Category Archives: Human rights

UK’s Rights Assessment of Rwanda Not Based on Facts

Abuses Overlooked to Justify Cruel Asylum Policy

This week, the United Kingdom published its safety assessment on Rwanda, intended to justify a recently announced agreement to send asylum seekers crossing the English Channel or other so called “irregular” or dangerous routes to the Central African country. The report was expected to downplay human rights violations in Rwanda. After all, the government couldn’t ship off vulnerable people seeking protection with a one-way ticket to a partner they regard as abusive. But it goes even further, cherry-picking facts, or ignoring them completely, to bolster a foregone conclusion.

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Un jour avec Denis Mukwege, Nobel de la paix contraint de vivre sous protection

Il est célèbre dans le monde entier pour son combat en faveur des femmes violées, ces corps « transformés en champs de bataille » que le gynécologue formé à Angers tente de réparer. Et obtenir, pour toutes les victimes des carnages perpétrés au Congo, justice et vérité.

Denis Mukwege, 67 ans, prix Nobel de la paix (2018), a nommé les crimes, les violences sexuelles, les monstruosités subies par les femmes en République du Congo.

Il a, le temps d’un passage à Paris, troqué sa blouse de chirurgien pour un élégant costume et reçoit chaleureusement quelques journalistes et représentants d’ONG dans un discret hôtel parisien. Denis Mukwege, 67 ans, vit en permanence sous protection depuis qu’il dénonce, avec le renfort et l’autorité de son prix Nobel de la paix décerné en 2018, les carnages incompréhensibles perpétrés en République démocratique du Congo.

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Hotel Rwanda’ hero’s family file $400m suit against gov’t

Paul Rusesabagina is serving 25 years in prison in Rwanda on terrorism charges which his supporters say are a sham.

Published On 30 Apr 2022

The family of Paul Rusesabagina, whose heroism during the 1994 Rwandan genocide was depicted in the Hollywood film Hotel Rwanda, have filed a $400m lawsuit in the US over his alleged abduction and torture by the government in Kigali.

The lawsuit names the government of Rwanda, President Paul Kagame, and other senior officials including the former justice minister and intelligence chief.

“The complaint alleges that the Government of Rwanda and high-ranking Rwandan officials conspired to facilitate and execute an elaborate plot to lure Paul Rusesabagina from his home in Texas to Rwanda, where he would be tortured and illegally detained,” the family and his lawyers said in a statement on Saturday.

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Rwanda: Wave of Free Speech Prosecutions

(Nairobi) – Judicial authorities in Rwanda are prosecuting opposition members, journalists, and commentators on the basis of their speech and opinions, Human Rights Watch said today. Throughout 2020 and 2021, Human Rights Watch monitored trials in which judicial authorities pursued politically motivated prosecutions and perpetuated a culture of intolerance of dissent.

Less than two years out from the 2024 presidential election campaign season, the Rwandan government should ensure an end to violations against civil society activists, journalists, and opposition figures. The government should also protect their right to freedom of expression – a precondition to creating a conducive environment for free and fair elections.

“Judicial authorities in Rwanda, lacking the independence to stand up and protect free speech in accordance with international law, have unjustly convicted and jailed people based on their protected speech and opinions,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “All those jailed unjustly should be immediately and unconditionally released, and the abusive legal framework that allowed their prosecution should be reviewed and brought in line with international free speech standards.”

Since the publication of a March 2021 report on the arrests of, and threats against, several Rwandans for posts on YouTube, Human Rights Watch has monitored trials and reviewed trial documents and verdicts to examine the evidence and arguments of prosecutorial authorities, and the basis for judges’ rulings.

Researchers also reviewed content published on various channels managed by journalists and commentators on trial and interviewed 11 opposition members and people who post on YouTube. The cases documented are not exhaustive – Human Rights Watch also received information about other similar cases.

On March 3, 2022, Human Rights Watch wrote a letter to Justice Minister Emmanuel Ugirashebuja to share information about the cases it has documented and to request information on the Rwandan authorities’ steps to address violations of the right to freedom of expression. The government has not responded.

