Will the World Step in and Save Paul Rusesabagina?

Paul Rusesabagina
By Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation
What do Paul Rusesabagina, Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi and Alexei Navalny have in common? They are all people who have stood up to the human rights violations of dictatorships and paid for it. Right now though, the United States and the world have an opportunity to help one of them before it is too late.

In 1994 during the terrible genocide in Rwanda, Paul Rusesabagina saved the lives of 1,268 people as depicted in the movie Hotel Rwanda. Sadly as Paul and others put out regular calls for assistance, the world refused to intervene. Now Paul was captured and thrown into prison in Rwanda because he is a consistent and vocal opponent of Rwandan dictator Paul Kagame.

This situation is very similar to the type of dissent raised by Navalny in Russia and Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia. Rusesabagina’s capture was very similar to Navalny’s, a regular critic of Vladimir Putin. Both were kidnapped and jailed for their political views by dictators who do not tolerate dissent.

Luckily so far, Rusesabagina’s story has not ended the way Khashoggi’s did – when Khashoggi was lured into the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey and killed by agents of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. But unfortunately that may all change soon.

Over the past week, the Rwandan government has made it clear to the world that they are plotting to kill Rusesabagina, just as they admitted to the plot to carry out his kidnapping from San Antonio, Texas, to Dubai, and then on to Rwanda. Last week, Justice Minister Johnston Busingye announced in an interview with Al Jazeera that his office was following a plot to help Rusesabagina escape from his maximum security prison in Rwanda.

This is sadly a common way that the Rwandan government is known to assassinate political opponents. While capital punishment may be illegal in Rwanda, human rights organizations regularly decry the many extrajudicial killings carried out by President Kagame’s government each year. Prisoners are frequently killed or “commit suicide” in prison, and others have been killed while “trying to escape.”

Is the Rwandan government, one of the most repressive in the world with enormous control over their population, really so weak that they cannot control their prisoners? That they cannot stop all of these alleged prison breaks? Particularly in the case of Paul Rusesabagina, arguably the highest profile prisoner the Rwandan’s have ever held, this is patently ridiculous.

Rwandan agents have been trying to lure Rusesabagina’s family and colleagues into their plot since November 2020, beginning with messages to his daughter from an alleged prison guard who fears for Paul’s life, and is offering to assist in his escape in exchange for expenses. These numerous contacts were quickly reported to US and Belgian authorities to put them on record. Similar contacts were received by Rusesabagina colleagues, and now by his oldest daughter. This week, his wife received information from a trusted source inside of Rwanda that the government may be moving Paul into the general prison population, with the intent of having him killed by a fellow prisoner.

In Europe, information is now available that the Rwandan Embassy in the Netherlands is planning a meeting this week to organize a protest at the Hague asking for an investigation into the murder of Paul Rusesabagina after they kill him. This is part of the plot to pretend that they are not responsible. A source in the Netherlands is part of these communications and will keep us informed.

All of this points to the Rwandan government considering the “best” way to kill Paul Rusesabagina, hoping to minimize their own culpability. The fact is though, Paul Rusesabagina is now a prisoner in Rwanda, brought there against his will, and his health and safety are now firmly the responsibility of President Paul Kagame. If Rusesabagina dies, whether in prison, during an “escape,” or of poor health, then Kagame is responsible.

The United States, Belgium and the rest of the world have a choice. Leave Paul Rusesabagina on his own as they did in 1994 during the Rwandan genocide as they did to Jamal Khashoggi and Alexei Navalny. And then one day he will be dead at the hands of a dictator. At that point, the world can pound their chests, but a humanitarian hero will be dead.

Or the United States and Belgian governments, as well as the European Union and others, can step in NOW and put immediate and strong pressure on Paul Kagame to free Paul Rusesabagina.

The United States State Department can begin the process by immediately invoking the new Khashoggi Ban (visa restrictions policy under Section 212(a)(3)(C) of the INA) as an initial step to impose visa restrictions on President Paul Kagame, members of the Rwandan Investigation Bureau, military and others in the regime involved in the kidnapping of Paul Rusesabagina and other illegal activities against Rwandans abroad, and members of their immediate families. This should be followed by other steps as appropriate by the administration and the US Congress.

If the world is serious about stopping human rights violations and extrajudicial killings by the violators, the time to start is now. The world did not listen to Paul Rusesabagina’s plight in 1994. Will they respond this time, or will they allow him to die?


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