In the movie “Hotel Rwanda,” Don Cheadle is the face of Paul Rusesabagina, who saved over 1,200 people during the Rwandan genocide. But those who gathered in the Law School Monday evening were able to meet the man behind this Hollywood facade.
In front of a crowd of hundreds in the Law School auditorium and an additional overflow room where the talk was broadcast, Rusesabagina gave a background of Rwanda’s history and told anecdotes from his experience as temporary manager of Mille Collines, a luxury hotel in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.
“I want to tell you about the other side of the real life behind the movie you may have seen, Hotel Rwanda,” Rusesabagina said.
Rusesabagina said the movie’s aim was to “raise awareness of the incident.” For 100 days from April to September 1994, almost 1 million people were killed in Rwanda during an ethnic struggle between two warring groups — the ruling Hutu and Tutsi rebels — but the genocide went unnoticed by the rest of the world, Rusesabagina said.
In introducing Rusesabagina, Dean of the Law School Harold Hongju Koh, said Rusesabagina was “someone who reminds us that an Ivy League education is not sufficient nor necessary for the promotion of human rights.”
As manager, Rusesabagina, a Hutu married to a Tutsi woman, used the hotel as a haven for more than 1,000 refugees. He said that by bribing officials with liquor, using his contacts and even by taking all the numbers off of the hotel rooms so that officials did not know where to find people, Rusesabagina prevented the hotel refugees from being murdered.
“Many people fled,” Rusesabagina said. “1.5 million people were sleeping outside without shelter, without food, without water, dying in a panic.”
During the beginning stages of the conflict, Rusesabagina said he attempted to evacuate his wife and children though he decided to stay behind at the hotel. While Rusesabagina said it was difficult for him to separate from his family, he knew that others’ lives depended on his aid.
“They said, ‘We know the very day you leave this place, we’ll be killed,'” Rusesabagina said.
Rusesabagina said he felt the most hopeless after 12 Belgium soldiers, who were stationed in Rwanda to keep the peace, were killed and the United Nations troops pulled out of Rwanda.
“They turned their backs, closed their eyes and ears, and ran away,” Rusesabagina said, suggesting that Rwanda should sue the United Nations for its neglect. “They owe us all of those lives.”
In spite of a lack of international support, Rusesabagina said he was not afraid of the possibility of death.
“The only thing I was sure of was to be killed,” Rusesabagina said. “But I said ‘If I die, let me die as a fighter.'”
But Rusesabagina and those he was protecting survived the conflict, which ended in September 1994.
As a part of his talk, Rusesabagina called for Yale students, as “leaders of tomorrow,” to take responsibility and action.
“What has happened in Rwanda is still happening in Sudan,” Rusesabagina said. “You can change the world if you want, and if you want it, you can make it.”
Alex Chiu ’07 said he was inspired by Rusesabagina’s words.
“It was a very compelling story, as is evident by the hundreds and hundreds of people who showed up,” Chiu said. “You realize the gravity of the situation in Darfur.”
A letter writing station was set up outside the auditorium for those interested in raising awareness for the current conflict in Sudan.