Rwanda has very few opposition parties, and human rights organizations and independent media remain weak. Victoire Ingabire, who was the president of the unregistered opposition party FDU-Inkingi before founding Dalfa-Umurinzi in November 2019, was released from prison in 2018. Members of her party have repeatedly been harassed, threatened, and arrested, or have died or disappeared in suspicious circumstances. Since October 2021, at least eight members of her party have been arrested and charged with offenses, including spreading rumors and forming a criminal association, in relation to a book they acquired and an online training session they attended to learn strategies for peaceful dissent.

Journalists using YouTube as a platform have also been targeted for prosecution for not registering with the Rwanda Media Commission (RMC) or for publishing information that contradicts the government’s version of certain events, such as the suspicious death in custody of Kizito Mihigo, a gospel singer and activist, or disappearances of government opponents.

The cases of Dieudonné Niyonsenga – alias Cyuma Hassan – and Théoneste Nsengimana, which Human Rights Watch documented, could further erode journalists’ legal protections and narrow the space for media and online speech. Niyonsenga, a high-profile YouTuber, was found guilty on appeal of forgery, impersonation, hindering public works, and “humiliation of national authorities and persons in charge of public service.” The last charge, which was added during the first appeal, is no longer a criminal offense in Rwanda. The prosecution authority announced it was lodging a “second appeal” to correct the error. Its verdict is expected on March 18. On March 9, Human Rights Watch received reports and confirmed that Ishema TV was no longer available on YouTube. At time of writing, it is unclear whether the channel was removed voluntarily.

Since 1994, speaking about crimes committed by the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) in the aftermath of the genocide, or sometimes even simply commemorating Hutu who were killed during the genocide, is perceived as crossing a red line, with the government presenting it as a threat to Rwandan unity, or the country’s security as a whole.

“When you are pro-government, you don’t have any problems. When you talk about bad things, you become persecuted, you are a genocide denier,” one YouTuber told Human Rights Watch.

Another said, “They take one word, and they create a crime for you…. Here, the problem is talking the truth. If you do, they go after you.”

The Rwandan government may have legitimate grounds to seek to restrict the kind of dangerous, vitriolic speech that led to the deaths of over half a million people in 1994, but current laws and practices go far beyond this purpose – creating fear and effectively stifling opinions, debate, and criticism of the government.

As Rwanda approaches the 30-year mark since the genocide, and the government aims to ramp up efforts to combat genocide ideology, there is a need to ensure that Rwandans can peacefully express legitimate grievances related to the genocide and post-genocide periods, Human Rights Watch said.

Article 38 of the 2015 Constitution protects freedom of expression but limits that protection by permitting ill-defined restrictions based on “public order, good morals, the protection of the youth and children, the right of every citizen to honor and dignity and protection of personal and family privacy.” The government, with the support of the judiciary, has used this clawback clause to impose restrictions on freedom of expression in ways that are incompatible with Rwanda’s regional and international obligations.

As Rwanda prepares to host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, scheduled to take place in June, the international community should take a stand and press the authorities to stop harassing, immediately release, and drop all charges against opposition members, YouTube commentators and journalists facing abusive prosecutions that violate freedom of expression. The authorities should also open credible, independent, and transparent investigations into suspicious deaths and disappearances of critics, opposition members, civil society actors, and journalists, and prosecute those responsible.

“The evidence provided by the prosecuting authorities, and what judges have chosen to rely on to justify their conclusions, clearly demonstrates that these cases violate African and international human rights law,” Mudge said. “Prosecuting those who challenge the government of incitement to insurrection or of attempting to tarnish the country’s image is an indication of how little dissent is tolerated in Rwanda.”

For details of the recent cases, please see below.

Cases Against the Political Opposition

In October 2021, at least eight members of Victoire Ingabire’s opposition party, Dalfa-Umurinzi, were arrested in the largest crackdown against the party in recent years. Sylvain Sibomana, Alexis Rucubanganya, Hamad Hagenimana, Jean-Claude Ndayishimiye, Alphonse Mutabazi, Marcel Nahimana, and Emmanuel Masengesho were all detained in the days leading up to and following “Ingabire day,” scheduled for October 14.

On that day, Ingabire was planning to speak about political repression in Rwanda, cases of suspicious deaths, killings, disappearances, and abusive prosecutions. Théoneste Nsengimana, a journalist who was planning to cover the event, was arrested on October 13 and is being tried with the group of seven.

