Formal petition filed for U.S. action against Rwandan officials complicit in his kidnapping

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.

Media Contact:
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Source: Lantos Foundation