On December 10, the world recognizes International Human Rights Day. This is the perfect time to release human rights activist and humanitarian, Paul Rusesabagina. His heroism was documented in the film, “Hotel Rwanda.” He has been credited with saving 1,268 people during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. In 2005, President George W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom “remarkable courage and compassion in the face of genocidal terror.”
On August 27, Rusesabagina was kidnapped, bound, tortured, and taken to Kigali, Rwanda, where he was arrested and initially charged with “criminal mischief.” The charges against him were expanded but the real reason for his arrest and imprisonment is simple; he is an outspoken critic of President Paul Kagame.
This is the ultimate crime for Kagame. For people inside Rwanda, there is the unwritten rule that you do not criticize Kagame, his actions or his government. You also do not challenge his narrative of what happened during the genocide in 1994. Far from being the savior of the nation he now leads, he has been implicated in war crimes committed at the tail end of the genocide. The only thing that prevented his prosecution was intervention by the United States.
So complete is Kagame’s control over his people, he holds reenactments of the 1994 tragedy every year. This has nothing to do with remembering the genocide or commemorating its victims. This is a way to control a population by reminding them what could happen. The world takes time to commemorate the Holocaust. No one takes the time to reenact it.
Outside of Rwanda, Kagame’s reach is large. The long arm of the Kagame machine can be seen in the many ceremonies that take place across the globe where Rwandans pledge loyalty to the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). During the ceremony, Rwandans recite this: “If I betray you or stray from the RPF’s plans and intentions, I would be betraying all Rwandans and must be punished.” This is not something a free society requires.
It is against that backdrop that Rusesabagina was taken and arrested. While Rwanda does not have an extradition treaty with Belgium (where Rusesabagina is a citizen) or the United States (where Rusesabagina is a permanent resident), there is a process when one country wants to arrest the citizen of another nation. That was not followed here. Kagame admitted as much when he boasted that the plan to get Rusesabagina back to Kigali went flawlessly. There is no way Rusesabagina would have gone back to Rwanda voluntarily. Kagame and his regime violated international law by taking Rusesabagina this way.
For several months after his kidnapping, Rusesabagina was denied access to the lawyers he hired. He has been denied communication with his family. His health has suffered and his basic human rights have been violated.
The theme for this year’s International Human Rights Day is “Stand up for Human Rights.” There are few better ways to stand up for human rights than by releasing human rights hero Paul Rusesabagina.