Criminal charges of “spreading false information or harmful propaganda with intent to cause a hostile international opinion against Rwandan government” and “formation of or joining a criminal association” were brought against Sibomana, Rucubanganya, Hagenimana, Ndayishimiye, Mutabazi, Nahimana, and Masengesho. On November 9, during a pretrial hearing, the Kicukiro court said it is also considering evidence to support other, undetermined charges against them. The prosecution contended that the defendants were also responsible for inciting insurrection.

Claudine Uwimana, a party member who was arrested on December 14 in Rutsiro, is being tried separately. She is charged with spreading false information, publishing rumors, forming a criminal association, and inciting insurrection, and has been denied bail.

The arrests send a clear message to those who may wish to mobilize, organize, or campaign on a political platform in the lead-up to the elections that efforts to peacefully change the power structures in place can be considered a criminal offense, Human Rights Watch said.

In both cases, the prosecution based its accusations on the group’s decision to acquire “Blueprint for Revolution,” a book written by Srdja Popovic, and to follow a training organized by the author’s organization, Canvas – the Center for Applied Non-Violent Actions and Strategies. Both the book and the training focus on peaceful strategies to resist authoritarianism, such as nonviolent protest, noncooperation, boycott, and mobilization. The prosecution used as evidence the contents of the book and training, the use of Jitsi – an encrypted online communication platform – and the use of pseudonyms during the training.

The prosecution also accused the group of planning activities such as mobilizing, among others, street vendors and others who are routinely rounded up and subjected to abuse, and a commemoration of political activists and critics who have died, disappeared, or been jailed, on “Ingabire Day,” based on the strategies proposed during the training.

Social protest and mobilization offer people the opportunity to peacefully communicate legitimate complaints and grievances. Governments have a responsibility to create a safe and enabling environment for individuals and groups to exercise their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, of expression, and of association.

Journalists Under Threat

Dieudonné Niyonsenga

Dieudonné Niyonsenga, also known as “Cyuma Hassan,” runs Ishema TV, a popular YouTube channel on which he has published his sensitive and critical reports. Ishema TV has millions of views, and Niyonsenga is one of the most popular YouTube contributors in Rwanda.

In April 2020, police arrested Niyonsenga and his driver, Fidèle Komezusenge, as they were reporting on the impact of the Covid-19 guidelines on vulnerable populations in a poor neighborhood of Kigali. Niyonsenga and Komezusenge were accused of forgery, impersonating journalists, and hindering public works for being outside during lockdown without a valid RMC-issued press card. Both spent almost a year in detention, but then were acquitted on March 12, 2021. After his release, Niyonsenga gave several interviews on YouTube describing his treatment in detention. In one, he said:

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Like the U.S., Rwanda is in a pitched battle over its history

Controlling the historical narrative in Rwanda is key to the regime’s power

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By Tom ZoellnerTom Zoellner is professor of English at Chapman University and the author of “Island on Fire: The Revolt That Ended Slavery in the British Empire.”July 12, 2021 at 6:00 a.m. EDT2

Tucker Carlson recently went on an attention-grabbing screed about how America’s history of racism gets taught. He garnered headlines by calling Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs Staff, “stupid” and “a pig” for defending a class on the subject taught at the U.S. Military Academy. Carlson then made a comparison of America to another country that managed to be both absurd — and surprisingly apt:

“The question is, and this is the question we should be meditating on, day in and day out, is how do we get out of this vortex, the cycle, before it’s too late? How do we save this country before we become Rwanda?”

The absurd part is what Carlson was trying to say: that the teaching of critical race theory in schools and universities would lead to oppressed people of color picking up machetes to slaughter White people, an ethnic cleansing that would resemble the 1994 genocide in the small East African nation of Rwanda, in which 800,000 people were slaughtered at the urging of a government made up of the majority Hutu ethnicity.

Rwanda holds an important lesson for America’s culture wars today, but not in the way Carlson thinks. Rather, in Rwanda, political leaders have rewritten the country’s history to gain political power, just as the right wing is now attempting to do in the United States. In fact, the greatest asset of the dictatorship in today’s Rwanda is its mastery of the past. “Within Rwanda today, hegemonic power relies for much of its justification on a certain reading of history,” the Smith College scholar David Newbury has concluded.

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UK is disappointed in Rwanda’s noncompliance with UPR recommendations

UN Human Rights Council: Universal Periodic Review Adoption – Rwanda

The UK’s International Ambassador for Human Rights, Rita French, delivered this statement during the Universal Periodic Review Adoption for Rwanda.

Rita French

Thank you, Madam President.

The United Kingdom welcomes Rwanda’s engagement with the UPR, including collaboration between the Government and civil society on human rights. The UK reiterates its commitment to work constructively with Rwanda to support UPR implementation.

The UK is pleased that Rwanda fully supports our recommendation to protect and enable journalists to work freely, without fear of retribution, and ensure that State authorities comply with the access to information law. This is an important step to promote freedom of speech, including allowing space for critical voices.

We regret that Rwanda did not support our recommendation, which was also made by other States, to conduct transparent, credible and independent investigations into allegations of human rights violations including deaths in custody and torture.

We welcome that Rwanda accepted recommendations from other countries on combatting human trafficking, but we were disappointed that Rwanda did not support the UK recommendation to screen, identify and provide support to trafficking victims, including those held in Government transit centres. In recognising the progress made by Rwanda, the UK encourages Rwanda to submit an optional mid-term report to provide an update on implementation of recommendations, between reviews.

Thank you.


The Kagame Regime is the enemy of free-thinking Rwandans. On almost every occasion that someone — Rwandan or otherwise– has spoken up about the repression by the regime, the government builds a case for a smear campaign against critics.

Following smear campaigns are disappearances, prison sentences, and assassinations. In countless cases, the Kagame regime has combined prison sentences and assassinations.

Such is the case of Aimable Karasira, a university professor, musician, and famous YouTuber who speaks out on issues affecting ordinary Rwandans. He is bold and energetic, charismatic, and charming. He is also fearless, humane, and compassionate. His human values and compassion are demonstrated in the platform he built and used to address injustices affecting his fellow citizens within Rwanda. Unfortunately, Aimable Karasira has been a target of formal and informal smear campaigns and demonization by the RPF since 2019.

How Does Rwanda Smear & Outcast Dissenters?

Demonization and smear campaigns are run formally (by the government) and informally (by Kagame’s or his regime’s supporters). Formal smear campaigns typically utilize government tabloids and propaganda newspapers as well as known agents of the Rwandese Patriotic Front. In a coordinated attack, publications run articles demonizing and smearing Kagame critics while RPF agents take to social media to slander the victim. Inside the country, intelligence services track people down to express free thought against the Kagame regime.

Meanwhile, domestic and global supporters of Paul Kagame run informal smear campaigns. Those operating outside of the country compliment formal Kagame agents by spreading rumors about the victim and using “innocent criticism” to fuel anti-victim sentiments. They often claim the victim is too radical and should temper their criticism of the government, meanwhile overlooking blatant governmental abuses of power. They feign support while spreading the idea that the victim will eventually be “punished” for speaking out and us the fear of punishment as their reasons not to speak out against the regime.

Channels withing the government of Rwanda such as The Rwanda Diaspora also known as The Rwandan Community Abroad (RCA), the Center for the Fight Against Genocide (CNLG) and Ibuka often spearhead these informal movements. Even though CNLG is an official govenrment entity, the RCA and Ibuka present themselves as unaffiliated with the government. These channels seem harmless and front as anti-genocide and genocide survivor advocates. However, their demonstrated commitment to the Kagame regime and erasure of Rwandan Genocide survivors who do not align with the regime prove otherwise. Ibuka and CNLG serve as attack dogs for the Kagame regime, often using the 1994 genocide as blackmail against the victims of their smear campaigns. Abroad, RCA and Ibuka members conduct community surveillance and are coordinated and financed by Rwandan embassies in countries they operate in. They harass critics globally and infiltrate with the intent to destroy groups that are critical of the government. This isn’t conspiracy talk, either. It is a well-known fact among Rwandans that this happens. Global journalists, such as those at the New York Times, are also beginning to pick up on these tactics. Kagame’s advisor, general James Kabarebe stated recently in a vitriolic speech that they conduct these types of activities abroad intending to destroy exiles and refugees or Rwanda.

