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China, Russia and the United States are now competing in Africa. When I was in Rwanda this year, I saw Chinese and Russians building roads and highways, and American companies setting up for business. Rwanda, trying to protect itself against a new colonialism, kicked out 18 Chinese who were allegedly exploiting Rwandan workers.

American officials are also offering Africa advice on how to build our concept of a democracy.

Certainly there are many aspects of the Rwanda legal system that do not measure up to our standards. Their free speech laws are more restrictive than ours. But so is Germany’s 77 years after its genocide.

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s charge last Friday, that Paul Rusesabagina, the hero of the Hollywood film “Hotel Rwanda” did not receive a fair trial “based on reported facts”, should not obscure the fact that Rusesabagina was indeed guilty of sending money and supporting the killers of nine people in 2018 in Rwanda.

Several months before, on May 2002, President Joseph Biden put Rusesabagina on the list of “wrongfully detained” American residents in the same package as Americans wrongfully detained by the Russians. Biden echoed the remarks of President George Bush who on November 9, 2005 awarded Rusesabagina the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Rwanda’s legal process, like its economic miracle, is to be congratulated, not condemned.

I read most of the trial transcript, and interviewed one of the chief prosecution witnesses for over 10 hours. I read hundreds of emails and documents that make clear he financially supported the National Liberation Front, the armed wing of an opposition group seeking violent overthrow of the Rwandan state.

The evidence introduced against him came from his own files, from the files of the Belgian police when they raided his home, and from the files of our FBI.

The Belgian files show an organization of arms shipments to the FLN from Brussels. He was not prosecuted in Kigali solely because he denied the essential facts of the Rwandan genocide but because he was an active participant in his attempt to take power in Rwanda. The evidence showed how he would again create a resurgent Hutu state and urged the intensification of raids into Rwanda and terrorizing and killing her citizens.

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Michelle Martin

Michelle Martin

Dr. Michelle Martin, who worked at a Foundation created by Rusesabagina, testified that the primary focus of his foundation was to remove President Paul Kagama from power. She downloaded hundreds of emails and texts showing the court that the alleged nonprofit charity was his political vehicle to get power for himself and the Hutus.

Martin’s testimony was uncontradicted. Martin has a PhD in Peace Studies and International Development from the University of Bradford, a master of Social Sciences in global policy studies from the University of Bristol, a degree in Social Work from the University of Illinois, Chicago, and is currently a professor of Social Work at California State University, Fullerton.

The claim that he was a hero in 1994 is false. It was perpetuated by some of his present supporters, the makers of the film, “Hotel Rwanda”, a well-funded prominent public relations team, and his endearing family.

Lt General Romeo Dallaire, the courageous and heroic UN representative in Rwanda who pleaded for foreign intervention to stop the killing of nearly one million people, described the film Hotel Rwanda as “pure Hollywood crap”. He was in that hotel at the time Rusesabagina claimed he was making heroic attempts to save Tutsis from extermination. He totally rejects every aspect of Rusesabagina’s tale of heroism and every aspect of the Academy Award film (it received three nominations) that made Rusesabagina a celebrity hero. No one has ever questioned the total integrity and honesty of Dallaire. Other survivors of the hotel agree with Dallaire’s assessment that Rusesabagina is a liar.

Rusesabagina had previously testified in a British court in April 2008. He testified for the defense trying to prevent the extradition to Rwanda of four genocide suspects. Rusesabagina had been called as an expert witness testifying that the suspects would not get a fair trial if they were sent to Rwanda.

Judge Evans, in evaluating and then totally rejecting Rusesabagina’s testimony, said that Rusesabagina had denied that the Hutus had planned the genocide of the Tutsis: and that the killing was due to anarchy. The judge, in his lengthy opinion, wrote that Rusesabagina was an enemy of the Rwandan government, that he knew nothing about the Rwandan judiciary and his background was consistent to “the extremist Hutu faction”. Rusesabagina’s testimony and ideology bring to mind David Irving and the deniers of the Nazi Holocaust in World War II.

I have been in other countries recovering from massive killings. No country that I know of has made more of an attempt to deal with a nearly impossible situation. When I was there in 1994, and for years after there were no functional court houses, no judges, no way of administering justice in a country where nearly every family had some of its members killed. The jails were horrible and packed.

Rwanda tried to extradite Rusesabagina. They failed. His supporters claim he was misled into getting on a plane to Kigali and effectively kidnapped. 

Do allegations exist about Rwandas human rights failure in other areas. Yes. Is it clear that Rusesabagina was guilty of raising money to overthrow the government. Yes

It is of course appropriate to point out ways in which Rwanda’s legal system does not measure up to our concept of what a democracy’s legal system should be. But at the same time we must recognize the unique horror they lived through, the deep justifiable fears they still have and the accomplishments they have made.