Court action launched to save Hotel Rwanda hero
A $US400 million law suit has been filed in the US in a bid to free Paul Rusesabagina, the real life hero portrayed in the film Hotel Rwanda, who was effectively abducted and jailed by the Rwandan government.
Mr Rusesabagina was played by actor Don Cheadle in the 2004, which tells the story of how he sheltered Tutsis fleeing slaughter in the hotel he managed, during the 1994 Rwanda genocide.
He stared down gangs of thugs, from his own Hutu ethnic group, who went on a killing rampage that saw more than 500,000 people – almost two thirds of the Tutsi population – slaughtered.
The killings ended when Tutsi rebels, led by now-President Paul Kagame, seized control and triggered an exodus of more than two million Hutus.
Last year, the 67-year-old received a 25-year prison sentence for terrorism after a trial, that his supporters claim was flawed and filled with irregularities.
His family have claimed that the Rwandan government used agents to trick him into travelling back to Rwanda from the US, where he had been living in exile.
President Kagame’s security agents then “forcibly abducted him, tortured him and forced him into illegal imprisonment”, his family claim.
Now, the former hotel manager’s family have launched court action over his alleged abduction and torture.
Mr Rusesabagina has been a prominent critic of President Kagame, which was why he was “tracked, harassed, and ultimately kidnapped”, his family claims in court documents.
The government of Rwanda is yet to publicly comment on the claims.
Rusesabagina has received several awards for his bravery, including the US Presidential Medal of Freedom from George Bush in 2005.
In September, 2021, he was convicted of involvement in a rebel group blamed for deadly gun, grenade and arson attacks in Rwanda in 2018 and 2019.
His sentence was later upheld by Rwanda’s Court of Appeal, a ruling his family has described as a death sentence.
Mr Rusesabagina was the general manager of a luxury hotel in Kigali during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
An estimated 800,000 people were killed with knives, clubs and other weapons in the genocide. Most of the victims were ethnic Tutsis but some were moderate Hutus.
Mr Rusesabagina used his influence and bribery to save the lives of 1,200 people who sheltered at the Mille Collines hotel in the capital during the worst of the massacres.
The case comes after Britain unveiled plans to send asylum seekers to Rwanda for processing.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently announces the initiative to ‘offshore’ asylum applicants to Rwanda over rising concerns and media reports about the number of people crossing the Channel.
But recent developments mean it may take longer to introduce the scheme as the UK government faces legal challenges to the policy.
“We have received pre-action correspondence. Those legal challenges obviously may be a factor that can mean it takes longer to implement the policy,” a government spokesman said.