These cover-ups work two ways. First, they distract the general population from the abuses of power under the Kagame regime, including the ongoing killings within the country and the Congo (including babies). Second, these slur campaigns scare others into refraining from discussing the issues for fear of what will happen to them. The cycle continues in Rwanda until the newest targeted victim is willfully disappeared by government agents, indefinitely imprisoned, assassinated, or a combination of one or more of these events.

About Aimable Karasira

Aimable Karasira is a survivor of the Rwandan genocide that took place in 1994. The RPF won the war during which the genocide occurred, and the party claimed to stabilize the country. However, during their “stabilization efforts,” the RPF massacred hundreds of thousands of people– including Karasira’s parents and two siblings who had survived the initial genocide. Talking about his family and what was done to them by the RPF after the genocide has brought the hammer of government newspapers, the groups mentioned above, agents, and sympathizers of the government onto Aimable Karasira’s shoulders.

Supporters of the Kagame regime have even accused him of denying the genocide, which he has openly talked about surviving. In Rwanda, denying the genocide is a crime. Misinformation and false rumors by RPF agents about his genocide denial increased calls for imprisonment across the country. This all culminated in Karasira being arrested on May 31st, 2021.

For three weeks, Karasira has been held without a single appearance in court. During this time, he has reportedly been held in the Kicukiro jail without contact with other inmates. Rwandan law states he is supposed to appear in court within three days of his arrest, so his detainment without court appearance is unlawful.

On the weekend of June 19th, Karasira was moved to an unknown location with the claim that he contracted Coronavirus. Readers and defenders of global justice worldwide should be worried about this. Karasira has been quarantined for the last three weeks in a jail cell by himself, begging the question of how and where he picked up the virus. Those who have a working knowledge of the injustices of the Kagame regime understand this news is likely grim. The government might have detained Karasira to a torture chamber. It’s also possible that they plan on assassinating him and covering up the death as a coronavirus death. His safety has been in danger for years now, but he may be in much greater danger of being assassinated with this claim.

This would not be the first of such inmate deaths at the hands of the government. Countless outspoken critics of the Kagame regime have been assassinated in Rwandan jails. Kizito Mihigo died in police custody, and the government of Rwanda claimed that he committed suicide. There are dozens of cases of prisoners who the government has shot, and the government attempted to cover up the deaths by claiming they were trying to flee jail or prison. Many of these victims were shot while handcuffed.

What Can Be Done To Stop This?

Citizens of donor nations are generally unaware of their governments supporting repressive regimes like the one in Rwanda. One thing they can do is to share this article widely to ensure the rest of the world or their networks are informed about this issue.

Knowing about the injustices and human rights violations done by the Kagame regime, donor nations such as the US and the UK must withhold aid to Rwanda and be wary of accounts about dissidents coming from the government. The Netherlands, in particular, funds Rwanda’s judicial system — a system that has been proven to be broken. Their withholding of aid would go a long way to spark change at the government level. When criminals such as Kagame are given resources, they commit more crimes. Holding off on aid sends a message that human rights violations will never be rewarded and begs the regime to change its standards.

Donor nations must call for an immediate release of Aimable Karasira and other prisoners of conscience and political prisoners. These include Paul Rusesabagina (the real-life hero of the Hollywood film Hotel Rwanda), Deo Mushayidi, Mitsindo Viateur and many more innocent Rwandans languishing in prisons. They must also produce poet Bahati Musa who has been missing since early February 2021.

The time for US timidity is over: Rwanda should meet Magnitsky

As I write this, Paul Rusesabagina, the real-life hero of the Oscar-nominated film “Hotel Rwanda,” has been unjustly imprisoned in Kigali, Rwanda, for more than 280 days. In all that time, the administrations of two American presidents have failed to make so much as a statement in support of this humanitarian, who also happens to be a U.S. Permanent Resident and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 

Rusesabagina, an outspoken critic of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, had no intention of going back to his native country. He publicly stated on several occasions that he could not return for fear of retribution. Nevertheless, that is where he found himself last August, when an associate secretly working with the Rwandan government tricked him into getting on a private jet he thought was bound for Burundi. Instead, the plane landed in Kigali, Rusesabagina was held for three days incommunicado, and finally reappeared handcuffed and in the custody of the Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB). 

