'Hotel Rwanda' Manager: We've Failed To Learn From History

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Paul Rusesabagina is a figure from history — a terrible history.

He was the manager of the Diplomat Hotel in Kigali, Rwanda, 20 years ago, when the genocide of Rwanda's Tutsi people began. More than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus would be killed in just three months.

While most of the world took no action to stop the killing, Rusesabagina sheltered more than 1,000 people inside his hotel. He gave them water from the pool so they wouldn't die from dehydration, smuggled in food so they wouldn't starve, and held off the militia who came to the hotel by bribing them with alcohol and cigars.

His story was turned into an award-winning movie in 2004, Hotel Rwanda, starring Don Cheadle as Rusesabagina.

Today, Rusesabagina lives in San Antonio, Texas. He's the founder of the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation, which advocates for human rights internationally.

Rusesabagina tells NPR's Scott Simon that he no longer lives in Rwanda because after speaking out against people doing evil, he became a target of that evil. "Having no other choice, I just fled the country," he says.


Interview Highlights

On what drives people to commit genocide

There are many reasons why people kill each other. One of those reasons is, of course, bad leadership. When leaders teach the people they lead to kill others, then people go ahead and do what their leaders tell them. A second reason is because people are poor and are not educated well enough. They always, as I said, tend to trust their leaders.

The worst reason, this is impunity. In Rwanda, for instance ... since I was a young kid, late '50s, early '60s, we saw people killing their neighbors and getting their cars, getting their properties — houses, plantations and so on. Until just recently, in the late '90s, immediately after the genocide, those people were still living in houses they never built, they were still living in plantations which were never theirs, with the cattle which never belonged to them.

On his anger at the Western world for not doing more to stop the genocide

History always keeps repeating itself. We saw this happening with the Armenians, the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust. I remember in 1994, I was very angry with ... everybody in the international community, because when people were being butchered, they were there, and they never did anything.

On recent violence in Syria, Darfur and the Central African Republic

This recalls exactly what we were going through in 1994. This recalls what also has been going on in the Congo, on our own watch. That recalls me that history repeats itself, and does not teach human beings any lessons.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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