As a Rwandan genocide survivor, I was very disturbed to hear that the Jewish Values Network is providing a forum for Rwandan President Paul Kagame to polish his image and tell more lies to the international community. My foundation and I were even more surprised to see that Elie Wiesel would agree to serve on a panel with Kagame.
We love Elie Wiesel and his work very much. He is a genocide survivor, a great humanitarian, and a well-deserved Nobel Laureate. That being the case, we simply don’t want to see him sitting next to someone with so much blood on his hands. I have met Mr. Wiesel on a number of occasions, and in November of 2011 I was very pleased to receive the Lantos Human Rights Prize, which Elie Wiesel was awarded in 2010. It was an incredible honor to win an award that he had also received.
But now, a man that the entire world respects has been caught in a fishing net by Kagame’s public relations machine. It would be a terrible shame to see Elie Wiesel sitting at the same panel with someone accused by the international community of having killed hundreds of thousands of people in Rwanda’s neighbor, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. These are innocent civilians killed, the elderly, children and the sick, not just “rebel” soldiers.
Since leading a civil war against the Rwandan government from 1990-1994, a mountain of evidence continues to accumulate that Kagame and his forces have been involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity both in Rwanda during that civil war, and now in the neighboring Congo. In the Congo, the 2010 United Nations Mapping Report even states that there is enough evidence to investigate whether the Rwandan government committed genocide against Hutu civilians there. Atrocities continue on a daily basis, with UN and other international reports making it clear that the Rwandan government supports and controls the M23 militia group that is driving the violence, recruiting child soldiers, killing enormous numbers of civilians, and raping women and children daily in the Kivu region.
Kagame and his propaganda machine would like us to close our eyes to the current reality, and only remember the day in 1994 when his forces won the civil war in Rwanda, ending the terrible genocide. Since that point in time, many have spoken of the economic miracle in Rwanda, with better growth than any other country in Africa. But all of this is a false front for the reality of Rwanda.
Over 800,000 of my countrymen, Tutsis and Hutus, were killed in those terrible months of the genocide, and they must not be forgotten. For a very brief time it even seemed that Kagame might be a hero, but this quickly evaporated. Kagame and his cronies were simply the new bosses in town. It is now clear that they do not rule for the Rwandan people, but merely for their own benefit.
What is the truth here? The evidence is all easy to find for anyone who chooses to look. Kagame and his Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during the Rwandan civil war and genocide in 1990-1994. They did not start the genocide, but they did kill hundreds of thousands of Rwandans in terrible ways that are well documented.
Since taking control of Rwanda, Kagame’s government has become increasingly repressive over the past 20 years. There is no freedom of expression or of the press in Rwanda. Dissidents and reporters who seek the truth are regularly harassed, jailed, exiled, tortured or killed. Political parties who oppose the RPF may not be formed, and opposing politicians are jailed and killed. Even discussions of the genocide are strictly limited, and only the current government’s version of the events is allowed. In this narrative, Tutsis are the victims and heroes of the tale, and all Hutus are evil genocidaires and oppressors. In fact, very few of the millions of Hutus in Rwanda participated in the genocide, and many were victims of the violence. And while many Tutsis were indeed victims, other Tutsis also committed terrible crimes. Many of these war criminals now rule the country.
And now in the Congo, Kagame and his forces are accused of crimes that are just as violent as the terrible Rwandan genocide. But the violence in the Congo, driven by Rwanda, has been going on for over 15 years, and millions of lives have now been lost.
The real story about Kagame’s violent nature is not just told by a few dissidents. These facts are supported by numerous reports from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the United Nations, Reporters Without Borders, and even the U.S. State Department. Kagame’s propaganda regularly claims that anyone talking about the reality of Rwanda is a liar, intent on bringing about another genocide and creating more violence in Rwanda. But the world is watching, and he cannot be allowed to pretend that nothing is happening.
We cannot close our eyes and ears to these facts. These are the truths that Paul Kagame seeks to cover up on a daily basis. And whenever he can, he seeks sympathetic audiences in the United States and Europe to hear his very one-sided tale.
When we first saw the ad for this event, we thought “wow, it’s a bad idea for anyone to debate Elie Wiesel on genocide. I wonder why Kagame would do that?” But then we read deeper, and realized the terrible irony of this panel.
It would be a terrible shame to see Elie Wiesel sitting at the same panel with someone who has so much blood on his hands. And it would be an equal disgrace for highly respected Jewish organizations like the NYU Bronfman Center and the Jewish Values Network to allow Kagame a forum to spread his false tale. My understanding was that your organizations stand for justice and stopping violence. Kagame simply stands for impunity and doing whatever it takes to stay in power.
Paul Kagame is a violent dictator who should be on trial for his actions, not celebrated for them. The idea that he can sit with Elie Wiesel and discuss how to protect the weak should be a very bad joke, but it appears that it is instead a bad and embarrassing mistake about to happen.
Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation