On Tuesday, Rep. Joaquin Castro introduced a bipartisan resolution calling on the government of Rwanda to release activist Paul Rusesabagina, who has been imprisoned since 2020. Rusesabagina is credited with saving the lives of more than 1,000 people during the Rwandan genocide, a story that was portrayed by the Oscar-nominated film “Hotel Rwanda.”
“Mr. Paul Rusesabagina has been unfairly targeted and imprisoned for using his elevated platform and prominence to oppose an oppressive Rwandan government,” Castro said in a statement. “President Kagame and the Republic of Rwanda must immediately release Mr. Rusesabagina on humanitarian grounds and return him home to his family in San Antonio, Texas.”
Castro, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Development, International Organizations, and Global Corporate Social Impact, introduced the resolution alongside Rep. Young Kim (R-CA).
In 1994, up to 800,000 Rwandans were murdered in just 100 days. The genocide was perpetrated by Hutu extremists against members of the Tutsi ethnic minority, although moderate Hutus and Twa were killed as well. Born to a Hutu father and Tutsi mother, Rusesabagina was the manager of Hotel des Mille Collines at the time. 1,268 refugees took shelter in the hotel and Rusesabagina is credited with keeping them safe through his money, connections, and persuasiveness (it should be noted that his role during the genocide is the subject of controversy).
Two years after the genocide, Rusesabagina left Rwanda for Belgium before eventually settling in San Antonio. His story was largely unknown until the release of Hotel Rwanda in 2005, where he was portrayed by Don Cheadle.
Although hailed as a hero internationally, Rusesabagina drew the ire of the Rwandan government. He has been a vocal critic of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, whose rule has come under scrutiny for its autocracy. In late August of 2020, Rusesabagina boarded a private jet in Dubai that he believed was headed for Burundi. It was a trap; the plane instead landed in Kigali where Rusesabagina was promptly arrested. A year later he was convicted on terrorism charges and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Rusesabagina’s arrest and imprisonment received widespread condemnation as an illegal transnational kidnapping followed by a sham trial. The Rwandan intelligence services have a long history of targeting Kagame’s opponents abroad but going after a high-profile figure and U.S. permanent resident might be their most brazen act so far. The fact that Rusesabagina is a 67-year old cancer survivor with a cardiovascular disorder has caused additional concern.
“The unjustifiable human rights abuses against Mr. Rusesabagina are nefarious and deeply rooted in corruption,” said Castro. “His chronic medical conditions severely compromise his health and require close monitoring, which presents an even graver threat amid the COVID-19 pandemic.”