Two Years of Arbitrary Detention of Hotel Rwanda Hero Paul Rusesabagina

Two years ago on Aug. 27, Belgian citizen and U.S. permanent resident Paul Rusesabagina was tricked by a friend to leave the country for a speaking engagement in Burundi, but instead transferred against his will to Kigali during his layover in Dubai.

Deceived into thinking he was connecting to Burundi, he was abducted by agents of the Rwandan government in Dubai, held incommunicado, restrained, blindfolded, held in solitary confinement for 260 days, and has been arbitrarily detained ever since. A cancer survivor with hypertension and cardiovascular disease, Rusesabagina requires medication and adequate medical treatment, which Rwandan authorities have refused to provide.

Well-known for his heroism during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, Rusesabagina has received many awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in 2005 and the Tom Lantos Human Rights Prize in 2011. However, as an outspoken and lauded critic of President Paul Kagame, the Rwandan government has targeted him for years in an effort to silence him and intimidate dissenting voices. He survived an assassination attempt and obtained political asylum in Belgium then subsequently relocated to the U.S. after he and his family were subjected to coordinated transnational reprisals.

Four months after his abduction, the Rwandan government indicted and subsequently charged him with terrorism. Following a sham trial, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison in September 2021. His detention and trial have been fraught with due process violations in disregard for Rwanda’s international human rights and fair trial rights obligations as well as multiple provisions of its own Constitution.

“The Rwandan government must stop punishing Rusesabagina for exercising his right to freedom of expression,” said Kerry Kennedy, president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “Dissent is essential to a functioning democracy, and his human rights and fair trial rights must be upheld without exception.”

In March 2021, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights filed a petition on his behalf with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD), which released their opinion in March 2022 requesting that Rwanda immediately and unconditionally release him. Notably, the UNWGAD found that Rusesabagina’s detention is not only arbitrary, but also analogous to an enforced disappearance, as his detention location remained unknown to his family and lawyers. The UNWGAD further urged Rwanda to “accord [Rusesabagina] an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations.”

Echoing the UNWGAD’s opinion, Rusesabagina must be immediately and unconditionally released and compensated for his abduction and prolonged arbitrary detention. There must also be an independent investigation to ensure that there is accountability for his mistreatment.

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