Hafsa Ammar is a student of the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies at the National Defence University, Islamabad. Her areas of expertise are hybrid warfare, narrative building, and nuclear deterrence in South Asia.
The 1994 Genocide
In 1994, the Hutus engaged in a 4-month-long systematic slaughter of the ethnic Tutsis. The hatred stemmed from a colonial history in which the Tutsis had been favored and given seats of power. The Hutu uprising was sudden and barbaric; more than 800,000 Tutsi civilians were massacred, and these are often the only figures quoted in the media, but in reality, a moderate number of Hutus and Twas lost their lives too.
The Rwandan Armed Forces, the Presidential Guard, and Hutu militia groups which were known as ‘Interahamwe’ (Those Who Attack Together) and ‘Impuzamugambi’ (Those Who Have the Same Goal) set up roadblocks and barricades and began slaughtering any Tutsi political opposition, Hutu dissidents, and the UN humanitarian forces during the months of April and May.
The murder of the Hutu Prime Minister and 10 Belgian peacekeepers created a political vacuum that was replaced by an interim government on 9th April by the Hutu extremists from the military high command. The killing of the Belgian peacekeepers resulted in the withdrawal of the Belgian troops stationed there.
The genocide quickly spread from the capital city of Kigali to the central and southern parts of Rwanda where most of the Tutsis lived. Moreover, any resistance from the Tutsis was eliminated by the national officials as they were brutally murdered.
Reason for Fame
Paul Rusesabagina is often called the ‘Hotel Rwanda hero’. He is known to the world as a human rights advocate and savior of more than a thousand Tutsis when he let them seek refuge at the Hotel Des Millie Collines (also known as Hotel Rwanda) where he worked as a manager during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.
Rusesabagina was the leader of Mouvement Rwandis pour la Changement Democratique, alternatively known as the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MCRD). The group had a militant wing by the name of FLN (National Liberation Front). MRCD-FLN was held responsible by the government for various terrorist activities and attacks that took place in Rwanda during the years 2018, and 2019, and a more recent attack in the middle of 2022.
19th June 2018
The first coordinated attack by the FLN took place in Nyabimata in the Nyaruguru district, and a total of three people lost their lives due to the incident. Anathole Maniraho, a devoted teacher and loving father, was one of those who lost their lives on the cursed day. He was made to lie down on his face and was shot in the back.
15th December 2018
The second attack took place in the same year just a few months later, in the Nyungwe jungle located in the Nyamagabe District. The preferred method of attack by the FLN was an assault on the people as they were aboard public transport buses headed down the Kigali-Rusizi Road. Their deaths were nothing less than hardcore executions.
18th June 2022
Following their pattern of the previous ambushes, FLN again went with a vehicular target in 2022, as they shot up a bus in the south of Rwanda – instantly killing two and injuring six more.
Rusesabagina, a legal American resident having dual citizenship of both Belgium and Rwanda, was traveling abroad when he was picked up by Rwandan law enforcement agencies in 2019. He claimed it to be a kidnapping while Rwandan forces declared it a re-direction.
By September 2021, he had been charged with multiple counts of terrorism. Paul Rusesabagina denied the charges vehemently and refused to attend his trial, effectively boycotting the legal procedure. He ended up being sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Hotel Rwanda hero denied the terrorism charges that he and his nineteen co-conspirators were slapped with on every occasion and platform, saying that the FLN wing was formed to help refugees, not to promote or promulgate violence of any kind. Eventually, he and his fellow co-accused had their case advocated by the United States.
Although the Rwandan government was seriously against reducing Rusesabagina’s sentence, as proven when the case appeared in the Court of Appeals in 2022 where Judge Francois Regis Rukundakuvuga gave the decision to reduce the sentence of Callixte Sankara Nsabimana, a spokesperson of the National Liberation Front, down from twenty years to fifteen but did not do the same for Paul.
In October 2022 however, Rusesabagina wrote a letter that detailed requests for pardon to the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame. That letter and a hefty amount of American influence got Paul’s sentence commuted. Still, the Rwandan government made sure to announce that a commutation did not ultimately wipe out the conviction or the crime, indicating next to no sympathy for the convict.
American support is known for being agenda-driven and it just so happens to shine through in the case of the Hotel Rwanda hero as well. Being the flag-bearer for democracy, it was almost an obligation for the superpower to help the man leading anti-government and pro-democratic change movements. However, to cash in on Western help, Paul Rusesabagina had to state in his letter to Kagame, his utmost regrets for being partly connected to FLN. He vowed to leave his political career behind in Rwanda and that he would move to the US permanently.
After he was released from prison, Paul was moved to the residence of the Qatari Ambassador in Kigali. Qatar played a significant role in the sentence commutation and freedom of the Rwandan hero by facilitating the dialogue between Washington and Kigali.
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