This was a textbook case of enforced disappearance, a clear violation of Rusesabagina’s basic human rights and of the United Nations’ International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. Put in simpler terms, Rusesabagina was kidnapped. 

These events prompted some outrage among human rights groups and certain lawmakers in the U.S. and Europe, as it well should. But the deafening silence from official government channels has drowned out the chorus of voices calling for action. And what has that silence enabled? More than just the continued abuse and imprisonment of a Belgian citizen and U.S. Permanent Resident, as in the case of Rusesabagina. It has created a template for other dictators and apparently has given them carte blanche to use increasingly audacious methods to capture and arrest their most vocal critics. 

Consider what just happened in Belarus, where President Alexander Lukashenko used military jets to divert – some say hijack – a flight carrying 26-year-old dissident journalist Roman Proasevich, so that he could be arrested and thrown in jail. Only days after this incident, Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to try his own “airplane ploy” and had opposition leader Andrey Pivovarov hauled off an outgoing flight at St. Petersburg Airport.

The Belarusian event took place on May 23; in less than a week, the United States had raised its travel advisory for Belarus to a level 4, “Do not travel” warning and had announced forthcoming sanctions on Belarusian officials involved in the incident. All these actions were warranted and well justified. But it’s worth noting that it took no more than a few days for the U.S. to spring into action and censure Belarus on behalf of a Belarusian national; Rusesabagina, who renounced his Rwandan citizenship in 1996, has languished in prison for the better part of a year without any meaningful action from the countries he calls home.

The U.S. silence in the case of Paul Rusesabagina, and its unwillingness to call Rwanda to account for its human rights abuses, undoubtedly has much to do with the status of President Kagame as the so-called “darling tyrant.” Some hold him up as a paragon of democratic leadership, even against an ever-growing list of critics who have been forcibly disappeared, imprisoned or killed. But the time for timidity is over – we have seen its fruits in Belarus and Russia – and the U.S. no longer can afford to turn a blind eye to Rwanda’s crimes. 

For this reason, the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights & Justice has filed a formal submission to the State Department and Department of Treasury urging Global Magnitsky sanctions to be imposed on two Rwandan officials reportedly complicit in Rusesabagina’s kidnapping: Justice Minister Johnston Busingye and head of the RIB, Col. Jeannot Ruhunga.

Proving culpability in human rights abuses, such as an enforced disappearance, can be challenging. But in this instance, the Rwandan officials named in the sanctions submission have made it surprisingly easy to prove their guilt. Busingye admitted during a televised interview that the Rwandan government paid for the private plane that took Rusesabagina from Dubai to Kigali. Ruhunga not only made public comments about the unilateral “operation” carried out by the RIB (after initially, and falsely, claiming that the arrest was made with international cooperation), but he also was named in the sworn affidavit of Rusesabagina’s jailhouse testimony as one of only two people who had contact with him in an unknown facility during the three days between the flight leaving Dubai and the public news conference announcing the arrest in Kigali.

Rusesabagina faces terrorism charges in a show trial that began in late January and is ongoing. I mention this almost in passing because the charges, which I believe to be trumped up by Kagame and his supporters, are immaterial to this indisputable fact: Paul Rusesabagina was brought to Rwanda illegally under international law. Any individual, government or organization that truly values human rights and the rule of law must recognize this fact and acknowledge that whatever follows Rusesabagina’s kidnapping – the charges or any eventual, predetermined, conviction – is simply fruit of the poisoned tree. 

It is beyond time for the United States to stand up and lead on behalf of a man who once risked his own life to save more than 1,200 people amid the horror of the Rwandan genocide. It is beyond time to put President Kagame on notice that Rwanda’s free pass on human rights abuses has finally, and deservedly, expired. It is time to use targeted Magnitsky sanctions – one of the most potent and powerful tools for human rights – to hold accountable the men responsible for kidnapping Paul Rusesabagina.

Katrina Lantos Swett, Ph.D., J.D., is president of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights & Justice. She is a human rights professor at Tufts University and the former chair of the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom. Follow her on Twitter @LantosSwettK.

