WARNER: And why do you think that is?
PAUL RUSESABAGINA: I think that, as human beings, we do not want to take — to face our duties and responsibilities. The world knows that.
The day that they recall what is going on in Darfur, a genocide, they will be in an obligation to intervene with — go into the Sudanese — the Sudanese land, and they fear that. The world fears responsibilities.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, the U.N. is saying — the UN member states are saying: The African Union is there. We cannot go into Sudan unless the African Union invites us, given the fact that the Sudanese government doesn’t want the UN either.
Is that a legitimate, a valid reason, in your view?
PAUL RUSESABAGINA: Africa is led by dictators.
Have you imagined a dictator fighting another dictator in the name of democracy? It can’t be. So, we need we need — we need the UN, the international community, to get involved, but not as UN soldiers, but, rather, as NATO — the NATO, for instance. That is the best solution of doing things.
Why can’t the international community do in the Sudan, in — in Darfur what was done in the former Yugoslavia?
MARGARET WARNER: Members of the UN, it — it seems that, if they’re heading to anything, it will be as a UN transitional force.
Now, in this book, the UN does not come off very well. You had peacekeepers there, and, at one point, you say they were not just — I don’t have the exact quote here — but they were not just — they were worse than nothing, because it let the world think something was being done, and, in fact, they did nothing. Is a UN force the answer?
PAUL RUSESABAGINA: Actually, we never knew what means the — what was the meaning of the UN peacekeepers, until the time when we saw them turning backs, running away when things became tough.
When Rwandans started killing each other, they pulled out. And we saw soldiers just running away, getting into buses, union trucks and going to the airport. Can you imagine a soldier who has come to keep peace, who just stands there, unable to defend even a civilian? Their mission, the definition of their mission should be thought about again and reformed, should be enforced.
MARGARET WARNER: So, you’re saying, if the UN was to go in, it would really have to be as a peace enforcement, I mean, with rules of engagement that allowed them to take on the killers in an — in an aggressive way?
PAUL RUSESABAGINA: Oh, yes, definitely.
For instance, to stop the Rwandan genocide, it was the easiest — the easiest thing, because the killers, most of the killers had no guns. They were fighting with the traditional weapons. Can you imagine someone who is not even trained fighting with a knife, with a machete, that is not really — that was not really a good — a great deal? It was so simple to stop the killings, but we needed more troops.
MARGARET WARNER: Finally, in Darfur, where these janjaweed militias are usually on horseback riding into these villages, cutting people down, burning down their — their houses, do you think there’s a way for an ordinary man like you, for other ordinary men, to stand up to that?
PAUL RUSESABAGINA: There is always an ordinary man among the — the janjaweed who can stand up and tell them to stop, and they will stop. They — maybe he cannot stop them all over the country, but at least he can protect his neighbors’ — his neighbors’ lands.
MARGARET WARNER: Paul Rusesabagina, thank you so much.
PAUL RUSESABAGINA: You’re welcome. Thank you.