Our Voices

#FreeRusesabagina calls on the Rwandan government to release Hotel Rwanda star from arbitrary detention

It has been close to 600 days since Anaise Kanimba hugged her father, Paul Rusesabagina. Close to 600 days since she’s even been able to look him in the eye.

Rusesabagina, the Hotel Rwanda hero who’s been arbitrarily detained by the Rwandan government he has spoken out against, remains in prison without access to necessary medication as his health deteriorates.

“My dad is sick….we believe he had a stroke. We need the help of the world so he can come back to us so that the injustice he’s living ends,” Kanimba said.

Kanimba joined a #FreeRusesabagina virtual panel moderated by Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights President Kerry Kennedy on April 13. The panel also featured award-winning actor and producer Don Cheadle, who played Rusesabagina in the movie, Hotel Rwanda, as well as the Oscar-nominated film’s director Terry George. Also speaking were Rusesabagina lead counsel Kate Gibson, RFK Human Rights Staff Attorney Ikechukwu Uzoma, Lantos Foundation President Katrina Lantos Swett, and Freedom House Vice President Nicole Bibbins Sedaca.

Since the Rwandan genocide 26 years ago, Rusesabagina and his family faced varying forms of attacks in retaliation for his criticism of the Rwandan government. Following a failed assassination attempt, he sought and obtained political asylum in Belgium and subsequently relocated to the United States after he was subjected to coordinated transnational reprisals including personal and family intimidation, death threats, harassment, and burglary of his home. His most recent abduction, illegal transfer from Dubai to Kigali, then subsequent enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention, and inhumane treatment are part of a systematic operation of the Rwandan government to stifle opposition and punish critics both at home and abroad.

The movie, Hotel Rwanda, was released in 2004. “Obviously I had intended to make a movie of what took place,” George said, “but now this has grown into the seminal and classic story of the manipulation of media, the use of power against the individual, the destruction of truth and it has gone from a powerful story to an unbelievable story of control and manipulation.”

The recent opinion of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention – in response to a petition filed by RFK Human Rights – and a report by the Clooney Foundation’s TrialWatch establish that Rwanda egregiously violated human rights law in the abduction, rendition, detention, and unfair trial of Rusesabagina. The UN Working Group’s inquiry found that Rusesabagina’s abduction and enforced disappearance “violate numerous substantive and procedural provisions of the international Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and constitute a particularly aggravated form of arbitrary detention.” The TrialWatch report reveals a string of procedural improprieties and breach of fair trial guarantees, including the Rwandan government depriving Rusesabagina of access to his counsel of choice and a facility to prepare his defense. The report also notes that the Court unjustifiably admitted inadmissible and unverified evidence obtained through coercion and force.

Still, on April 4, Rwanda’s Court of Appeal upheld a 25-year prison sentence against Rusesabagina for committing “terrorism.” The prosecution had requested a life sentence.

“Paul’s ordeal at the hands of the Rwandan government is emblematic of a worrying trend.

Dissent is an essential component of the right to freedom of expression,” Kennedy said.

Lantos Swett described it as imperative to “ramp up the pressure on our own government until this U.S. permanent resident is released and returned to his family.”

A recording of the panel can be viewed here.