Our Voices

5 Things to Know About the Paul Rusesabagina Case

July 27, Carine Kanimba, the youngest daughter of Hotel Rwanda hero Paul Rusesabagina, testified before the U.S. House Intelligence Committee about a malware attack on her phone allegedly carried out by the Paul Kagame-led Rwandan government which has prosecuted and jailed her father over trumped-up allegations of terrorism. Here’s what you need to know about the Rusesabagina case:

Rusesabagina is a Belgian citizen and U.S. permanent resident who lived with his family in San Antonio, Texas. He is well-known as the inspiration behind the film Hotel Rwanda which depicts his heroism during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. In 2005, U.S. President George W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. A vocal critic of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Rusesabagina has been targeted by the Kagame regime for years.

On August 27, 2020, he was lured from his home in the U.S. to Dubai and deceived into thinking he was flying to Burundi. Instead, he was sedated and forcefully flown to Kigali where he was detained. For at least three days, his whereabouts were unknown to his family or legal counsel, constituting enforced disappearance prohibited under international law. He was held in solitary confinement for 260 days, and remained in detention until September 20, 2021, when the Rwandan High Court’s Special Chamber for International Crimes and Cross-border Crimes sentenced him to 25 years in prison, following a sham trial.

Before the trial began, Rusesabagina’s rights to be brought promptly before a judge, be presumed innocent, and have access to consular assistance were violated. He was not allowed access to lawyers of his own choosing for many weeks, or access to his international lawyers. Privileged documents were routinely confiscated and read by prison and other officials. He was denied access to his casefile and had no time or means to prepare his defence. His Rwandan lawyers faced harassment and discrimination by prison authorities, limiting their effective representation.

Rusesabagina, a cancer survivor who suffers from hypertension and cardiovascular disorders, was denied access to food, water and medication, according to his family lawyers.

On March 16, 2021, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and the Peter Choharis Law Group filed a petition to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) on behalf of Rusesabagina. In its opinion dated March 18, 2022, the UNGWAD found that the Rwandan government abducted and has arbitrarily detained Rusesabagina for over 20 months. It requested his immediate, unconditional release and an independent investigation of his abduction.

In May, the U.S. Department of State designated Rusesabagina as a “wrongfully detained” person. On July 14, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution calling on the government of Rwanda to release Rusesabagina. “The Rwandan Government’s harassment of dissidents and those critical of the government is alarming, and the trial and the process by which Mr. Rusesabagina was apprehended appears to further this concerning pattern. I am praying for his well being and am proud that Congress could come together to urge the Biden administration to prioritize securing his immediate release and raise his case with the highest levels of the Rwandan government,” said Congresswoman Young Kim (CA-39) who co-authored the resolution.

To learn more about RFK Human Rights’ involvement in the case, click here.