A Canadian organisation, this week, cancelled a previously scheduled speech by Paul Rusesabagina at a youth conference, following a petition by a Rwandan-Canadian community in the country.
He was due to share a platform with former United States Vice President, Al Gore, and former Canadian Prime Minister, Paul Martin.
In a letter dated November 4 and addressed to the Canadian ministers for Citizenship and Immigration and Public Safety, the chairman of the Board of the Rwandan-Canadian Association of Greater Toronto, John Rukumbura, protested against plans to have Rusesabagina speak at the ‘We Day’ conference in Winnipeg, on November 23.
“In our petition we stated the obvious: that Rusesabagina is a Genocide denier, imposter and fraud, in a sense that he goes about collecting money from unsuspecting western audiences claiming it’s for humanitarian cause, which is not the case.
“At the same time he keeps poisoning many people’s minds, especially with regard to the circumstances around the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, and his role during that time,” Rukumbura told The New Times by telephone, from Canada, yesterday.
He added that the organizers of the event informed him about the decision to cancel Rusesabagina’s presence at the conference in an email on November 7.
Rukumbura dismissed Rusesabagina’s claims that he saved the lives of about 1,200 refugees at Mille Collines Hotel in Kigali during the Genocide, stating that he, instead, exploited the situation by extorting money from the refugees, including his (Rukumbura’s) own mother-in-law.
“A few years ago, I met him during one of his speaking events, at York University (in Toronto, Canada), I asked him why he extorted money from my mother-in-law at the hotel, and he shamelessly and publicly told me that I should ask my mother-in-law to provide him with the receipt and that he would reimburse! His reply and abusive language in a crowd of 400 forced the organizers to call off the event,” narrated Rukumbura.
Organisations representing the interests of Genocide survivors in Rwanda have also dismissed Rusesabagina’s claims that he risked his own life to save the refugees, saying that those who survived from the hotel “owe their survival to other factors other than Rusesabagina’s perceived generosity”.
The groups, as well as individual survivors of Mille Collines, say that, contrary to Rusesabagina’s claims, the people who were at the hotel were saved by the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF).
“He has had a free ride for a long time; the Rwandan community in Canada will not allow him to continue hoodwinking unsuspecting Canadians, who only know about him through the Hotel Rwanda movie.
“The ‘We Day’ event is a mentorship conference, and the speakers should be seen as role models, mentors who can encourage the youth to take up leaderships role. Rusesabagina is no role model,” added Rukumbura.
The event is organized by Free The Children, a Canadian organisation.
Rusesabagina rose to fame following the success of the 2004 award-winning Hotel Rwanda, in which he is portrayed as a hero who saved hundreds of lives in the Genocide. But survivors who took shelter at the hotel say that the film is more of fiction than fact, and accuse Rusesabagina of seeking to exploit “that misleading portrayal”
Meanwhile, survivors are today scheduled to stage a peaceful demonstration in front of the offices of Lantos Foundation for Human Rights & Justice, New Hampshire in the US, for its intention to present an award to Rusesabagina over his alleged humanitarian role in the Genocide.
“Survivors in Rwanda and abroad are deeply troubled by Rusesabagina’s false narrative of the 1994 Genocide, as well as his ties to the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a terrorist group based in the Democratic Republic of Congo and made up mainly of the masterminds of the 1994 Genocide,” protest organisers said in a statement.
More than 6,000 people have also signed a petition to Lantos opposing the move to recognise Rusesabagina in a ceremony due next week.