Ranked 2nd most peaceful country in the EAC by GPI 2020, 2nd in the Sub-Saharan Africa region by the Economic Freedom Index report 2020, 3rd globally among peacekeeping top troop contributing countries, recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a country that was able to suppress the COVID-19 early, Rwanda’s progress is attributed to President Paul Kagame’s strong and effective leadership.
Besides the prevailing peace and progress, however, Rwanda has not been in short of campaigns by armed groups in the region including but not limited to the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), Rwanda National Congress (RNC), and particularly FLN; the military wing of Paul Rusesabagina’s MRCD, which instigated terrorism attacks, killed and injured unarmed innocent civilians in Nyabimata in June 2018.
In fact, Rusesabagina had premediated these attacks. On 28 Jan 2016 at Voice Of America (VOA), he publically declared that he was going to take political action to liberate the Rwandan People from President Paul Kagame’s dictatorship.
Later, in his own words, he also affirmed in a video recalled in early 2019, but still available online, that the attacks marked the launch of liberation struggle against the Government of Rwanda. He also reiterated that FLN launched a military struggle to liberate the Rwandan people and insisted on the sense of urgency to speed it up in 2019.
In effect, pursuant to 2018 Rwanda’s National Public Prosecution Authority’ (NPPA) arrest warrant, Rusesabagina was put under arrest after luring himself and his plane landed in Kigali and voluntarily alighted. His charges include financing terrorism, murder, abduction, robbery and arson, etc, as acts of terrorism in connection with his MRCD/FLN attacks in Nyabimamata.
These attacks were acknowledged by different state actors including Belgium and USA (where is a national and resident respectively) whose Departments of State’s Travel Advisory on Rwanda urged travelers “to exercise increased caution along the Rwanda-Burundi border due to armed conflict”.
In spite of the crimes Rusesabagina has to answer, his supporters, particularly the members of the European Parliament passed a resolution implying, among other things, to release Paul Rusesabagina. Similarly, some members of the USA Congress like Carolyn B. Maloney, addressed a letter to President Paul Kagame requesting to release him with immediate effect. Both requests reflected may be their ignorance of the matter, partisanship and or double standard.
Undoubtedly, members of EU Parliament as well as some members of US Congress who promote the release of Paul Rusesabagina understand the legal implication of terrorism crimes and are fully aware that the intent of the counter-terrorism acts in their jurisdictions like the US Patriot Act to deter and punish terrorist acts in their jurisdictions is the same aspiration Rwanda is pursuing in the case of Rusesabagina.
So, releasing Rusesabagina as the EU Parliament and some members of USA Congress like Carolyn B. Maloney purport, would be doing a disservice to Rwanda, particularly the victims of Rusesabagina’s MRCD / FLN actions and nurturing a norm that would support subsequent culture of violence.
More importantly, Rusesabagina’s case also contains an extraordinarily sensitive charge: Arson as an act of terrorism as MRCD/FLN used fire as mass scale coercion and violence to ensure greater degree of risk to human lives in Nyabimata.
Arson has a profound, sensitive and tragic meaning in the history of violence in Rwanda. It was a great weapon used in 1959, 60s and 70s to chase away and force the Tutsi to exile and deadly internal displacement and was massively used in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi to speed it up and create greater impact in terms of mass murder of Tutsi and destruction of their properties.
Rusesabagina’s MRCD/FLN usage of incendiary attacks to create greater impact on human lives in Nyabimata reminded the traumatizing arson attacks also dubbed Palestian intifada against Israel in November 2015 that were later condemned by the USA through the Secretary of State John Kerry who also warned Mohamed Abbas against arson attacks. The September 11, 2001, terrorism attack on the World Trade Center are also examined in terms of the impact of the improvised incendiary device, the airplanes, on the World Trade Center buildings.
Undoubtedly, if the EU Parliament and some members of US Congress like Carolyn B. Maloney, would be asked if it was the right thing to do to release with immediate effect those responsible of the September 11, 2001 in the US or elsewhere in Europe, their answer would be a big No.
Again, if they would be asked if holding accountable Bin Laden wouldn’t be a charm trial as they describe Paul Rusesabagina’s case, their answer would be NO. Rather they would appreciate a campaign to dismantle terrorist organization like Al-Qaeda and their networks. So, subordinating national security to someone’s terrorist crimes isn’t tolerable by any nation state especially when the offender acts exactly in the spirit of a Genocide that killed more one million lives.
Most surprisingly, the EU parliament members’ description of Rusesabagina’s own luring to Rwanda as kidnapping represents double standard. Rusesabagina lured himself after being led by his friend to board a private jet to Rwanda while his destination was Burundi. This reminds a similar case that happened in Europe and it wasn’t called “kidnapping”.
On 19th March 1991, Walter Stocké from German was arrested in France over fiscal charges in his home country after his friend M. Köster who was in contact with the police in Germany, led him to board a private jet to German while his destination was Luxemburg and Walter Stocké was immediately arrested. It is quiet s questionable why the EU Parliament didn’t refer to Walter Stocké’s case to serve as jurisprudence as it does even today in Europe.
Most alarmingly, Rusesabagina had consistently denied the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi and Rwandan authorities had previously issued another international arrest warrant against Rusesabagina, but in vain, as he continued to enjoy the red carpet in the most of Western countries.
On 11 January 2018, in Northwestern University Community for Human Rights (NUCHR), USA, in a conference on Human Rights, Rusesabagina was a keynote speaker and denied the genocide against the Tutsi and purported the double genocide theory. He endeavoured to convince the audience that the” Genocide against the Tutsi was not planned and executed and that it was just a mere war between Tutsi and Hutu ethnic groups”.
He did the same on 26th April 2008, in a conference in the Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands where Rusesabagina held at fault the victims of the genocide in 1994 genocide against the Tutsi that they were responsible for their own harm and demise. He made the case that the “roadblocks where Tutsis were singled out and executed were manned by Tutsis infiltrated by the RPF”.
Surprisingly, most western countries where Rusesabagina was denying genocide, prohibit the denial of genocide as it is an integral and final part of the genocide that lasts throughout and had all ratified the Genocide convention. It is in the spirit of this, for example that Facebook, Inc decided recently it would begin removing Holocaust denial posts from Facebook and Instagram. So, it imperative to observe the same principle with regard to the Genocide against the Tutsi.
However, if one would attempt to profile Rusesabagina, the details of the situation he is in today connects with earlier event quickly transformed into a platform that made Rusesabagina internationally famous: Hotel Rwanda, a film, not a historical record, but a fictionalized depiction of a story in which Paul Rusesabagina claim all credits that he saved 1267 lives under the scourge of the Genocide against the Tutsi in 1994.
After the release of Hotel Rwanda, Rusesabagina was awarded with numerous international human rights awards including the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, Immortal Chaplains Prize for Humanity, National Civil Rights Museum Freedom Award, etc.., and was praised by everyone including George Bush who portrayed him an “extraordinary great man”.
However, Rusesabagina and Hotel Rwanda, received repulsive criticism. Eyewitness that include UNMIR peacekeepers whose mandate also included “contributing to the security and protection of displaced persons, refugees and civilians at risk”, despite not being up to the task, have what they saw: For example Major Stefan Stec, one of the UN observers who was staying at the hotel during the genocide, reported that Rusesabagina at one point gave the Rwandan army the names and room numbers of the most threatened Tutsi refugees.
In addition UNAMIR’s force commander Romeo Dallaire dismissed the film as “not worth looking at”. At one point in time after the release of the Film, Romeo Dalaire told a conference: “I would like you to acknowledge the role played by those UNAMIR troops who stayed in Rwanda, including the troops from Congo-Brazzaville who were the ones who saved the people at the Hotel Mille Collines – not the hotel manager, Paul Rusesabagina”.
Similarly, survivors from the hotel Mille Collines said that the manager was an opportunist who had made them pay for everything in the hotel even though Sabena Airlines, which owned the hotel, had sent him a fax instructing him not to.
While, many would appreciate some traditions which work well elsewhere particularly in the US and Europe, specifically their antiterrorism principle to “to deter and punish terrorist acts”, it should not be compromised by any institution or individuals as especially in the case of Rusesbagina his terrorism acts happened in the spirit of Genocide against the Tutsi which the offender also denies consistently.
Some Western State actors are recognized for prohibiting denial of the genocides. For Example, Canada, in 1985 the Ontario government in Canada prosecuted Ernst Zundel, for distributing a Holocaust denial pamphlet. On 26 January 2007, the United Nations General Assembly adopted without reservation any denial of the Holocaust. The Genocide against the Tutsi was officially recognized by the UN and Rusesabagina’s acts of terrorism were instigated in the spirit of that Genocide. Both should be deterred and punished and no one should be led to lies that contravene the world shared principles that work for all us.
Emmanuel Mugiraneza, the writer, is a public servant at Rwanda Social Security Board (RSSB), interested in international affairs & Holds a Masters Degree in International Relations & Diplomacy