Paul Rusesabagina, the man portrayed in the film Rwandan hotels who saved more than 1,200 people during the country’s 1994 genocide, has been detained in Rwanda for 20 months on terrorism charges that human rights groups call a farce. Now his family is suing the Rwandan government for $400 million, saying he was kidnapped, tortured and illegally imprisoned.
The Rwandan government kidnapped Rusesabagina, 67, in August 2020 in Dubai. Last September, a Rwandan court sentenced him to 25 years in prison. Rusesabagina is a permanent resident of the US and holds Belgian citizenship.
“The Rwandan government has openly admitted that it planned an elaborate operation within the United States to track down Paul Rusesabagina and use its agents to trick him into traveling – with false promises of a contract of employment in Burundi – from his home in the United States to Rwanda.” , say the family’s lawyers in court documents. “He was drugged and taken to Rwanda, where President Paul Kagame’s security agents forcibly kidnapped him, tortured him and forced him to be illegally detained.”
Rusesabagina has been a harsh critic of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, accusing him of war crimes and human rights violations. The family says the government attacked him in response.
Rusesabagina is best known for his heroism in 1994 as manager of the Hôtel des Mille Collines in Kigali, narrated in the Hollywood film Rwandan hotels. He gave shelter to over 1,200 people during extermination efforts that claimed an estimated 800,000 lives.
He has received several humanitarian awards, including the US Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in 2005.
In the late 2000s, Rusesabagina and his wife, Taciana, moved to the United States, settling as legal residents in San Antonio, Texas. But the Rwandan government spent years chasing, spying on and harassing Rusesabagina and her family, family lawyers say.
On August 27, 2020, Rusesabagina was traveling from the US to Burundi for contractual work. But his family said he disappeared during a stopover in the United Arab Emirates. The Rwandan Bureau of Investigation announced four days later that it had captured Rusesabagina, whom they accused of being involved in terrorism.
Rusesabagina co-founded the opposition Rwanda Movement for Democratic Change, which has an armed wing called the National Liberation Forces. The NLF has claimed responsibility for several deadly attacks in the Southern Province of Rwanda in recent years, according to Human Rights Watch.
Rusesabagina was convicted of charges related to these attacks and was sentenced to 25 years in prison in September 2021.
Human Rights Watch called the trial “flawed” and “emblematic of the government’s exaggeration and manipulation of the justice system”. The US State Department said it was “concerned” about Rusesabagina’s “lack of confidential and unimpeded access to her attorneys and relevant case documents and her initial lack of access to attorneys.”