Our Voices

RFK Human Rights Welcomes the Release of “Hotel Rwanda” Hero Paul Rusesabagina

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights welcomes the release of “Hotel Rwanda” hero Paul Rusesabagina after 969 days of arbitrary detention in Rwanda. We congratulate Mr. Rusesesabagina’s family, friends, colleagues and #FreeRusesabagina campaign supporters for the spirited efforts towards his release and wish him a speedy recovery. At the same time, we urge the government of Rwanda to take all steps necessary to compensate Mr. Rusesabagina for the violations he suffered while detained in the country.

Mr. Rusesabagina’s release comes one year after the determination by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) that his arrest and detention breached international human rights law binding on Rwanda. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights co-filed the petition before the Working Group.

His recent release, though long overdue, is in line with the opinion of the UNWGAD which also urges the government to grant him an enforceable right to compensation. In addition, the opinion urges the Rwandan government to “ensure a full and independent investigation of the circumstances surrounding the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of Mr. Rusesabagina and to take appropriate measures against those responsible for the violation of his rights”.

The circumstances surrounding Rusessabagina’s abduction and subsequent detention in Rwanda are reflective of the trend of domestic and transnational repression perpetrated by the government. Believing that he was traveling to speak in Burundi, Mr Rusesaagina was tricked by Rwandan officials to board a private plane paid for by the government and deployed to deliver him to Kigali. His abduction came after a failed assassination attack in Rwanda and subsequent attacks sponsored by Rwandan agents in Belgium after Rusesabagina sought and obtained asylum in the European country.

Like other prisoners of conscience in Rwanda, Rusesabagina’s detention and trial were riddled with violations of fair trial guarantees. He was denied access to his lawyers and instead the government foisted on him two state-appointed lawyers who effectively sabotaged his case. Despite his poor health condition, his bail applications were refused and he wasn’t allowed access to family-appointed doctors. Rusesabagina was held in pretrial detention without access to documents or materials to prepare his defense. He was not allowed to call his family or lawyers and was limited to receiving a 5-minute-long non-confidential weekly call from his family. His lawyers were prohibited from taking any documents or electronic devices to their meetings with him and were sometimes subjected to invasive searches of their bodies.

As he commences his recovery, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights President Kerry Kennedy expressed hope that Rusesabagina’s release is the beginning of the end of Rwanda’s practice of repressing dissent and arbitrarily detaining critics. “I’m thrilled Paul can finally spend time with his cherished family and loved ones after over 900 days of arbitrary detention. His abduction, detention and judicial persecution violate human rights and no one should endure such horrors.”