Hotel Rwanda ‘Hero’ Refuses Trial, Star US Witness Takes Stand

“Hotel Rwanda” hero Paul Rusesabagina (C), wearing a mask, appears at the Kicukiro Primary court in Kigali, Rwanda, on September 14, 2020. Paul Rusesabagina, whose actions during the genocide inspired the Oscar-nominated film “Hotel Rwanda”, was charged on september 14, 2020, with terrorism and other serious crimes in his first court appearance in Kigali.  AFP / STRINGER



Paul Rusesabagina, the polarising hero of the hit movie “Hotel Rwanda,” refused Wednesday to participate in his trial, as an American citizen testified that he had financed rebel activities against his government.

Rusesabagina, whose actions during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide inspired the movie, has been charged with nine offences, including terrorism for starting an armed group in recent years that is accused of staging deadly attacks within Rwanda.

The 66-year-old, who had been living in exile in Belgium, was arrested in January, after being tricked into getting onto a plane to Kigali when he thought he was going to Burundi.

Rwandan Justice Minister Johnston Busingye admitted in an interview with Al-Jazeera last month that the government had paid for the flight.

At Wednesday’s hearing, a letter from Nyarugenge Prison where Rusesabagina is being held was read out, saying that he would “never again appear before this court, not just today but even for future hearings.”

“He said that he does not expect any justice from this court,” according to the letter, written by prison director Michel Kamugisha.

Presiding judge Antoine Muhima ruled the trial would continue.

The prosecution’s star witness, US citizen Michelle Martin, a social work professor who worked with Rusesabagina’s foundation a decade ago, gave testimony for three hours.

She said she had been privy to email correspondence “about financing rebel activities” and accused Rusesabagina of “genocide denial”.

Martin revealed that once she discovered Rusesabagina was “engaging in activities that appeared to be illegal, I turned everything over to US law enforcement.”

She revealed she had acted as an informant in a 2012 investigation against him in the US. She also said she had previously held a contract with the Rwandan government which required her to register in the US as a foreign agent, admitting this could “impact my credibility”.

Her contracts, available on the US Department of Justice website, showed she was being paid by the government to research Rwanda’s post-genocide “conflict-generated diaspora”.

– ‘A paid spy’ –
Rusesabagina’s daughter Carine Kanimba told AFP that Martin’s testimony would never have stood in a fair trial due to her “conflict of interest”.

Meanwhile Kitty Kurth, spokeswoman for the Hotel Rwanda Foundation, said that Martin had in the past pushed Rusesabagina to join the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) — a group run by Rwandan Hutu rebels.

“She was making the request as a paid spy of the government of Rwanda,” she said.

Rusesabagina’s family insist his rights have been trampled and he is not being afforded a fair trial, as he has been denied access to attorneys of his choosing, and has not been given access to over 5,000 pages of documents in his case file.

He is being tried alongside 20 others, who have all pled guilty and incriminated him.

– A complex image –
Rusesabagina is credited with sheltering hundreds of Rwandans inside a hotel he managed during the 1994 genocide, in which 800,000 mostly Tutsis but also moderate Hutus were slaughtered.

But in the years after Hollywood made him an international celebrity, a more complex image emerged of the staunch government critic, whose tirades against President Paul Kagame’s regime made him an enemy of the state.

Kagame has been in power since 1994 and is accused by critics of crushing opponents and ruling through fear.

As Rusesabagina grew more critical, railing against Kagame’s anti-Hutu sentiment — an extremely sensitive topic in Rwanda — so his image at home worsened as the regime attacked his character.

Detractors claimed he embellished his heroics, while some survivors groups accused him of profiting from their misery.

Rusesabagina has admitted to helping form the National Liberation Front (FLN), but denied any roles in its crimes.

Rwandan authorities blamed the FLN for a series of deadly attacks in 2018.

In a 2018 video supporting the FLN, Rusesabagina said: “The time has come for us to use any means possible to bring about change in Rwanda, as all political means have been tried and failed.”

