Daughter of Rwandan ‘Genocide Hero’ Pleads for His Release

On Monday morning, Carine Kanimba, the daughter of Rwandan activist Paul Rusesabagina knew something was wrong. Her phone had been buzzing with questions from friends who were alarmed by what they had seen in the news. She turned on the television and found out why. “We saw that he was in the hands of the Rwandan government and in handcuffs. That’s how we found out.”The 66-year-old who was depicted in the film “Paul Rusesabagina is pictured with his daughter, Carine Kanimba, left, and her sister. (Carine Kanimba/Facebook)The last time Kanimba, who spoke to VOA from Washington, said she spoke to her father was before he flew to Dubai on August 27.“I knew he was going to meet some people and just for a few meetings and then he was supposed to come back on Tuesday. The first of September,” she said speaking via Skype.“It was my nephew and his grandson’s birthday … and he sent … a very sweet message to his grandson, wishing him and happy birthday.” He was communicating via the messaging platform WhatsApp. When the family tried to check if he had arrived safely, the messages weren’t delivered, she said. “We never got two bar signs that we usually get when we communicate.”The platform has been vulnerable to hacks in which dissidents and journalists have claimed they were tracked and targeted, according to FILE – U.S. President George W. Bush presents a Presidential Medal of Freedom to Paul Rusesabagina, who sheltered people at a hotel he managed during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, at a ceremony at the White House in Washington, Nov. 9, 2005.‘I never felt safe’Rusesabagina is best known as the manager of the Hotel des Mille Collines in Kigali during the 1994 genocide. He used the building to hide over 1,000 people during the 100-day mass killings. Former U.S. President George W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005.In recent years he has become an outspoken critic of Rwandan President Paul Kagame. In his 2006 autobiography, Rusesabagina wrote, “Rwanda is today a nation governed by and for the benefit of a small group of elite Tutsis.”Family members have long believed Rusesabagina was being closely tracked by Rwandan operatives during his travels.In 2016 he told VOA’s Africa 54, “I can tell you that I never felt safe since 2000. When I started the struggle moving around the world talking about what was going around in Rwanda when everybody else was kind of silenced. So, I was the only one … standing and getting into different offices, getting into the international community talking about what was going on in Rwanda.”Numerous Rwandan dissidents, opposition leaders and former high-ranking officials have been killed at home and abroad.In a 2019 report, Human Rights Watch called for independent investigations into the killings and asked international partners to put pressure on the Kagame government to respect human rights.“On the international stage, Rwanda is a model of law and order, yet we are seeing a spate of violent and brazen attacks against opposition members go unpunished,” said Lewis Mudge, Human Rights Watch Central Africa director.“The contrast is jarring,” he said.’Help us bring him home’Now Kanimba fears for her father’s safety.“Honestly from the bottom of my heart, I am in so much fear for his life. He had survived cancer a few years ago. He has hypertension and needs medication … that has to be taken with food.”She is pleading for help from the U.S. and other international powers.“We do not know what condition he is in now,” she said. “So we’re pleading and begging the international community to help us see him and to help us bring him home.”VOA’s Vincent Makori and James Butty contributed to this report.

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