Daughter of 'Hotel Rwanda' hero fears lack of fair trial on 'made-up' charges

The family of Paul Rusesabagina has alleged that the Rwandan government is coercing the 66-year-old human rights advocate to admit the "made-up charges" against him, and has asked the international community to seek his release.

Paul Rusesabagina who is credited with saving the lives of 1,200 minority Tutsis during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, last month admitted to backing Rwandan rebel groups when he appeared before a Kigali court, facing terrorism charges. But his daughter is calling on the international community to pressure the Rwandan government to free her father, claiming he is being forced to admit things he didn’t do.

“Given what the Rwandan government does to people in the prisons – we know about the brutality, we know about the torture – so, whatever he is saying in the hands of Paul Kagame, has to be taken with that consideration,” Carine Kanimba, Mr Rusesabagina’s youngest daughter told SBS Radio.


Key points

  • Paul Rusesabagina's family alleges that he was kidnapped by the Rwandan authorities during his trip to Dubai.
  • Mr Rusesabagina has been charged with multiple terrorism offences and was refused bail.
  • His daughter says he is being coerced into admitting the charges against him, and is calling on the international community to seek his release.

Mr Rusesabagina was the general manager at Mille Collines hotel at the time of the 1994 Rwandan genocide that killed some 800,000 people. He was depicted in the Oscar-nominated movie ‘Hotel Rwanda’ as using his connections to save the minority Tutsis from the bloodshed by sheltering them in the hotel.  

He left Rwanda in 1996 and claimed asylum in Belgium where he became a Belgian citizen. He is also a permanent resident of the United States.

Refugees who fled the genoci in neighboring Rwanda carry water containers back to their huts at a refugee camp in Tanzania, near the border with Rwanda.
Refugees who fled the genoci in neighboring Rwanda carry water containers back to their huts at a refugee camp in Tanzania, near the border with Rwanda.
AP Photo/Karsten Thielker

The 66-year-old human rights advocate was arrested and charged with terrorism offences in August after he travelled to Dubai from the US. While the Rwandan authorities claim his arrest was made because of international cooperation, his family says Mr Rusesabagina was kidnapped.

“We know that the Rwandan government had been after him for many years. They tried to get the other authorities, the US, Belgium, to hand him over to them based on made-up allegations of Kagame’s regime but nobody agreed. They had to go to the extent of kidnapping him,” alleges Ms Kanimba, who is currently in Brussels to marshal support from the European parliament for the release of her father.

After the arrest, Rwandan president Paul Kagame appeared on television and refuted claims of kidnapping. He says Mr Rusesabagina travelled to the country on his own volition.

Family photographs of some of those who died hang on display in an exhibition at the Kigali Genocide Memorial centre in the capital Kigali, Rwanda.
Family photographs of some of those who died hang on display in an exhibition at the Kigali Genocide Memorial centre in the capital Kigali, Rwanda.
AP Photo/Ben Curtis

Last week, the Rwandan Prosecutor General Aimable Havugiyaremye announced various terrorism charges against Mr Rusesabagina, including financing terrorism, recruiting child soldiers, kidnapping, arson, and forming terror groups. He said the charges were in connection with his leadership role in the armed group known as MRCD - Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change which is an opposition party based overseas.

He is also accused of forming another armed group – National Liberation Front (FLN), which has claimed responsibility for attacks in Nyungwe near the border with Burundi.

“We formed the FLN (National Liberation Front) as an armed wing, not as a terrorist group as the prosecution keeps saying. I do not deny that the FLN committed crimes, but my role was diplomacy,” Al Jazeera quoted him as saying in the court.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (
Paul Rusesabagina with former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Hollywood superstar Angelina Jolie.
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

‘It’s personal.’

Ms Kanimba says there cannot be a fair trial in Rwanda and has accused the Rwandan president of trying to “silence” her father for not following his line on the 1994 genocide.

“My father called out Paul Kagame for the crimes he committed after the war and until this point today. He started advocating for the people he (Kagame) had done wrong to and also refused to follow the one story that Paul Kagame wants people to believe about what happened in the genocide.”

After he left Rwanda, Paul Rusesabagina was awarded the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 for his efforts to save the lives during the Rwandan genocide.

Paul Rusesabagina is handcuffed by a police officer after his pre-trial court session at the Kicukiro Primary court in Kigali, Rwanda, on September 14, 2020.
Paul Rusesabagina is handcuffed by a police officer after his pre-trial court session at the Kicukiro Primary court in Kigali, Rwanda, on September 14, 2020.
Getty Images

In the following years, he became a fierce critic of Paul Kagame, accusing his regime of human rights abuses.

Ms Kanimba says her father’s alleged kidnapping is driven by Mr Kagame’s personal jealousy.  

“Kagame doesn’t like that another Rwandan man is portrayed as a hero, so he has tried to silence him and kill him for many years,” she says.

“My father worked for a couple of years at the hotel for a couple of years after the genocide, and during that time, Kagame knew my father because he came there to play tennis but never tried to hurt him. It’s only after Hotel Rwanda was released and my father received all those international awards that it became a personal fight for Kagame due to his jealousy.”

She says the authorities aren’t allowing the lawyers chosen by Mr Rusesabagina’s family to meet him. She is calling on the international community to pressure the Rwandan government to release her father.

“There’s no way he is going to get a fair trial in Rwanda. Starting with the way he got to Rwanda - kidnapping him, blindfolding him, tying his hands, and keeping him incommunicado for days – we only got to speak to him 15 days into his arrest.

“We want the international community to ask for his release, whether he is tried for these made-up charges somewhere else, so be it. But in Rwanda, there's no fair trial.”