Global Magnitsky sanctions called against Rwandan Justice Minister and investigation chief

Lantos Foundation Calls for Magnitsky Sanctions in Paul Rusesabagina Case



June 7, 2021 – The Lantos Foundation for Human Rights & Justice today announced that it has filed a formal submission to the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Department of Treasury recommending Global Magnitsky sanctions against Rwandan Justice Minister Johnston Busingye and head of the Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) Colonel Jeannot Ruhunga for their role in human rights violations committed against Paul Rusesabagina – namely his extraordinary rendition and kidnapping in August 2020.

Paul Rusesabagina, the real-life hero of the Oscar-nominated film Hotel Rwanda and a Presidential Medal of Freedom awardee, was lured to Rwanda last August by an associate secretly working with the Rwandan government. Rusesabagina, a Belgian citizen and U.S. Permanent Resident, has been an outspoken critic of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who human rights organizations, journalists and policymakers have increasingly characterized as a brutal dictator. Rusesabagina had stated publicly on several occasions that he could not return to his native country for fear of retribution, and last August he believed he was traveling from his home in Texas to a speaking engagement in Burundi. The private jet he boarded after a layover in Dubai in fact transported him to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, whereupon he was disappeared for three full days before reappearing in the custody of the RIB.

It can sometimes prove difficult to build a case that establishes government officials’ direct involvement in and responsibility for human rights abuses. However, in the case of Paul Rusesabagina’s kidnapping, the complicity and responsibility of both Busingye and Ruhunga is crystal clear. Minister Busingye admitted during a televised interview on Al Jazeera in February 2021 that the Rwandan government had paid for the plane that transported Rusesabagina, without his knowledge, to Kigali. Likewise, Colonel Ruhunga, as head of the RIB, not only oversaw the operation to kidnap Rusesabagina but was also named in a recent jailhouse transcript as one of two people who visited Rusesabagina when he was held incommunicado in an unknown location during the three days between the time he was kidnapped and when he was presented in handcuffs in Kigali.

“For too long, the appalling actions of the Rwandan government under the leadership of Paul Kagame have gone without consequence,” said Lantos Foundation President Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett. “In this instance, there is unequivocal evidence that Minister Busingye and Colonel Ruhunga violated the basic human rights of a humanitarian hero. A strong response by the United States is fully warranted and anything less would only embolden the Rwandan government to continue its abuse.”

The Lantos Foundation’s submission to State and Treasury presents the overwhelming evidence that these two individuals can and should be held responsible for Rusesabagina’s kidnapping – a clear violation of the United Nations’ International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. The submission calls for the United States to hold Busingye and Ruhunga to account for this violation by imposing Magnitsky sanctions on them. The submission was simultaneously transmitted to officials in the United Kingdom and the European Union for consideration of their own respective sanctions.

Tragically, Paul Rusesabagina is not the first critic of the Rwandan government to find himself in this situation – or one that is even worse. Over the past several years under President Paul Kagame, the Rwandan government has demonstrated an alarming pattern of subjecting its critics to a range of gross human rights violations, including enforced disappearance, imprisonment and extrajudicial killings. Indeed, the Lantos Foundation’s submission includes an attachment that details numerous chilling examples of what has happened to a long string of Kagame’s opponents, among them Patrick Karegeya (assassinated in South Africa), Boniface Twagirimana (disappeared from Rwandan prison), Kizito Mihigo (died in Rwandan prison) and many others. Rwanda bills itself as a vibrant democracy and an inspiring success story, but its repeated and increasingly bold-faced efforts to stifle any form of dissent tell the story of a country that has descended deep into authoritarian rule.

Dr. Lantos Swett said, “The United States was quick to announce its intention to sanction Belarusian officials involved in diverting a commercial airline for the purpose of arresting a prominent Belarusian dissident. Yet, there has been shockingly little action from the U.S. in terms of censuring, let alone holding accountable, the individuals responsible for the unlawful kidnapping of this courageous man: a U.S. Permanent Resident who received our nation’s highest civilian honor and whose story has inspired millions of people around the world. The U.S. government has an important opportunity to right this wrong by moving to impose Magnitsky sanctions on Minister Busingye and Colonel Ruhunga. We must take action now – failure to do so may send the message that the Rwandan government has carte blanche to trample on the rights of Paul Rusesabagina. The consequences of such a message could be tragic and fatal.”

