Hotel Rwanda Hero Awarded The Tom Lantos 2011 Human Rights Prize
By Paul Ndiho
November 16, 2011
The Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice today awarded its 2011 prize for human rights. It was established in 2009 to honor heroes of the human rights movement. It is awarded annually to an individual or organization that best exemplifies the Foundation’s mission for the world.
Throughout his tenure in Congress, Tom Lantos was the leading advocate for human rights, calling attention to thousands of individual cases of torture, denial of rights, and abuse. Founder and Co-Chairman of the bipartisan Congressional Human Rights Caucus, Lantos was a voice for the rights of persecuted racial, religious, and ethnic minorities worldwide. He died in 2008 at age 80. This year, the Lantos Foundation is honoring Paul Rusesabagina, widely hailed as a hero of the Rwandan genocide. An estimated 800,000 Rwandans were killed in 1994 after extremists in the majority Hutu population turned on the Tutsi minority and moderate Hutus. A luxury hotel manager, Rusesabagina provided shelter to more than 12-hundred Hutus and Tutsis, saving them from certain death. His efforts are chronicled in the 2004 award winning film, “Hotel Rwanda,” and his autobiography, “An Ordinary Man.”
In 2005, then-U.S. President George W. Bush awarded to Rusesabagina the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civil award.
“He was a hotel manager in his native Rwanda when the horror began to unfold in 1994. The hotel soon became heaven amidst carnage, with Paul, his family and more than 1000 other men women and children inside the compound. Without that shelter every one of them would almost surely been killed during those weeks and months of merciless terror.”
I spoke to Paul Rusesabagina recently, and he said he fears for his life because of threats from President Paul Kigame’s government. Rusesabagina and Kagame don’t have kind words for each other, and they challenge each other’s actions during the genocide:
“I never told you anything for ins-tense threats from the Rwandan Government… I noticed that from the very day Hotel Rwanda came out, that was in September 2004. President Kagame, the president of Rwanda himself was the only person who felt very much threatened… Because he thought that Rwanda had one person and only he was supposed to be called a hero. Because he had talked to the international community, he had friends all over the world, he had made each and every one of them understand that he was the savior of the Rwandan nation, he had stopped the genocide and this was his message.”
In 2006, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, in a VOA press conference, played down Rusesabagina’s heroism. Kagame said that Rusesabagina’s story of saving hundreds of people is misleading.
“He claims to have saved people in hotel Millcoline. One he had no possibility of saving them in the first place and secondly including our prime minister of Rwanda who was also there, including the lady here Senator Ordate – she was there in fact and she is the only one who can maybe say she was saved by Rusesabagina’s on the basis that they knew each other. Because while others were freeing going to the hotel to seek refuge, he contacted her and brought her to the hotel to seek refugee with others who were there.”
Paul Rusesabagina, dubbed by some as the “Oskar Schindler of Africa,” questions Paul Kagame’s claims that Kagame stopped genocidal killing in Rwanda.
Oskar Schindler was a German Industrialist who outwitted Hitler and the Nazis to save more than 1200 Jews from the gas chambers by employing them to work for him in his factories during World War II.
“My whole question is this… Is President Kagame apart of the genocide solution or the genocide problem? Kagame has been a part of the genocide problem.”
Paul Rusesabagina, winner of the Lantos Foundation’s 2011 award for Human Rights, the annual prize that commemorates the late Congressman Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor ever elected to the U.S. Congress. Former recipients of the Lantos Prize include another Holocaust survivor, Nobel Laureate and writer Elie Wiesel, and His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who has dedicated his life to fighting for equality and basic human rights in Tibet.