America’s top diplomat for Africa has urged a fair trial for “Hotel Rwanda” hero Paul Rusesabagina, as concern mounts over the mysterious circumstances of his arrest and return to his home country.
Rusesabagina, who saved more than 1,200 Rwandans during the 1994 genocide by sheltering them in a hotel, appeared in handcuffs in Kigali this week accused of serious charges including terrorism after a quarter century in exile abroad.
It remains unclear how the strident opponent of long-ruling President Paul Kagame, who had been living in the US and Belgium since leaving Rwanda in 1996, was extradited to his homeland.
Tibor Nagy, US assistant secretary for African Affairs, said he met Wednesday with Rwandan ambassador Mathilde Mukantabana to discuss the circumstances around Rusesabagina’s arrest.
“The United States expects the Rwandan government to provide humane treatment, adhere to the rule of law, and provide a fair and transparent legal process for Mr. Rusesabagina,” Nagy said in a statement.
Rwandan investigators say Rusesabagina, who was played by US actor Don Cheadle in the 2004 Oscar-nominated film “Hotel Rwanda”, was arrested “through international cooperation” but have refused to elaborate.
Rusesabagina’s family have said they cannot understand why their father, a high-profile regime target, would return by his own free will to Rwanda where almost certain prosecution would await.
“We believe he was kidnapped and taken by extraordinary rendition to Rwanda,” a spokesman for the family said in a statement Wednesday.
He “is being held by President Paul Kagame’s government on false charges”, added the statement shared by the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation, a charity in his name.
Rusesabagina was hailed a hero over his actions during the genocide that killed some 800,000 Rwandans and he was awarded, among other global accolades, a US Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 by then president George W Bush.
But inside Rwanda, the ruling party began to attack his motives and character in the years since as Rusesabagina’s attacks on Kagame hardened in exile.
Investigators say Rusesabagina was suspected of creating and financing “extremist terror outfits” in East Africa, including the FLN, the armed wing of a movement he founded abroad to bring about political change in Rwanda.
The Rwanda Investigation Bureau said Rusesabagina was the subject of an international arrest warrant over alleged crimes of terrorism, arson, kidnap and murder.
Supporters of the government in Kigali — including Ambassador Mukantabana — have been sharing videos on social media of Rusesabagina vowing to use “any means possible” to “liberate” Rwanda from Kagame’s rule.
The former military leader whose troops drove the genocidal regime from Rwanda in 1994 was once championed in Western capitals as a visionary reformer, lifting his country out of the devastation of the killings.
But he has ruled ever since and critics say he shows signs of autocratic leadership, overseeing constitutional changes to prolong his rule and targeting opponents both inside Rwanda and abroad.