The Lantos Foundation filed its formal submission on May 18, 2021.


About the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights & Justice:

The Lantos Foundation was established in 2008 to carry forward the legacy of Congressman Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor ever elected to the U.S. Congress and a leading human rights champion. The Foundation works with a range of partners and often in cooperation with the U.S. Government on issues that span the globe. The Foundation’s key areas of focus include human rights issues related to religious freedom, rule of law, internet freedom and activist art. The Foundation also administers the Lantos Congressional Fellows Program, supports human rights advocates, activists and artists through its Front Line Fund grant program, and awards the annual Lantos Human Rights Prize to honor and bring attention to heroes of the human rights movement. Past recipients of the Prize include His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Professor Elie Wiesel, Israeli President Shimon Peres, Iraqi Parliamentarian Vian Dakhil, “Hotel Rwanda” hero Paul Rusesabagina, and Hong Kong Democracy activist Joshua Wong, among others.

Australian citizen asks for UN’s help to locate missing brothers in Rwanda

An Australian citizen is lodging a complaint to the United Nations over the disappearance of his two brothers in Rwanda.

The complaint is being filed by Noel Zihabamwe and has gained the support of human rights barrister Jennifer Robinson, an Australian who is based in London. It also has the backing of the Australian Human Rights Institute at the University of NSW.

Human rights advocate and community leader Noel Zihabamwe.
Human rights advocate and community leader Noel Zihabamwe.CREDIT:LOUIE DOUVIS

The complaint to the United Nations Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances over the disappearances of the two men in Rwanda in 2019 alleges their plight represented a violation of basic human rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Ms Robinson said the UN was being asked to intervene with Rwanda to help locate Mr Zihabamwe’s brothers. Mr Zihabamwe moved to Australia on a humanitarian visa in 2006. He is now an Australian citizen, a human rights advocate, and a member of Sydney’s Rwandan community.

“For too long, Noel and his family have been suffering with the mental anguish of not knowing the fate of his brothers, Jean and Antoine – they simply don’t know if they are still alive or whether they are being unlawfully detained,” she said. “The circumstance of their disappearance suggests there was involvement by the Rwandan state but Noel’s inquiries with Rwanda have so far been met with a wall of silence.

“We are now asking the United Nations to intervene with Rwanda to assist us to locate Jean and Antoine so that Noel and his family can know the truth and, if possible, so that we can take the appropriate action to ensure their safety and liberty.”

Australian independent law firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth is also acting on Mr Zihabamwe’s behalf.

As reported in the Herald last year, Mr Zihabamwe alleges he was approached by representatives of the Rwandan government in 2016 in an effort to recruit him to become an agent of influence for them in Australia. His brothers went missing a month after he shared his story anonymously with the ABC in August 2019.

Mr Zihabamwe has alleged his brothers were abducted by Rwandan police while on a bus in an Eastern Province of Rwanda. He said the men have not been seen since their disappearance.

“I approached the Rwandan police and Rwandan Investigative Bureau in relation to the disappearance of my brothers, however, the Rwandan government continues to deny their abduction,” he said.

The High Commission of the Republic of Rwanda in Singapore has strongly denied Mr Zihabamwe’s claims about his missing brothers as “baseless” and accused him of trying to discredit the government of Rwanda.

In a statement, the High Commission said: “Rwanda remains committed to the safety and wellbeing of its citizens”. “We continue to work tirelessly for the betterment of Rwandan citizens at home and abroad, with the support of the overwhelming majority of all Rwandans,” the statement said.

Justine Nolan, the director of the Australian Human Rights Institute said many enforced disappearances had been reported in the African nation since the Rwandan Patriotic Front came to power around 1994.

A NSW Police spokesman has said the alleged threat against Mr Zihabamwe was initially investigated by North Sydney police who sought advice from the protection operations unit, counter terrorism and special tactics command. It said a prosecution could not be pursued for diplomatic reasons. A DFAT spokesman has said the Australian government took the alleged threats made towards an Australian citizen seriously.

Anna Patty