Timeline of the Kidnapping of Paul Rusesabagina

Briefing Paper: The Arrest and Trial of Paul Rusesabagina In Rwanda

Paul Rusesabagina:  Mr Rusesabagina, 67, is a Belgian citizen, US permanent resident, and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom; the highest civilian honour in the US. An hotelier by training, he saved the lives of 1,268 people in Hotel des Mille Collines during the Rwandan genocide. Mr Rusesabagina founded the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation, a US 501(c)(3) non-governmental and non-profit organization that worked to promote reconciliation and peace in Africa’s Great Lakes region, and support survivors and victims of genocide. The foundation grew to have a long term goal of working with the international community to achieve an unbiased Truth and Reconciliation process in Rwanda, not one controlled through one side or the other. After criticising declining civil space, democracy and political and human rights in Rwanda, he became a target of the current regime. 


The kidnapping: Mr Rusesabagina was kidnapped on 27 August 2020 and was the subject of an extraordinary rendition to Rwanda. Believing he was going to Burundi, Mr Rusesabagina was drugged on the plane, bound and gagged on landing, and then held for four days in an unknown location, during which he was physically tortured. On 31 August 2020, he signed a statement agreeing to a series of incriminating propositions put to him by the Rwandan Investigative Bureau (RIB), in the absence of a lawyer. This statement is at the center of the Judgment against him. The decision to kidnap him appears to have been prompted by a Rwanda’s failure to secure Mr Rusesabagina’s legal transfer or extradition to Rwanda by either Belgium or the United States. Out of options, they arranged for him to be kidnapped. 


What Rwanda is saying: Rwanda first claimed that the arrest was as a result of “international cooperation”. Then, in response to a claim brought by Mr Rusesabagina before the East African Court of Justice, the former Rwandan Minister of Justice, Mr Johnston Busingye, submitted that Mr Rusesabagina “knows very well that Respondent found him at Kigali Airport as he landed without any involvement of the Respondent.” This was exposed as a lie when Mr. Busingye later admitted during an interview on Al-Jazeera that Rwanda had paid for the plane that brought Mr Rusesabagina to Rwanda, having mistakenly sent a preparation video to Al-Jazeera in which he is recorded asking his PR firm whether he should lie about Rwanda having paid for the plane. 


The Trial: The Rwandan President made repeated public statements that Mr Rusesabagina was guilty of terrorism and murder, violating his right to be presumed innocent. Mr Rusesabagina’s right to consular assistance was violated, he was not brought promptly before a Judge, he was not given access to lawyers of his own choosing for months, he was denied his right to adequate time and facilities to prepare, and to confidential communication with his counsel, with privileged documents being routinely intercepted and read at the highest levels of government. Written motions seeking concrete remedies for violations of these rights were ignored by the Court, and never adjudicated. 


Surveillance of Mr Rusesabagina’s Lawyers and Family: Amnesty International’s forensic lab confirmed the presence of Pegasus software on the phone of Mr Rusesabagina’s daughter, Carine. This software was active for the duration of high-level meetings including with the Belgian Foreign Minister, and representatives of the UK FCDO. Mr Rusesabagina’s lawyer in Rwanda was also included on a list of Pegasus targets in Rwanda, by the Organised Crime Corruption and Reporting Project (OCCRP). Mr. Rusesabagina’s lawyers in Kigali are prohibited from exchanging any documents with their client, and are required to submit to a full search of their possessions and persons before entering and leaving.


The Judgment: Mr Rusesabagina was convicted of 8 of 9 charges, and sentenced to 25 years in prison, an effective life sentence. The Judges found that he was a member of and supported the “MRCD-FLN” terrorist organization, and was criminally responsible for attacks they were alleged to have carried out in the Nyungwe Forest in Rwanda in 2018-2019. The trial recordings, available on the Rwandan Judiciary YouTube page, demonstrate that there was no credible evidence brought against Mr Rusesabagina. Factual findings in the Judgment rely on his coerced statement of 31 August 2020, and manipulate and misrepresent the evidence heard. Evidence from his co-accused exonerating Paul and recanting prior coerced statements feature nowhere in the Judgment. 


Magnitsky Sanctions: On 18 May 2021, the Lantos Foundation filed submissions before the US Department of State and the US Department of Treasury recommending Global Magnitsky sanctions against the former Justice Minister Johnston Busingye, and the head of the RIB Colonel Jeannot Ruhunga, for their role in human rights violations committed against Paul Rusesabagina, identified as his “extraordinary rendition and kidnapping in August 2020”. On 8 December 2021, the UK Parliament APPG of Magnitsky Sanctions called for sanctions against the same two officials.


What happens next: Mr Rusesabagina is ill. A 67-year old cancer survivor with high blood pressure, Paul complains of daily dizziness and headaches, and has missed two vital screenings which track whether his cancer has returned.  His prescription medication was provided by the Embassy of the Kingdom of Belgium in Kigali to the Rwandan Prison authorities via diplomatic pouch in September 2020, but has not been given to him. Mr Ruesesabagina’s treating doctor in Belgium wrote on 20 September 2020 that any interruption to his medical regime “[c]arry a risk of severe hypertensive surge and complications such as stroke.”


Further information: 


Trial Monitoring and Reports 

• American Bar Association/Clooney Foundation for Justice Monitoring Report. See here.

• Freedom House – Transitional repression report, Rwanda case study. See here



• EU Parliament resolution (February 2021) – Asks for investigation to the illegality of Rusesabagina’s arrest 

  and ask for a fair trial. See here.

• Belgium Parliament Resolution (June 2021) condemning the kidnapping, torture, and calls for 

  repatriation to Belgium

• EU Parliament resolution (October 2021) – Emergency resolution condemning trial verdict and asking for 

  humanitarian release and repatriation. See here

• Balearic Island resolution – the Parliament of the Balearic Islands. See here


Congressional Letters 

• Bi-partisan and bicameral Congressional letter to President Kagame requesting Rusesabagina’s immediate humanitarian release (December 2020). See here.

• Bi-partisan and bicameral Congressional letter to Secretary Blinken inquiring on the progress of the State Department to secure Rusesabagina’s humanitarian’s release. See here.


Responses to the verdict

• U.S. State Department: Paul Rusesabagina Case Outcome. See here.

• Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Belgium considers that Mr. Rusesabagina did not receive a fair and   

  due process. See here.

• Amnesty International: Rwanda: numerous fair trial concerns in Paul Rusesabagina case. See here.

• Human Rights Watch: Rwanda: Rwanda: Paul Rusesabagina Convicted in Flawed Trial. See here.

• American Bar Association: Rwanda’s Rusesabagina guilty verdict declared unfair by ABA Center for Human Rights. See here.

• Clooney Foundation for Justice: ‘Hotel Rwanda’ Proceedings were a show trial. See here.

• Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Foundation: Humanitarian and Political Activist Paul Rusesabagina 

  Wrongfully Convicted. See here.



• Global Magnitsky Sanctions filing on Rwandan officials involved in the criminal activity of kidnapping 

  Rusesabagina. See here.

• UN filing to the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. See here.


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