Paul Rusesabagina, the real life hero of the Film "Hotel Rwanda" Needs Your Help

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On August 31st, 2020, Paul Rusesabagina, human rights activist, savior of over 1200 lives during the Rwandan genocide, and subject of the film Hotel Rwanda was paraded handcuffed in front of media by the Rwanda Investigation Bureau. The RIB cited his alleged involvement with domestic terrorism as the reason for the detainment, however, no sources back this claim. Paul Rusesabagina is charged with arson, kidnapping for murder, and terrorism. He had last been seen in Dubai on August 28th, 2020 according to multiple sources. His family claimed that Rusesabagina was kidnapped from Dubai, as he didn’t have any plan to go to Rwanda. Additionally, the United Arab Emirates denies their involvement in the case. 

Rwandan Freedom of Speech & Human Rights Issues

President Paul Kagame’s administration is widely known for being the administration that essentially stamped out the aftereffects of the genocide. This fact is overshared as a way to make up for the fact that Paul Kagame often quells political dissent with the use of force and scare tactics. These tactics have been documented by the UN and other various institutions, but have gone mostly unreported in mainstream media.

Additionally, allied outside countries’ aid has helped Rwanda in their efforts to catch dissenters -- many of whom, like Rusesabagina, now live outside of the country for their own safety. In Rusesabagina’s case, the countries who assisted in his detainment are currently unknown. Furthermore, dozens of dissenters have been assassinated outside Rwanda as well as thousands of refugees massacred

Terror Among Beauty

Rwanda is a beautiful, lush region of the great lakes area of Africa. It’s known for its rolling green hills, biodiversity (including mountain Gorillas), and swaths of agricultural areas. Unfortunately, it is also known for human rights abuses -- and not all of these abuses are in the past. 

Most of the world knows about the 1994 genocide. However, major human rights abuses still happen today. Many of these occur in military detentions and various secret locations around the country. Reports of torture including electrocution as well as mock execution to extract mostly false confessions from detainees run rampant.

But even if a person accused of crimes against the government escapes these torture chambers, they still are subject to imprisonment and smear campaigns that tarnish their reputation and put their lives at risk.

Paul Rusesabagina is no stranger to smear campaigns. Shortly after the release of the Hollywood rendition of his story, Hotel Rwanda, many supporters of the Rwandan regime denounced him as a traitor to his country. Rather than looking at the immense good he did by sheltering victims of the 1994 Genocide, many Rwandan citizens instead scrutinized him over his critique of the current president, Paul Kagame. After Rusesabagina’s comments, Kagame deemed him a “manufactured hero” even after initially lauding his story. 

Paul Resusabagina’s Current Situation

Paul Rusesabagina has avoided Rwanda in the years since Hotel Rwanda’s release, sometimes fearing for his life because of the post-production slander. He resides in both San Antonio, Texas, and Brussels, Belgium where his residence has been previously vandalized. He also remains an outspoken advocate and runs the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation to fight for human rights worldwide. Both Rusesabagina and his family deny the charges put forth by the Rwandan government. 

Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s current president, has been in power since 2000. In the past 3 elections, he had assigned himself over 90% of the vote -- a number and a campaign Rusesabagina called undemocratic. The threat of abuses at the hands of military forces or the government and their ability to be carried out at any point, is what has kept Kagame in power since 2000. In fact, he has jailed credible opponents in each of these 3 elections including two women, Madame Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza in 2010 and Diane Rwigara in 2017.

As you read this story, we ask that you reach out to your members of congress or parliament especially if you are from a donor nation member of the EU or from the US, UK, and Canada and demad immediate unconditional release of Paul Rusesabagina and other prisoners of conscience from custody in Rwanda. For everyone else, we ask that you continue to shine light on Rusesabagina's plight as well as the injustices suffered by Rwandans under the current Kagame regime and demand the release of Paul Rusesabagine and thousands of other prisoners of conscience. You can do this by sharing this story and other stories highlighting these injustices on your social media pages and platforms.

Claude Gatebuke is a Rwandan War and Genocide Survivor and the Executive Director of the African Great Lakes Action Network

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