His story was told in the Oscar-nominated film “Hotel Rwanda,” and he received numerous awards for his bravery and humanitarian work.
Now as representative heads of state, including the Prince of Wales, descend on Rwanda for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) Monday, they must not turn a blind eye to the host nation’s human rights violations.
While it is sad that the CHOGM is being held this year in a country that does not adhere to the Commonwealth’s core values and principles, we must see this as an opportunity to shine a light on Rwanda’s lack of democracy.
Our family is asking Prince Charles not to remain silent to this reality and to not shake the hand of the tyrant who is holding our father as a political prisoner.
The United States recently classified our father as a “wrongful detainee,” noting the massive irregularities in his capture and trial.
Paul Rusesabagina, his wife Taciana Rusesabagina and their adopted daughter Carine Kanimba in 1995.
This includes both political opponents and former members of the regime who are seen as
potential threats. Rwanda is a government that rules only for Kagame and a small elite.
Our father is also one of many victims of Rwanda’s practice of transnational repression
, a tactic typically used by Russia
, where a government reaches across borders to silence critics. In addition to my father’s case, Rwandan officials
and agents harass and intimidate opponents in other countries, including the US, United Kingdom and Europe.
Our father was kidnapped almost two years ago, lured from our home in San Antonio, Texas, through Dubai, where he was tricked into boarding a flight to Kigali. An agent of the Rwandan Government, posing as a Bishop, asked our father to come to Burundi and speak to church groups about reconciliation. Having boarded a plane in Dubai expecting to fly to Burundi, he was drugged, waking only to realize he had landed in Kigali, Rwanda — a place to which he would never voluntarily return.
On arrival he was tortured
for four days and forced to make a false confession, which was then used as “evidence” against him. He had no access to counsel of his choosing. He was forced to endure solitary confinement for 250 days, in violation of the UN’s Nelson Mandela rules, which characterize imprisonment of over 15 days in solitary confinement as torture.
And he was subjected to what international monitors agree
is a sham trial, with no credible evidence presented that he was involved in any way in the terrorism-related crimes
of which he was accused.
The Rwandan government has rejected all criticism of these processes, incredibly claiming that it has acted in a manner consistent with international law.
Even more heartbreaking, is that governments like the UK continue to partner with the Rwandan regime, including in the scheme to offshore vulnerable asylum seekers
to Rwanda. It is unsurprising that the British government’s willingness to turn a blind eye to Rwanda’s widespread human rights abuses is garnering huge opposition from the church
, civil societies, and all those who care about the plight of those fleeing for a better life.
Now our father has been sentenced to 25 years imprisonment, which will be a life sentence for a man who last week turned 68. Our only wish for his birthday is to bring him home safe to us. He is a cancer survivor with hypertension whose health is deteriorating while he is incarcerated. His current symptoms, including a weak right arm and facial paralysis, indicate that he may have had one or more strokes already while in prison, but these go untreated.
While it is still incomprehensible to us, and so many victims of the Rwandan regime around the world, that Rwanda was given the privilege of hosting the CHOGM this year, its presence in Kigali also offers a unique opportunity.
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The Prince of Wales and other CHOGM leaders can choose to focus on their shared values and principles and push those members who do not uphold those values in practice to do so. This includes Kagame’s Rwanda. Although Prince Charles is not a political figure, he can seek dialogue behind closed doors, or even ask to visit our father.
Rwanda has many friends in the CHOGM, both countries and individuals, and we urge the Prince of Wales and all of the other leaders assembled not to stay silent and to ask Kagame to provide our father with a compassionate release now, before it is too late.
Our father saved us in 1994. We plead with the international community to take this opportunity to save him.