Rusesabagina raises awareness of genocide

On November 30, 2500 people came to Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall to listen to Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager from Kigali, Rwanda, who saved thousands of lives during the Rwandan genocides in 1993–1994. As most of the audience knew, Rusesabagina was the protagonist of the film Hotel Rwanda, which detailed his efforts to keep the refugees in his hotel alive, even as murderers were climbing the walls outside.

Listening to Rusesabagina’s account of the genocide was heart-wrenching, and he received warm support from the audience, but the event was tinged with mild irony. Prior to Rusesabagina’s speech, the event’s sponsors, which included Hillel JUC and other student organizations from the University of Pittsburgh, gave a brief presentation called “Genocide in Context.” While students from Pitt played on African drums, the presenters ran through the histories of 20th-century genocides that most of the audience probably knew nothing about.

More chilling was that some of these genocides, such as those in Sudan and the Congo, were going on even as Rusesabagina took the stage. It was hard to deny that the only reason most of the audience members were aware of his tragic story was because it had been turned into a film. Five minutes earlier they hadn’t even heard of some of the places mentioned.

To their credit, Rusesabagina and his sponsors took this into account, and much of the evening was spent on what people could do to help victims of the current genocide in Africa — particularly in the Darfur region of Sudan. Rusesabagina could have taken the easy way out and lived the rest of his life in peace after seeing so much bloodshed; instead he has decided to use his leverage to ask people to help those in Darfur and other areas. History, Rusesabagina pleaded, must not continue to repeat itself. When the Rwandan genocides occurred, no one in the international community was willing to intervene. The same situation is occurring in Darfur and the Congo now, and no one has stepped in to help.

It would be very easy to leave Soldiers and Sailors and not do anything. We tend to banish the unpleasant from our minds, especially when it is so far away, but Rusesabagina reminded us how important it is to be aware of atrocities in the rest of the world. CMU is home to some of the brightest minds in the up-and-coming generation. Just as Rusesabagina’s pleas are useless if they fall on deaf ears, our talents are useless if we do not have the awareness and the drive to help others.

It is remarkably easy to get involved in aid for Darfur or the Congo — there are various student organizations at the University of Pittsburgh willing to help, and those who brought Rusesabagina have plenty of resources for those interested. Get involved.

Although Rusesabagina is a hero, he should never have been put in his terrible position in the first place, and we can prevent people like him from having to suffer again. We should not wait until a hit film is made out of something like the Rwanda — or Darfur — situation to know what is going on in the world.

To contribute to this important fight against genocide, please visit Students Taking Action Now at, the Pittsburgh Darfur Emergency Coalition at, the Black Action Society at, or the Pittsburgh chapter of Amnesty International at