UN Petition: Arbitrary Detention of Paul Rusesabagina

On March 16, 2021, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and Choharis Law Group jointly submitted a petition to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on behalf of Paul Rusesabagina. Mr. Rusesabagina is a prominent humanitarian and political activist who was kidnapped by Rwandan authorities on August 27, 2020, held incommunicado, and has continued to be arbitrarily detained for 201 days on alleged terrorism charges without effective legal assistance or proper medical treatment.

A Belgian citizen and U.S. permanent resident residing with his family in San Antonio, Texas, Mr. Rusesabagina is well-known as the inspiration behind the film Hotel Rwanda about his heroism during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. In 2005, U.S. President George W. Bush awarded Mr. Rusesabagina the Presidential Medal of Freedom. As an outspoken critic of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Mr. Rusesabagina has been targeted by the Kagame regime for years.

On August 27, 2020, Mr. Rusesabagina was lured from the U.S. and transferred against his will from Dubai to Rwanda. He was deceived into thinking he was flying to Burundi and instead taken to Rwanda. For at least three days his whereabouts were unknown to his family or legal counsel, constituting an enforced disappearance prohibited under international law.

Mr. Rusesabagina suffers from serious health conditions. He has been denied his blood pressure medication, even though denial of medical treatment while imprisoned contravenes international law. The global COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbates the need for his release from prison, where the virus often spreads rapidly.

Mr. Rusesabagina’s arrest and continued detention violate multiple provisions of both the Rwandan Constitution and international human rights law, and take place amidst escalating repression of criticism and dissent by Rwandan authorities under the rule of President Paul Kagame. Contrary to its obligation to respect fundamental freedoms, including the freedoms of expression and opinion, the Kagame regime continues to restrict civic space and use pre-trial detention as a means for silencing its opponents, both domestically and transnationally.

“The kidnapping, physical abuse, and sham trial of Paul Rusesabagina are hallmarks of Kagame’s autocracy,” said Wade McMullen, SVP of Programs & Legal Strategy. “For far too long Kagame has been given a pass by the international community as he strangles freedoms at home and violently silences critics abroad while claiming to be ‘countering terrorism.’”

On February 11, 2021, the European Union Parliament passed a resolution condemning the “enforced disappearance, illegal rendition and incommunicado detention” of Mr. Rusesabagina, while denouncing the “Rwandan authorities’ restrictions of fundamental rights and freedoms and arbitrary use of pre-trial detention for repressing dissent.” 37 Members of the U.S. Congress sent a letter in December, noting that Mr. Rusesabagina was extrajudicially transferred to Rwanda and called on the Rwandan government to release him and let him return to his family in the U.S. on humanitarian grounds.

As detailed in the petition, Mr. Rusesabagina’s detention is arbitrary because he was arrested and detained without proper legal justification; because his detention resulted from his right to freedom of expression; because the government continues to deny his due process rights required under international law; and because he was targeted by the government on account of his political opinion.

Read Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights’ full petition to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention