Oct. 20, 2021

Free Paul Rusesabagina, Hotel Rwanda hero, Belgian citizen and US permanent resident held in Rwanda | Pod Hostage Diplomacy

Free Paul Rusesabagina, Hotel Rwanda hero, Belgian citizen and US permanent resident held in Rwanda | Pod Hostage Diplomacy

Paul Rusesabagina, a Belgian citizen and US permanent resident, is a recipient of the US Presidential Medal of Freedom. He has been credited with saving 1,200 lives during the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Paul’s acts of extraordinary courage inspired the Hollywood movie, Hotel Rwanda. 

Paul left Rwanda in 1996 fearing for his safety, and later became increasingly critical of the Rwandan government’s human rights violations. He then founded an opposition political party called the Party of Democracy in Rwanda and in 2018 co-founded the Rwanda Movement for Democratic Change, a coalition of opposition groups. In August 2020, Paul Rusesabagina was kidnapped in Dubai and taken to Rwanda where he is detained to this day. The European Parliament and members of the US Congress from both parties have called for Paul’s immediate release.

On this episode, we speak to Paul’s daughters, Carine Kanimba and Anaise Kanimba to find out how we can help bring him home. 

We discuss his kidnapping, the conditions of his detention, his unfair trial, Pegasus spyware found on Carine’s phone, assassination attempts, launching a public campaign to free their father, the guilt felt by Western countries for not intervening during the Rwandan genocide, how Carine and Anaise find the strength to overcome so much trauma as well as what the US, Belgium, European Parliament, Commonwealth, journalists and the public can do to free Paul Rusesabagina.

If you prefer, you can watch the video version of this interview on YouTube

For more information on Paul Rusesabagina, please check out the following:

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Transcript

Free Paul Rusesabagina, Hotel Rwanda hero, Belgian citizen and US permanent resident held in Rwanda | Pod Hostage Diplomacy

SPEAKERS

Daren Nair, Carine Kanimba, Anaise Kanimba

 

Daren Nair  00:05

Welcome to Pod Hostage Diplomacy. We work to free hostages and the unjustly detained around the world. Together with their families, we share their stories every week, and let you know how you can help bring them home. I'm Daren Nair, and I've had the honour of campaigning with many of these families for years. These are some of the most courageous and resilient people among us. People who have never given up hope, people who will never stop working to reunite their families. And we will be right there by their side until their loved ones are back home. Thank you for joining us. And now, let's meet this week's guest. Welcome to Pod Hostage Diplomacy. Belgian citizen and American permanent resident, Paul Rusesabagina, has been detained in Rwanda since August 2020. Paul Rusesabagina is well known as the Hotel Rwanda hero. He protected the lives of around 1,200 people who sought refuge at the hotel, Mille Collines, in Kigali, during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, where 800,000 members of the minority Tutsi and moderate Hutu population were murdered by the Hutu militia. Paul's acts of bravery were the inspiration for the Hollywood movie, "Hotel Rwanda." Paul left Rwanda in 1996, fearing for his safety, and later became increasingly critical of the Rwandan government. He then founded an opposition political party called the Party of Democracy in Rwanda, and in 2018, co-founded the Rwanda Movement for Democratic Change, a coalition of opposition groups. Paul was awarded the Medal of Freedom by former President of the United States, George W. Bush. On 27th August 2020, Paul Rusesabagina was disappeared from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Four days later, the Rwanda Investigation Bureau announced that Paul was in their custody. This was an enforced disappearance, in other words, a kidnapping by the Rwandan authorities. During his detention, Paul's many basic human rights were violated. He was forced to go through an unfair trial, and Paul was convicted of terrorism offences and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Many people have spoken out against this unfair trial and called for his release. On 23rd June 2021, members of the US Congress from both parties wrote a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying the following, "we write to convey our ongoing concerns with the continued detention of Mr. Paul Rusesabagina, a US lawful permanent resident and Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree, by the Rwandan government, and to urge you to use all of the diplomatic means at your disposal to ensure his safe return to the United States." In a press statement issued by the US State Department on 20th September 2021, Spokesperson Ned Price stated the following: "the United States is concerned by the government of Rwanda's conviction of US lawful permanent resident, Paul Rusesabagina on September 28. The reported lack of fair trial guarantees calls into question the fairness of the verdict. We have consistently highlighted the importance of respect for all applicable legal protections throughout these proceedings, and have raised concerns that these protections were not addressed in an impartial manner consistent with Rwanda's international commitments." A press release, issued by Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sophie Wilmes, also on 20th September 2021, stated the following: "at the end of this judicial procedure, and despite repeated calls by Belgium, it has to be concluded that Mr. Rusesabagina did not receive a fair and due trial, in particular with regards to the rights of defence. The presumption of innocence was not respected. These elements de facto call into question the trial and the verdict." Earlier this month, on September... October 2021, the European Parliament weighed in, too. They adopted a resolution that strongly condemned the illegal arrest, detention and conviction of Paul Rusesabagina, which violates international and Rwandan law. They consider the case of Mr. Rusesabagina "to be exemplary of the human rights violations in Rwanda, and calls into question the fairness of the verdict, which reportedly lacked guarantees of a fair trial in line with international best practices of representation, the right to be heard, and a presumption of innocence." This resolution adopted by the European Parliament calls for the immediate release of Mr. Rusesabagina on humanitarian grounds and for his repatriation without prejudice to his guilt or innocence. The resolution also calls on the Rwandan government to guarantee, in all circumstances, the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Mr. Rusesabagina and to allow him to take his usual medication, insisting that the Rwandan government must respect the rights of the Belgian government to provide consular assistance to Mr. Rusesabagina in order to ensure his health and proper access to defence. Amnesty International, the human rights charity, stated the following. "Amnesty International noted numerous fair trial violations, including Rusesabagina's arrest under false pretences and unlawful transfer to Rwanda and forced disappearance and incommunicado detention following his rendition to Rwanda. These fair violations must be effectively remedied." Human Rights Watch, another human rights organisation, also released a statement on this. They said the following: "the conviction of the Rwandan critic and political opponent, Paul Rusesabagina, comes after a flawed trial that is emblematic of the government's overreach and manipulation of the justice system." So, for those of you who are keeping track, that's Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the European Parliament, the Belgian government, and the US government have all stated that Paul Rusesabagina was subject to an unfair trial. Paul's family say he's innocent and want the Rwandan government to release him and allow him to come back home immediately. We are joined today by Paul Rusesabgina's two daughters, Carine Kanimba, who is speaking to us from Belgium, and Anaise Kanimba, who's speaking to us from the United States. Carine and Anaise, I say this to my guests every week, and I mean it. We're very sorry for what you, your father and your family are going through, and we will do everything we can to help. Thank you for joining us.

 

Anaise Kanimba  06:58

Thank you very much, Daren. It's... it's a pleasure for us to be here.

 

Carine Kanimba  07:02

Thank you for...

 

Daren Nair  07:03

 Can you please walk us through what happened to your father?

 

Anaise Kanimba  07:05

My father was travelling on a trip going to Burundi from San Antonio, Texas, last August. He was going to speak to a church congregation about truth and reconciliation, what he usually does as his job, where he talks to communities about truth and reconciliation and other human rights. And so, on this trip, he was invited by a bishop, who we later found out works for the Rwandan government. And this bishop tricked him to go to Dubai. And in Dubai, he was forced on this plane to go to where he thought he was going to Burundi and instead, brought him to Kigali. On the plane, he was drugged. And then upon arrival in the... when he woke up, he found that he was in Kigali. And that's when he... we found that he tried to, you know, to scream and to get the support of the... of the airplane hostess and... and the pilot, who actually were in the plan with the Rwandan authorities, and he was bound, blindfolded, dragged on the tarmac of the Rwandan airport, Kigali airport, and brought to a torture house for four days, where my father was able to tell us later on what they did to him. And so, they torture him for those four days. He was incommunicado. Our family was looking for him everywhere, we were sending him a message for him. He was not responding. Until we woke up on August 31st, Monday, seeing images of him handcuffed, paraded in front of the Rwandan Investigation Bureau, being called a terrorist and... and saying that they were going to put him on trial. And so, that was a shock to our family. And that's when our life completely changed and was turned upside down. And our family has been doing everything we can in our power to find a way to get reunited with him.

 

Daren Nair  09:04

Can you also talk to us about the conditions of his detention and violation of his rights?

 

Carine Kanimba  09:10

Yes. So, from the moment he... he arrived in Rwanda, as Anaise explained, his rights had already been violated. The conditions of which he was being held from the torture, to the drugging, to the drag... being dragged and thrown, being mishan... mistreated. All of it already amounted to both psychological and physical torture. However, upon... after August 31st, he was paraded in front of the media and then brought to the Rwandan Investigation Bureau. And from that moment, he was denied of all his basic rights as... as an accused, so his rights to defence, he was denied access to the... his legal representative or representation of this choice. We have an international team of lawyers that have been, including some lawyers that were already representing him before the kidnapping, who have been denied access to him. He was held in solitary confinement for over 250 days. And according to the... to... this is a violation of the UN Nelson Mandela Rule, which states that holding someone in solitary confinement for more than 15 consecutive days amounts to psychological torture. So, he was held in solitary confinement for 250 days, he was denied his medication. The Belgian diplomatic... the Belgian Embassy brought him his medication via the diplomatic suitcase. The medication was delivered to the prison, but the Rwandan prison authorities refused to give him his medication. And so, not only is he being held in solitary confinement, he's being denied the right to his... to his attorneys, attorneys of his choosing, he's been denied his rights to his medication. And he's also... he was also denied access to his case file. As in he cannot read or know, actually, the case against him, because they're not... refusing him even that right. And so, there has been a continuation of things that have happened, of human rights violations and abuses that have happened to him, up until the point that, this July, they decided to actually stop giving him food for three days, because they wanted to force him to participate in the... in the court proceedings, which he had decided no longer to take part in. So, the human rights violations that my father has faced since his kidnapping is a long, long, long list. And unfortunately, this is the reason why we advocate for his life and his rights every single day.

 

Daren Nair  11:43

Now, you mentioned that they didn't give him his medication. I understand your father is a cancer survivor who suffers from several chronic medical conditions as well. Is that right? 

 

Anaise Kanimba  11:52

He had cancer. And, you know, he's been, you know, it's been now almost three years that he hasn't been able to, it's gotta be three years that he hasn't been able to do a cancer screening because of COVID, and the last year in prison, in Kigali. Now there's conditions in which he's been living in Kigali also conducive to people with cancer in the past, he also to come back. He also has hypertension; he has had hypertension for a very long time. And they wouldn't allow him to get his actual medication. So, what happened really to him is that when he arrived in Kigali, after this, these four days, where he was being tortured, he lost 10 kilogrammes in, I think, couple days. He was very, very weak, he was brought to the hospital. And then the doctor made a lot of tests on him, and he told them already what was happening. And they forced him to take these new medication there. And ever since then, they've never really allowed him to take what he needs to take. And he's been weaker, every, every... every time, ever since... ever since. He gets very dizzy. You know, the doctors there recommend to get more fruit and water when he feels dizzy and sick. And so, instead, he has his medication. So, we've been... it's been a battle. It's something very concerning to us. And the fact that my father is 67-years-old also doesn't help, because the conditions, the prison conditions in Rwanda are very, very bad. And it's actually one of the worst prison system in the world.

 

Daren Nair  13:24

So, when was the last time you got to speak to your father?

 

Carine Kanimba  13:26

Yes, I would add that we're very lucky to have, to be able to hear his voice, even though it's only five minutes. But that is also telling of the conditions that he's being held under, the fact that he can only speak five minutes to his family, and that within those five minutes, we feel like the calls are monitored, he is not speaking at ease. There are people, prison guards, around him. And so, we're very grateful for those calls. But we are constant... we continue to be worried every day, because we know that this is not a safe conditions, and there's nothing that the Rwandan authorities... thus far, the Rwandan authorities have shown that they do not care about his human rights. And so, we worry every single day, even after we speak with him. 

 

Daren Nair  14:19

Have you got a sense of how he is, based on your conversations with him? Is he putting on a brave face for yourselves? Or how's he coping?

 

Anaise Kanimba  14:28

Yes, he is, you know, he's our dad; he's... he doesn't want to... to scare us. And so he... and so he... he strives to stay strong. But the reality also is that we know the calls are monitored, so he cannot be fully frank and tell us really how he's doing and tell us all the difficulties that are happening. And so, you know, we... everything is okay when we speak with him. But so, we have to kind of get through and we get through his voice and try to understand. We had to communicate in code the words sometimes to my mom and him, so they can, we can fully get how he's feeling. But I would say, you know, overall, he just stays as strong as he can. He's very, very... I'm amazed about his strength so far. And I think that's what also keeps us going when it's hearing his voice and hearing his strength. Yeah.

 

Daren Nair  15:20

So, you spoke about your communications with him. Now, I understand, Carine, your phone was hacked, using the Pegasus surveillance software created by the NSO Group. And it was, I believe, Amnesty International that helped you identify this. Could you talk a bit about this? 

 

Carine Kanimba  15:39

In July of 2020, the Amnesty International's security lab, in collaboration with the collective of journalists called Forbidden Stories, published a detailed report of the Pegasus software, the Pegasus infection in my phone. And they showed that since January of 2021, my phone had been continuously infected with the Pegasus software. They were able to give us a detailed timeline of the times when the software was active in my phone. And that included the moment we were meeting with the Belgian foreign minister, Sophie Wilmes, about my father's case. That included times when we were talking with our lawyers, with my father's international legal team, about his defence. That included times when we were communicating with our family about going to have some dinner and food, so they have been able to track our location, listen to our calls, listen to... read our exchanges. And we know it's the Rwandan government, because not only is it that, this is the same people that have broken into our home before. They have attempted to assassinate my father before. They have kidnapped my father, tortured him, and made him face everything that we've seen happening to him this year. So, the fact is... the fact that they've infected my phone and tracked my every communication is a violation of my human rights and my privacy and our family and our security. But it is also a violation of my father's rights to defence, of my father's security. And it is a demonstration of the Rwandan tactics of the methods that they use to try to not only intimidate people, to try to stop people, to try to silence critics, to silence people who are advocating for, like, two daughters advocating for their father's rights. These are tactics that they use. And so, I think the fact that they tapped our communications and kept the track, kept an eye on all of this shows, again, that they don't believe in... in the legitimacy of this trial and what's happening to my father, because they're trying to intercept our family and our efforts to bring him home.

 

Anaise Kanimba  17:53

That's... When we found out Carine's phone was... was hacked by this malware, you know, it reminded us of our... kind of our father's life before he was kidnapped. Our father was always concerned of being listened to and being followed, you know, and we didn't fully understand the extent to which the Rwandan government does that. But then the Rwandan government, actually, when we tell that how he got kidnapped, and what happened and the steps, the means of which the great length in which they did, they were following his step-by-step in... in San Antonio, Texas. So, the Rwandan authorities are tracking my father on US soil, and they know when he went to get his tests, his COVID test, before travelling, and you hear the head of the investigation, like the FBI of Rwanda, kind of speaking about it in the New York Times, they gleefully and happily and proud to be surveilling, you know, a person on US soil. And I just wanted to highlight that, because this is really the big problem that a lot of Rwandans face, a lot of people like my father, and now here, you know, any dissident and others. And look at what happened to my father, and we need to make sure that people are aware that this is happening, because we need to make it stop, you know, we need to protect and so these kinds of things, what happened to my father doesn't happen to others, and what happened to my sister and our family doesn't happen to others as well.

 

Daren Nair  19:19

So, the Rwandan government was spying on a US permanent resident on US soil. Is that what you're saying?

 

Anaise Kanimba  19:25

Yes, because of the... the Rwandan investigation Bureau, head of investigation, told The New York Times.

 

Carine Kanimba  19:33

And we've seen the consequences. We've seen what happens. I mean, our father has been kidnapped in front of the international community. He was dragged across international borders in violation of the international law. He was denied all his human rights. He was tortured. And he had been spied on. Now I'm being spied on. I've been tracked. Is this what's going to happen to me?

 

Daren Nair  19:58

So, you're campaigning for your father, and you find out that your phone has been hacked by the Rwandan government. And this is a surveillance software that is very hard to detect, and has been recording all your phone inputs, your passwords, usernames, your emails. What did you do once you found out that you have this software on your phone?

 

Carine Kanimba  20:25

So, it's... I have had to change everything. So first, I was very scared. We were already scared because of, again, what's happened to our father, but we... I've had to change all my methods of communications. I've had to go through great lengths to ensure that... that the way that we're trying to protect my father, to advocate for my father, doesn't get intercepted, and that we can, in fact, create, bring... build strategies, and talk to the people, the individuals that can help us bring him home without... without being intercepted by others who are trying to...who are trying to do the opposite. And so, we've had to change our methods of communications. And this has also slowed us down, because part of this, the struggle of bringing our father home is advocating for him on... on social media. So, that means using our phones to... because we know that the Rwandan has a very strong propag... the Rwandan government has a very strong propaganda machine. They have not only invested millions into spying on me via the Pegasus software and our family, but they have also invested a lot of money into trolls and social media trolls to... to make our father lose credibility, to attack anyone who speaks up on our behalf, on our... on our father's behalf. And... and so, part of our struggle, our family's challenge, has been to advocate for him on those platforms. And on those plats... and that means using our phones, our... our technology to do so. And the moment that they hacked my phone, and we've had to change all these methods, this also took time away from the efforts that we would have been putting into advocating for my father's release. And so, we've had to change our methods of communication, we've had... we've been slowed down, we've been backed up. However, it has not discouraged us, and it has not intimidated us because we believe, and we've seen how the power of propaganda, the power of intimidation into silencing people, and we will not be silenced.

 

Daren Nair  22:22

Now, I talked briefly about your father's background in my monologue. Could you let us know more about your father?

 

Carine Kanimba  22:29

Yes. So, in 1994, you may have heard of the movie "Hotel Rwanda," which is based on... on his life. It's a... it's a portrayal of his bravery during the genocide. During the 1994 genocide, he saved more than 1,200 people in the hotel, the Mille Collines, by sheltering them, by using everything, the little resources at his disposal to protect them and to risk his own life in order to ensure that not a single one of these refugees at the hotel would be killed. And after the genocide, the... there was a movie made about his life called "Hotel Rwanda." He was portrayed by Don Cheadle. And that gave him a different... a new platform internationally, Not only had he saved people under genocide, he had been advocating for peace in the 90s in Rwanda. But after the movie was released, he also gained and added a bigger platform where he was able to continue to bring attention to the genocide and lessons that he learned and that all the Rwandans learned during the genocide. But also, he used his platform to advocate for human rights for the people whose human rights were being violated and are still being violated today by the Rwandan government. He was recognised internationally by various organisations, by various individuals and... and human rights groups and governments for his bravery and his advocacy for human rights. That did not please the president, the current president of of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, because he saw our father as a person who was exposing his crimes, who was using his platform and the attention to call attention, the world's attention, to the human rights abuses being perpetrated by the Rwandan government on the Rwandan people and the people of the Great Lakes region of Africa. And... and so, he sought to silence him. He started off by calling him a genocide denier, which is a crime in Rwanda. But our father had just made a movie about the genocide and talked about it all the time. And he saved people during the genocide. And he truly has been teaching lessons about the genocide. So, it was difficult for the Rwandan Government to pin that on to him. But the goal there was to discredit him. That did not work. So, then they started coming up with more lies to try to make it look like he was... he hadn't saved people during the genocide, that the whole story was made up. But it was just a way to discredit him and make him lose that platform. Then they started accusing him of funding rebel groups in the Congo. They manufactured Western Union receipts, which they brought to the US authorities and the Belgian authorities. This was in 2010. However, the US authorities and the Belgian authorities, after studying those receipts, and those... and that information brought to them by the Rwandans, they concluded that in the moment of those transfers, the Western Union transfers that the Rwandan claims are made by my father, my father had been in Ireland when the Rwandan said that he had been in Texas for those transfers. So, the date and the location of those, what the Rwandans wanted to bring up against him did not match. And the US obviously never arrested him. The Belgians never did, because this was a continuation of the Rwandan government continuing to try to silence our father, to discredit him. And so, after that, there were... that did not work either. So, they tried to assassinate him. They broke into our home in Belgium. They followed him at conferences, at events, at schools, universities. They tried to stop him. They tried to kill him. But every time he knew that people had been silenced, people had been killed, people had been victims of this government. And he had the platform, and he had the voice and the attention to call it, to bring it... the opportunity to bring attention to them. And that's what he did. And so he continued to speak up for the people who have been victim... victimised by this government.

 

Daren Nair  26:34

You mention an assassination attempt. They broke into your home in Belgium. Was he given a protection detail after that assassination attempt?

 

Anaise Kanimba  26:45

After the assassination attempts and the times that people broke into our homes, and we know that these people were Rwandans because they were, you know, stealing documents in Kinyarwanda and no valuable things, my father and our family informed the authorities, the Belgian authorities. And so, they've been aware that people were following him and were after our family. They provide some security around. But, you know, we live under, you know, this dictatorship and this... and the fact that Kagame was after him. And this is a government that's after a person, it's very difficult to have security all the time, and you have to be able to live. And so, yes, there was some security around after, but it's been over... It's our whole life that they've been moving, they've been following our family and following my father. And so. my father, he tries his best. He wears bulletproof jackets when he was giving speeches because of the security. He always made the maximum that he could, but unfortunately, you know, the government of the Rwanda, it's, it's a powerful thing. And so, they kidnapped him in the end. And that's what they have been wanting to finally to do.

 

Daren Nair  27:56

So, it's clear that the Rwandan government appears to want to silence your father, because he's a political opponent. And he's been vocal about the Rwandan government's human rights abuses. And they're also trying to silence other people, and make them feel afraid to speak out. So, when your father was taken, you launched a public campaign to free your father. And obviously, there's a risk to your own security and your own safety, if you go public with this. So, can you talk to us about your decision to go public and what you did?

 

Anaise Kanimba  28:29

No, we didn't have a choice to be able to do this, you know, we were, in these early days, what kind of... one of the main thing that we've seen with the support in the media is that things are changing. And you know, for instance, in May, the ABC News wrote an article about the condition in which my father was detention. That prompted prison to allow my father to call us. And then a couple of days later, we saw that my father was out of solitary confinement. So... so... and so... so, we've seen that... that the media, the Rwandan authorities respond to the media. And so, that's why we wanted to make... to go public, but really, you know, it was not our choice. But we've seen that it's been the greatest tool to use against dictator to raise awareness to where it's at for our advocacy support. We're just one family. And now we are so blessed to have a lot of people supporting us through this raising awareness.

 

Carine Kanimba  29:27

Yes. And I would also add, if I may, the fact that a part of what we've learned as well, while advocating for our father, are those methods that dictatorships like the Rwandan government, like the Rwandan dictatorship uses, and that includes the propaganda machine that I mentioned earlier. They have a strong propaganda machine, and part of that is to try to make this... their stories stick, to try to discredit our father, and that was all with the intention of misleading the public. of misleading the public and the international community about who our father is. Our father is a hero who saved 1,200 people during the genocide and has been recognised for it internationally. He has been doing just that, talking about the genocide for over 20 years and trying to bring hope and... and peace and reconciliation to the region. And this is an image that Kagame wanted to destroy. He did so via propaganda and PR machines that we know he also puts a lot of money into. And so, by going out publicly and trying to discredit our father, and using the media as a way of trying to make our... to destroy our father's image and allow him to... and not allow him to have any support internationally, is the way that... is a strategy that they use, and is a method of the... of dictatorships. And so... and so, part of going public ourselves, was in order to, and while Anaise mentioned, said it wasn't out of choice, because it's the way that they began this... this struggle upon kidnapping our father and parading him in front of the media. But part of the struggle is to advocate for him publicly, to let them know what the truth is, to show the world who our father truly is, what his mission has been, what his work has been about, and to try to bring attention to not only the way he's being treated in Rwandan prison, but as a demonstration and as a symbol to the way other political prisoners are treated in Rwanda, to the way other journalists and critics are treated in Rwanda. So, this is... this idea of the public and advocating loudly and publicly for him is a way of standing up to these abuses. And these types of abuses are continuously and systematically being perpetrated by the Rwandan government.

 

Daren Nair  31:54

The US government has released statements. What else can they do to help bring your father home? 

 

Anaise Kanimba  32:00

So, the US government, yes, they've released some statements. And we're very grateful of the statement that they released, because they've provided a level of validity, kind of a third point with validity that our family needed to continue our advocacy, specifically around the outcome of the verdict and based on a due process, like you read earlier. You know, the US government, I wish that it could, you know, act faster, communicate faster with us to see how we're going to move the efforts, you know, where we... we have started working with them. And, you know, Ambassador Carstens, who's a Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs and wrongful detainees, has taken our case, and is supporting us. And so we have that one level of... of... let's say, level of hope that we will be able to see my father. But it doesn't mean that it's not a massive government, it doesn't mean that things sometimes get in the way. And when I... when we learned that we had actually, the opportunity to meet Secretary Blinken, and among other families of wrongful detainees and hostages, in early in February, when he just started his appointment, you know, and they really told us that our issues was going to be the priority, you know, and that's when I met and saw many other families, many other people who are in a similar position. And some people are in Iran, in Russia and China, in Venezuela, and often their case have been, you know, prompt and kind of pushed away because of policy issues that the United States has with those countries. You know, and having Secretary Blinken tell us that, next to Ambassador Carstens, that this was gonna be our issue, that's gonna be their priority, it reassured us. But unfortunately, you know, right now, we have not seen a lot of people come back home, and only one person from the United States. So, we hope that it's actually going to happen and so, and I personally in a selfish way, you know, I hope that we don't end up in the same situation as other families. I sympathise a lot. And that's why we need to continue to encourage the State Department and the US government to really fulfil their promise to us. And... but also to raise awareness about the issues of hostages and wrongful detainees around the world, because it's by people knowing what's happening to our families and to other people in similar situation like us that the government is really going to be even more encouraged to do this. And so, I'm so really pleased that you... we're having this podcast with you, that we can tell you about what's happening to us, because I know many other families are in a similar situation. And we need to really raise awareness, because that's how, you know, the government reacts, and we've seen the domino effect in one organisation and people get together mobilised and the government reacts and fulfil its promises. So, it's not by the lack of not wanting to support us. But I think sometimes other things go in the way, and we need to make sure that those things don't go in the way, and many families are in this situation.

 

Daren Nair  35:10

I absolutely agree. In fact, I've interviewed many of those families on this podcast I interviewed the son of Kai Li, the American held in China, the parents of Trevor Reed, held in Russia, the sister of Paul Whelan, held in Russia. I interviewed the daughter of Tomeu Vadell, held in Venezuela, the Citgo 6. And next week, I'll be interviewing Maryam Kamalmaz, the daughter of Majd Kamalmaz, held in Syria. So, I've... I've met many of these families, I've interviewed them, so I completely understand your situation. Now, your father is also a Belgian citizen. What can the Belgian government do to help for your father?

 

Carine Kanimba  35:48

So, I'd say as well, that we... we believe that the international pressure and the support surrounding the trial and the lack of fairness in the trial and the way our father has been treated, the outcry surrounding the way he's been treated has been very impactful. And not only holding the leaders in Europe accountable to their citizens, but also accountable to the principles by which the country is governed, the principles that we learned as children in kindergarten about equality, justice, and peace. And a lot of our advocacy this year has been reminding the leaders of our world of Europe and the US and Africa, across the world, that... reminding them of the principles by... that they taught us as young children, and what we know today and what we hope, what we know is possible is that there are political avenues. Our father is a political prisoner. This is not about justice. This is not about Rwandan just...  the terrorism trial like the Rwandan government wants to... to make it out to be. This is about... our father's a political prisoner, and we know that there are political avenues to bring him home. For instance, we know that there are levers that they can pull, whether is to put visa sanctions on the members who we know are directly responsible to... for kidnapping our father. We know that there are things that Rwanda is interested in, that Belgium also has been discussing with Rwanda, whether it's from a cooperation level, whether it's about judicial cooperation, there are many political avenues. We, as children, are doing our best to remind those leaders that they have those tools at their disposal to protect and ensure the rights of their citizens and their residents. And so, what we hope they'll do is that we hope they'll use those political avenues, and we hope that they will bring our father home before it's too late.

 

Daren Nair  37:54

I know the EU Parliament has recently adopted the resolution; I read out a few of their statements in the monologue. What else should they be doing to help for your father and bring him back home?

 

Carine Kanimba  38:05

So, the EU was... We're so grateful that the EU stood up and called for our father's immediate release and repatriation back home. However, now is the... is the time that we have to hold them accountable. We have to hold them to their words. They signed the resolution, I think it was 660 votes out of 680 with 18 abstentions. And... and I think that's a very strong majority. And... and... and we know that there is the political will. Now, we... we know that in next week, there is going to be a summit in Kigali, which involves the African Union and the European Union, some members of the foreign ministries of both continents will be meeting in Kigali. And we hope that they will use that opportunity to bring attention to our father's case. We hope that he will be part of the conversation, and we hope that he will come home after that, and... and we hope that not only for our father, but also for the many other victims of this regime, people who are held illegally in Rwanda, who are detained illegally. I think the American Bar Association and the Clooney Foundation for Justice detailed in their report the fair trial violations in my father's case, but in the meantime, we've seen the exact same violations in the case of Idamange, this other YouTuber currently jailed in Rwanda illegally. There's the case of Aimable Karasira and another YouTuber who was jailed because he spoke on YouTube. So, and he has also... he did... those two are subjected to the same fair trial violations that our father was being... is being subjected to. So, this is about... about holding Rwanda accountable to its citizens and responsible for violating the rights of their citizens, and we hope that the EU-AU summit that will happen in Kigali next week will be then an opportunity to bring all these issues forward and hopefully bring our father home.

 

Daren Nair  40:07

You've mentioned that the Commonwealth can also help. What can they do?

 

Anaise Kanimba  40:12

So, Rwanda is actually interestingly going to be the representative, represent the Commonwealth and starting... This was actually supposed to start in 2020. But it's officially supposed to happen in the near future. And so, at the CHOGM, once the CHOGM even happens, Rwanda will be representing the Commonwealth. And the Rwandan... and the Commonwealth stands in the principle of justice, human rights, and democracy, and Rwanda does not do that, and we've seen this specifically with my father's trial. And my father's trial has exhibited that there is no justice, there is no fair trial in Rwanda and the other cases occurring as just said. So, you know, by... we want to advocate toward other Commonwealth Heads of States and countries, to reconsider the appointment of Rwanda as the next Head of... Head of the Commonwealth, but also consider also going to Rwanda and, instead, asking for changes in this country. And Carine's gonna tell us a little bit about some of our effort in the UK, because, you know, in addition to all these people going through to Kigali, and we would like to kind of, similar to this meeting happening with the ministers of foreign affairs of the EU going to... to Kigali with the... with the African Union, we would love the support of these other Commonwealth Heads of States to ask President Kagame to release my father, but also to remind him of the true value of the Commonwealth, which is the rule of law. And that has not happened with my father's trial. And now the Minister of Justice who participated, actively participated, in breaking all these laws and infringing on my father's rights, is appointed to become the next Ambassador of Rwanda to the... to the UK, and Carine has been leading our efforts there, trying to raise awareness about what... about his new appointment? 

 

Carine Kanimba  42:10

Yes, so, the Justice Minister of Rwanda, Johnston Busingye, was appointed... was nominated as the next Rwandan Ambassador to the UK. And unfortunately, he is the same Justice Minister that admitted on an interview, accidentally admitted on an interview, with... on Al Jazeera that he... that the Rwandan government had paid for the flight that... the plane that kidnapped our father. They... he admitted, as the Justice Minister, that he was intercepting our father's confidential communications and documents with his lawyers, which should be respected by attorney-client privilege. And he admitted to... to just violating fair trial, the rights to a fair trial. And as not only justice minister, but also as a representative of the Rwandan government, we believe that he should not be the... be the next Ambassador of Rwanda to the UK, and that the UK should not accept his nomination, because he's not a good representation of the rule of law by which the Commonwealth institutions live by, and so. and respect. And so, our goal and our hope is that he will not be nominated, he will not be accepted as the next Ambassador. And we hope that this will also bring more pressure from the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth institutions on Rwanda in order for Rwanda to respect the rule of law. And if they want to continue their membership in the Commonwealth; it's in the Commonwealth of Nations. And... and so, part of our efforts in the UK has been to raise awareness on the reality of the... of the issues in Rwanda, but also the reality of what is happening with our father's case, and the... this justice minister's role in the kidnapping and violation of our father's rights.

 

Daren Nair  44:04

So, you've got some decent media coverage. I've seen the Times of London editorial, calling your father a prisoner of conscience and calling for his release. What can the journalists and news media do to help bring your father home?

 

Carine Kanimba  44:21

So, the... we believe that, continuing as Anaise laid out well earlier, is that, so far, our father is alive because there is attention on this case. Many Rwandans are not so lucky. Many other victims of this government are not so lucky, because they are quickly forgotten. And they are no longer spoken about and the Rwandan... the Rwandan government does whatever they want with them in the prisons. And so, we believe that continuing to pay attention to what is happening to our father's case, to continue to report on it, and to continue to ask questions, so not only the government of Belgium, the government of the US, the Commonwealth, members of the Commonwealth and the Rwandan Government, to hold them accountable for the way that they're treating a human being, is a way to keep his... his name alive, to keep him alive, to keep continuing... to continue to have people talk about him. And we hope and thus far, the media has been our strongest ally in keeping him alive. And we hope that they will continue to pay attention to his story. But most importantly, question those governments, those individuals in power on to what are their next actions, their next steps and... and in terms, in our father's case, and as it relates to the Rwandan dictatorship.

 

Anaise Kanimba  45:39

And I would like to add, you know, like, it will help us, our family, to reunite with our father, but continuing their attention to our... our case, they will also reunite many other families whose loved ones are illegally detained in Rwanda, by really exposing and showing what's happening to justice system, talking about this other side of Rwanda, people didn't want to talk about, you know, Rwanda has been the darling of the West for the last 20 years, and one of these contributor has been the positive, the positive reporting on Rwanda, which does not really represent everything that's happening. And this dark side of our country is a reality, and it's a bigger reality than people realise. And so, by continuing reporting on this, you will help our father, but it will also help the other hundreds of thousands of Rwandans living under the dictatorship, but also the people illegally detained and who are in the same situation as my father.

 

Daren Nair  46:38

So, you mentioned Rwanda has been a darling of the West for the last 20 years. Is that because they feel guilty for not intervening sooner during the Rwandan genocide?

 

Carine Kanimba  46:49

Yes. And I would also add that it's certainly the guilt, the guilt question in Rwanda. The Rwandan government and the dictator of Rwanda has successfully exploited that guilt over the... over the past 27 years. You know, both Anaise and I's biological parents were... were killed during the genocide. We were very, very lucky and fortunate to have been adopted by Paul Rusesabagina, and his very... and his... and our mom, Tatiana Rusesabagina, who have raised us as their own children, and we grew up learning not only the importance of... of the values of reconciliation, the truth and... and peace, this has been those strong pillars in our family and something that our father has consistently made an important aspect of our communication in life. And part of this guilt that Rwanda has successfully exploited over the past 27 year is what has allowed... 27 years, is what has allowed, has made it difficult for other powers, whether it's journalists or other governments who have criticised the Rwandan government's human rights abuses. It's given Kagame an opportunity, and the Rwandan government an opportunity to silence them as well, by bringing up what happened in 1994. And by, rather than talking about progress, and reconciliation and truth, and the conversation that needs to be had among the Rwandan people, they focused on exploiting that guilt of the outside, of the West. And every time somebody bring... brought up those criticisms, they were silenced and said, "where were... what, well, where were you in 1994?" And so to conclude this, then, in a way to counter this, in a way to make it right, and for the Rwandan people, because those are the ones who are suffering the most out of this, is to make... is to report accurately on what is happening in Rwanda. It means to call it, to bring up, to talk, not only to talk about the success of Rwanda, yes, but also talk about those people who are being mistreated, who are being marginalised, who, and those are the people who my father had been talking about for the past 20 years. And that is why he's been illegal... he's illegally detained. That's why he was kidnapped. And that's why he's facing all this is because he was calling attention to what this government has done. And... and this in the same way that... that and then just to conclude them, the reporting of the way of what's happening in Rwanda ties into the story that needs to be told in its entirety.

 

Anaise Kanimba  49:31

Yes, yes, yes. I think that's a major, I mean, it's, I believe, from my, you know, my... my position as a young 29-year-old, you know, I'm like, my awareness of the geopolitics, it's really I think, it's really the fact that the world feels this guilt of not helping our country during the genocide, and they've really helped and allowed Kagame to become this big figure and... and this is where we are today. You know, he's been the benevolent dictator, but benev... or authoritarian, but they haven't... this guy's winning by 99%, you know, and for some reason other... other, the world doesn't work with other dictators who win by 99%.

 

Daren Nair  50:15

I'm very sorry to hear about what happened to biological parents. Every one of you has gone through significant amount of trauma, and yet you're strong and resilient. Where do you find that strength? And because the reason I ask is a lot of people in many parts of the world have had similar experiences, or going through tough times. So, where do you find the resilience? How do you continue to stay strong? And I know part of it is because you don't really have a choice. You want to free your father. But is there anything you can talk about as well? Where do you find the strength is my question really.

 

Carine Kanimba  51:03

Maybe I'll start. I would say that our father has been a role model for us for... for as long as we've been in his life, and he's been in ours. And that in the way that he dealt with the... the genocide perpetrators during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, that he for 75 days, every single day, he woke up with the knowledge and the goal of saving the people in the hotel until the next day, and until the next day, and the next day, and he never lost hope. Even as the entire... the hotel was surrounded by people who wanted to come in and kill every single one of the people he was protecting, he never lost hope. And he continued, who woke up every day with the goal of making sure that the next day, they're still alive, and they're still breathing. And that is because he believes that everyone within our hearts have someplace that is warm, and that is peaceful, and that is loving and that can be reached. And, in our attitude, at least, I would speak for myself and I'll let Anaise speak as well. But the way that I see it is that all of us, everyone in the world has that place in their heart. And this is thanks to our father who taught us this is that we can reach out to people, we can extend to people and tomorrow will be a better day if we truly believe and hope. And... and I think this is the attitude that we've taken in this struggle for him is that we believe that we hope, we have belief in people, in the goodness of humanity, in the goodness of people. And we believe that tomorrow will be another day and a better one than... than yesterday. And we will continue to do so until for as long as we can. And hopefully, we'll see our father home, and we'll continue to live peacefully and happily.

 

Anaise Kanimba  52:35

Yeah. And I think Carine said it pretty well. What I would add, you know, you said something at the beginning of your question that, you know, this is something a lot of family has gone through. And one of the things in the world and, you know, and illegal detention, dictatorship, and one thing people do is death. They didn't kill him in Dubai, when they decided to bring him to Rwanda. So, they gave him a chance to live. And so, because it gave him the chance to live in a way also, I think it drives me, it helps me because I'm knowing we still have another chance. And so, I can continue. And then, like Carine said, reaching out to people, we reached out that hand and we say we needed help. And people came to us, stranger came to us. And all of that humbles you, reminds you that you're not alone in this world. And actually, there's more good than bad in this world. And so, that really keeps you going. It makes... it wakes you up, you know, you wake up and get out of bed, because you know that somewhere, somebody... somebody signed a petition for my dad, so he could get freed. Somebody, you know, asked their Congressman, called their... their Senators to help my dad. And so, that really just drives me, and helps me and give me... keeps me going. And that's really the love of people. And if you realise that when in sometimes in this worst time of your life that there is humanity.

 

Daren Nair  54:23

So, what can the public do to help?

 

Carine Kanimba  54:27

You can... There are many ways that people can help to bring our father home. You can start by visiting our website, which is hrrffoundation.org [now paulr.org]. And you can also go on our Twitter page and our Facebook to follow what we're... what is happening with my father's case on the Free Rusesabagina website. You can also contribute to... via Twitter. On Twitter, you know, as I mentioned, propaganda and, um, this... the suffering this propaganda is part of the important strategy in... in making sure that the truth remains that the truth is told and talking about this, our father's situation on using the hashtag #FreeRusesabagina, brings attention to his case and allows leaders and others who are in a position to take direct action within their... their... their leadership positions, and to help bring our father home. So, talking about him in... on different platforms... groups is important to keep him alive and to continue to bring attention to his case. But you can also contribute to our legal defence fund. You know, we're a small family, and we are dealing with the government that it has unlimited resources. And we... It has not been easy on in trying to maintain all of the costs of keeping the campaign. And we have partnered with Legaler Aid, which is this nonprofit that helps us raise funds for our legal defence fund. And we can also share the website is also, the link is also available on the Free Rusesabagina website. And so, this is another way that anyone listening can contribute to the struggle to bringing our father home.

 

Daren Nair  56:22

So, Carine and Anaise, we're almost at the end of our interview. Is there anything else you'd like to mention?

 

Carine Kanimba  56:27

I'd say thank you. Thank you for... for... for having us on the... on the podcast. Thank you for sharing our father's story. Thank you for keeping him alive. And thank you for giving us the opportunity to share more about his story and our father's life. And... and we hope that perhaps we'll have another podcast with him on when he's home.

 

Anaise Kanimba  56:49

Yes, I think I want to echo Carine, too, and want to thank you for giving us the opportunity to raise awareness about this really horrible situation. Like you say, you've spoken to other families. And it's so important that you continue doing what you do, because the world needs to know that people are hostages, people are wrongfully detained. Governments are using people to get to their own games, and it's unfair and stuff. And so, thank you for being a voice behind this.

 

Daren Nair  57:17

You're very welcome. It's an honour to help. As I said at the beginning of the podcast, in my intro, and the people I speak to like yourselves are amazing people, courageous and resilient people. So, I'm honoured to help. As I said at the beginning, we're very sorry for what your family is going through and we will do everything we can to help. We will be right here by your side until your father's back home. Thank you, Carine and Anaise for joining us. I hope to speak to your father on the next podcast episode soon. Thank you.

 

Anaise Kanimba  57:50

 Thank you. I hope so, too.

 

Daren Nair  57:59

Thank you for listening to this week's episode of Pod Hostage Diplomacy. We're not just a podcast, we're a community. If you're on Twitter, and would like to post a message of solidarity to the families or have any questions for us, please tweet it using the hashtag #PodHostageDiplomacy, and we will get back to you. If you like what we're trying to do, please do consider supporting the show financially. You can do this using the support the show link in the description of this podcast episode. We're grateful for any contributions, no matter how small. Thanks again for listening. And we'll be back next week. Take care.