Hotel Rwanda ‘Hero’ Admits Forming Armed Group Behind Attacks

Paul Rusesabagina
“Hotel Rwanda” hero Paul Rusesabagina in the pink inmate’s uniform arrives from the Nyarugenge prison with Rwanda Correctional Service (RCS) officers at the Nyarugenge Court of Justice in Kigali, Rwanda, on September 25, 2020.  (Photo by Simon Wohlfahrt / AFP)



Paul Rusesabagina, the polarising hero of the “Hotel Rwanda” film, admitted to a Kigali court on Friday that he had formed an armed group but denied any role in their crimes.

Rusesabagina is famed for his depiction in the movie in which he is shown to have saved hundreds of lives during the 1994 genocide, which left some 800,000 dead.

After years in exile, where he has become a fierce government critic, he appeared under arrest in Rwanda last month, after apparently being lured into a private jet under false pretences.

In recent years Rusesabagina co-founded the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), an opposition party based abroad.

While he has previously expressed support for the National Liberation Front (FLN), which has claimed responsibility for a series of attacks in Nyungwe, near the border with Burundi, his exact role has been unclear.

“We formed the FLN (National Liberation Front) as an armed wing, not as a terrorist group as the prosecution keeps saying. I do not deny that the FLN committed crimes but my role was diplomacy,” he said in court Friday.

“The agreement we signed to form MRCD as a political platform included the formation of an armed wing called FLN. But my work was under the political platform and I was in charge of diplomacy


Arrested ‘Hotel Rwanda’ Hero Duped Into Flying To Kigali

“Hotel Rwanda” hero Paul Rusesabagina (C) is escorted by police officers to leave after his pre-trial court session at the Kicukiro Primary court in Kigali, Rwanda, on September 14, 2020. / AFP / STRINGER



Paul Rusesabagina, the polarising hero of the “Hotel Rwanda” film who was arrested last month in Kigali, was duped into boarding a jet he thought was flying to Burundi, a New York Times report said.

“How I got here — now that is a surprise,” he told the US daily in a jailhouse interview with two Rwandan officials in the room. “I was actually not coming here.”

Rusesabagina, a Hutu, became famous after the Hollywood film in which he is credited with saving the lives of more than 1,200 people as they sheltered in the hotel he ran during the country’s 1994 genocide.

Some 800,000 mostly Tutsi but also moderate Hutu were killed in the genocide.

The 66-year-old has lived in exile since 1996 and holds both Belgian citizenship and a US “green card”.


“Hotel Rwanda” hero Paul Rusesabagina (C), wearing a mask, appears at the Kicukiro Primary court in Kigali, Rwanda, on September 14, 2020. / AFP / STRINGER


Over the years, he has become a staunch critic of leader Paul Kagame’s Tutsi-dominated government, accusing his ruling party of authoritarianism and anti-Hutu sentiment.

According to the NYT’s Friday report, Rusesabagina flew from the US to Dubai on August 26, before boarding a private jet he thought was heading to Bujumbura in Burundi which neighbours Rwanda.

The plane was operated by GainJet, a charter company based in Greece that is often used by Kagame, the report said.

But it landed in Kigali where Rusesabagina was arrested. The NYT quoted Rwanda’s spy chief as saying “he delivered himself here.”

He has since been charged with terrorism, financing and founding militant groups, murder, arson and conspiracy to involve children in armed groups.

Rusesabagina says he was heading to Burundi at the invitation of a pastor, to speak in his churches.


“Hotel Rwanda” hero Paul Rusesabagina (C), wearing a mask, appears at the Kicukiro Primary court in Kigali, Rwanda, on September 14, 2020. AFP / STRINGER


But the NYT was not able to speak to the pastor and says Rwandan officials believe he was actually heading there to coordinate with armed groups based in Burundi and Congo.

In 2018, Rusesabagina co-founded an opposition group, the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), which is said to have an armed wing called the National Liberation Front (FLN).

In multiple speeches, Rusesabagina has expressed support for the FLN — which has carried out armed attacks and is described as a terrorist organisation by Rwanda — but the extent of his involvement in its actions is unclear.

He has denied forming the FLN.