Paul Rusesabagina, who provided the inspiration for the movie “Hotel Rwanda” by preventing the genocide of hundreds of his countrymen, had his 25-year sentence commuted by the Rwandan government. Years later, in a trial that received harsh criticism, he was found guilty of terrorist-related offenses.
The presidential decree was given when Rusesabagina, a 68-year-old Belgian citizen who resides in the United States, requested clemency, according to government spokesperson Yolande Makolo, who talked to The Associated Press on Friday. Top U.S. sources reported that Rusesabagina landed late on Friday at the residence of the Qatari ambassador in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, and that she would likely depart the nation soon.
“Paul’s family is excited to welcome him back to the United States, and I share their excitement at today’s good news,” said U.S. President Joe Biden in response to the good news. President expressed gratitude to the Qatari and Rwandan governments as well as U.S. federal employees who contributed to “today’s great outcome.”
Moreover, sentences for 19 additional people were modified. Commutation does not “extinguish” the conviction in accordance with Rwandan law, continued Makolo.
In addition to the facilitation offered by the state of Qatar, “Rwanda notes the positive involvement of the U.S. government in providing conditions for discourse on this topic,” she stated. Paul Kagame, the president, stated earlier this month that talks were being held to find a solution.
According to a statement from the Qatar Foreign Ministry’s Majid Al-Ansari, “the process for (Rusesabagina’s) transfer to the state of Qatar is underway, and he will then travel to the United States of America. At high-level discussions between representatives from Rwanda and Qatar, this subject was covered.
Senior American officials declined to comment on Rusesabagina’s current health but said they had made medical and psychological assistance accessible. They briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity in accordance with U.S. government guidelines.
The United States and others had deemed the case to be unfair. During a trip to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates in 2020, Rusesabagina vanished. She later reappeared in handcuffs in Rwanda. His relatives said he was abducted and taken against his will to Rwanda to face justice.
Eight counts, including involvement with a terrorist organization, murder, and kidnapping, led to his conviction. Yet, the circumstances of his imprisonment, his lack of access to an impartial legal counsel, and his allegedly deteriorating health sparked widespread outrage.
According to a senior American official, the White House wanted to move away from Kigali defending her judicial system and Washington criticizing the case in favor of a “constructive sequence to work our way cooperatively, collectively out of the dilemma we found ourselves in.”
According to the official, Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, spoke on the phone frequently with an unnamed close advisor to Kagame as part of the attempt.
Rusesabagina claims that his imprisonment was in retaliation for him criticizing Kagame for alleged violations of human rights. Kagame’s administration has denied frequently accusing opposition voices of being the victim of arbitrary deaths and arrests.
Rusesabagina stated in a letter to Kagame that was signed, dated October 14, and made available online by the justice ministry that “if I am granted a pardon and released, I understand well that I will spend the balance of my days in quiet thought in the United States. I can reassure you with this letter that I don’t have any other personal or political goals. I’ll leave concerns about Rwandan politics in the past.
Some 1,000 ethnic Tutsis were sheltered by Rusesabagina at the hotel he oversaw during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, which resulted in the deaths of over 800,000 Tutsis and Hutus who attempted to defend them. For his achievements, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the US.
As a result of his outspoken criticism of Kagame, he left Rwanda in 1996 and later settled in the United States.
He had been “forcibly disappeared,” according to Human Rights Watch, and brought to Rwanda. Yet when he was duped into boarding a chartered airplane, the court there determined he wasn’t kidnapped. The Rwandan authorities said that Rusesabagina had been traveling to Burundi to communicate with armed groups stationed there and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Rusesabagina was charged with funding the military branch of the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change, his rival political party. Nine Rwandans were killed in attacks in southern Rwanda in 2018 and 2019 for which the armed group took some blame.
Rusesabagina stated during the trial that he assisted in the formation of the armed group to aid refugees, but he insisted that he never condoned violence and that he actively tried to keep a distance from its lethal actions.
Also, Rusesabagina said he was restrained and tortured prior to being imprisoned, although Rwandan officials disputed this. Rusesabagina’s legal papers, according to his counsel Felix Rudakemwa, were seized by prison officials.
It must be decided that Mr. Rusesabagina was not granted a fair and equitable trial, Belgium’s then-foreign minister Sophie Wilmes stated following his sentence.
Kagame and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met in Rwanda last year to talk about the situation. Blinken told reporters, “We still believe the trial wasn’t conducted fairly.
In a statement released on Friday, Blinken said: “It is a relief to know that Paul is reuniting with his family, and the U.S. Government is thankful to the Rwandan Government for making this reunion possible. The United States believes in a Rwanda that is peaceful and successful. We reiterate the value of pursuing peaceful political change in Rwanda and around the world.”
Rusesabagina’s family released a statement saying they were “pleased to hear the news regarding Paul’s release” when the story began to circulate on Friday. The family looks forward to seeing him again soon.