Paul Rusesabagina, a hero during the 1994 Rwandan genocide and the inspiration for the film “Hotel Rwanda,” insisted that Washington needs to do more to save victims in Darfur, Sudan, during a program at the National Press Club Monday.
The event, “Taking Action on Darfur: A Capital Alert,” coordinated by the American Jewish Committee, featured Rusesabagina, a Rwandan native who turned his hotel into an impromptu refugee camp for more 1,000 victims during the 1994 genocide. Rusesabagina spoke to an audience of about 50 GW students and other D.C. activists, urging them to take greater steps to stop the genocide in the Darfur region of Western Sudan.
“Hundreds of thousands of people have been butchered since I was a young boy and nothing has been done,” Rusesabagina said. “The international community has declined responsibilities, and the whole of Africa is burning.”
About 180,000 people have died in Darfur, and more than 2 million have been displaced from their homes since 2003, when the genocide started, according to an Associated Press report. The Arab government in control is accused of employing militias to destroy villages and kill civilians.
Saying that the lessons learned from Rwanda must be applied to Darfur, Rusesabagina explained the genocide that occurred in that country. About 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed by Hutu militias after the assassination of an ethnic Hutu leader in 1994.
Charles Snyder, senior representative on Sudan for the U.S. Department of State, and Brian Steidle, a former U.S. Marine and Darfur eyewitness who has traveled and photographed the region, also participated in the event. The program featured Steidle’s photographs to draw attention to the civil war that has devastated Darfur.
Steidle said that the violence in Darfur is initiated by the Sudanese government for the purpose of eradicating the black people of Darfur.
“This is still ongoing. Has the violence declined in the past six months? Yes it has. That’s because there are few villages left to burn,” he said.
Talia Levin, a representative of the American Jewish Committee, said the U.S. government and the international community must be urged to take action “until the genocide ceases and the people of Darfur are safe.”
“We must coordinate our response individually and collectively,” she said.
Snyder said that changing the situation in Darfur is not going to be easy, and activists must be in it for the long run.
“This is about the marginalized people finally getting their share from the government,” he said. “We must urge the government to change the political system in Sudan.”
Students from GW’s chapter of Students Taking Action Now: Darfur, an organization that raises awareness about the current situation in Darfur and advocates for help in the region, encouraged students to attend the event.
Sara Weisman, a member of GW STAND, said the RSVP list for the event included more than 50 students.
Some students at the event said that Rusesabagina’s story was captivating.
“Every time a genocide happens we say ‘never again,'” STAND member Justin Zorn said. “Paul Rusesabagina has seen genocide in real life, which is why it is so inspiring to hear him speak.”
Andrea Carcelen, a GW sophomore at the event, said she learned about the crisis in Darfur through an international affairs simulation. She heard about the event through STAND and is now considering joining the organization.
“I really feel that something should be done,” she said. “We can’t just sit back.”