Tags: Donald Trump | Trump Administration | pompeo | kagame | hotel rwanda | rusesabagina | africa

Will Trump, Pompeo Intervene for 'Hotel Rwanda' Figure on Trial?

rusesabagina in a blue face mask and suit shown in court
"Hotel Rwanda" hero Paul Rusesabagina appears at the Kicukiro Primary court in Kigali, Rwanda, on September 17, 2020. (-/AFP via Getty Images)

By Monday, 30 November 2020 06:13 AM Current | Bio | Archive

"Will President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ask Rwandan President Paul Kagame to let the 'Hotel Rwanda' man free?"

For three months, that question echoed among human rights activists and the international community: whether the president or Pompeo will ask Kagame to end the ongoing trial of Paul Rusesabagina.

While his name may not immediately ring a bell, Rusesabagina was nevertheless recognized worldwide from the hit movie "Hotel Rwanda" as the savior of 1,268 fellow countrymen during the genocide that rocked the African nation in 1994.

Now Rusesabagina's name resounds internationally for the first time since the Oscar-nominated film with Don Cheadle hit the big screen in 2004. 

Rusesabagina, 66, a citizen of Belgium and permanent legal resident in the U.S., was in Dubai on Sept. 14 and was then transported by private plane — against his will, his family insists — to Rwanda's capital of Kigali. Imprisoned and charged with thirteen counts, including treason and murder, he is now the center of a trial that the world is increasingly watching.

The charges against Rusesabagina, the details of his arrest, and the nature of his trial are the subjects of heated disputes between his family and the Rwandan government — both of whom spoke to Newsmax.

"My dad was flying from San Antonio [Texas] to Dubai to meet some people," daughter Anaise Kanimba told us. "I know that because I bought him the ticket with my sister. What happened and what we don't know is how he ended up in Kigali. Until today, two weeks later, we've had three different stories from the Rwandan government."

The first story, she explained, was that her father was arrested because of international cooperation and with international warrants, "but we have not seen any international warrants on him and no country has claimed to have helped Rwanda"; the second was Kagame himself "telling the country dad was tricked and their plan worked flawlessly"; and the third story is from the Rwandan government — that they arrested him without international cooperation and he was taken back through extradition. 

Mathilde Mukantabana, Rwandan ambassador to the U.S., told us "that the investigation into [Rusesabagina] was going on a long time. The [Rwandan] Bureau of Investigation went to Belgium and they found evidence" of his involvement in murder and terrorism.

Regarding his status and whether or not he can be tried in Rwanda, Rwandan Embassy spokesman Lawrence Manzi told us that while Rusesabagina is a Belgian citizen and permanent legal resident of the U.S., "he is still a Rwandan citizen. If he commits a crime there, he can be charged there. That's international law."

The thirteen charges against Rusesabagina are based on his role as a leader of a coalition of groups known as the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change, or MRCD, which is opposed to Kagame, who was recently reelected to his third term with 99% of the vote.

This coalition includes the FLN, or National Liberation Front, an armed wing that is behind attacks and killings. Bolstering its claim that Rusesabagina is an apostle of violence, the Kagame government has distributed a 2018 videotape showing the defendant saying: "The time for us has come to use any means possible to bring about change. It is time to attempt our last resort."

Daughter Kanimba hit this hard, emphasizing that this "is a small clip that puts [Rusesabagina's meaning] out of context. There's a longer video that exists in which dad speaks in his typical tone — with a message of peace and for the people."

What he means when he says "by all means possible," she explained, "is reminding people that all of us who are refugees have been shut out from coming home. So he's telling people, 'Let's do something about this.' He's not telling people 'to go there and fight.' That's not dad's message. But that line has been used against him by the government."

Underscoring her argument that "my father has renounced violence," Kanimba pointed to numerous honors he has received as a symbol of peace and non-violence: the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded in 2005 by President George W. Bush; the National Civil Rights Museum Freedom Award; and the Humanitarian Award from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

Along with the circumstances of Rusesabagina's arrest, the nature of his trial and incarceration are topics of dispute. His family told us that, despite the fact that a battery of international lawyers put themselves at his disposal following news of his arrest, the Kigali government refused to allow them in the country. Instead, they said, a court-appointed lawyer entered his "not guilty" pleas to all of the charges.

After ninety days, a seven-member legal team approved by the Rusesabagina family was allowed to join the defendant in Kigali. The defense includes American attorney Peter Robinson and Rwandan litigator Gatera Gashabana.

Rwandan ambassador Mukantabana maintains that the initial selection of lawyers "is not an issue."

"When you appear before a judge is when you dismiss your lawyers [in Rwanda]," she said. "He didn't. When he subsequently talked to The New York Times, he didn't raise the issue by saying 'I have lawyers that were given to me.'"

What is drawing attention to the trial most, however, is the condition of Rusesabagina.  Wife Taciana Rusesabagina told Newsmax that her husband has lost fifteen pounds since his imprisonment "and it isn't good for him." She also told us he has hypertension, has complained of dizziness, and is worried about being held at Mageragere Prison, which was recently hit hard by COVID-19.

Given Rusesabagina's health and the controversial circumstances of his seizure and trial, more than one Africa watcher has suggested it is time for Trump or Pompeo to call Kagame and encourage the release of his antagonist. 

Kagame has a particularly cordial relationship with Trump and the two had a virtual "love feast" at the Davos World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in 2018.

"It's an honor to have you as a friend," Trump told Kagame as he congratulated him on becoming head of the African Union. Kagame, in turn, thanked Trump for Rwanda "benefiting from the support of the United States in many areas."

Whether that love feast can produce the release of Paul Rusesabagina will be one of the most-watched moves in Trump administration foreign policy in the weeks ahead. 

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

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"Will President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ask Rwandan President Paul Kagame to let the 'Hotel Rwanda' man free?" For three months, that question echoed among human rights activists and the international community: whether the president or Pompeo will...
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Monday, 30 November 2020 06:13 AM
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