Feb 9, 2022 - Politics & Policy

"Hotel Rwanda" hero's daughter pleads for help

The hero of "Hotel Rwanda" is seen during his trial.
"Hotel Rwanda" hero Paul Rusesabagina (center) is seen during a court proceeding in October 2020. Photo: Simon Wohlfahrt/AFP via Getty Images

A daughter of the man whose story of compassion inspired the film "Hotel Rwanda" is appealing for President Biden to advocate for her father’s release.

Why it matters: The House Foreign Affairs Committee passed a bipartisan resolution on Tuesday urging the Rwandan government to release Paul Rusesabagina. It also called on the U.S. to raise his case in every interaction with the Rwandans.

  • His family says he's being persecuted for criticizing the regime of current Rwanda leader, President Paul Kagame.

The congressional resolution was introduced by Reps. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) and Young Kim (R-Calif.).

  • While a date hasn't been set, Castro's confident the resolution will be brought to the House floor for a vote — and deliver momentum to the cause.
  • “Nations around the world take the posture of the United States Congress very seriously,” he told Axios.
  • "We're going to push, also, allies around the world to condemn the action in the same way, because no nation has any interest in seeing their citizens or their residents being abducted and taken in this way."

Driving the news: Anaise Kanimba told Axios that if she could tell Biden one thing, she'd ask him to draw his own sense of empathy.

  • “Please help me,” Kanimba said she would tell the president if she had a chance. “Help me, because you understand my losses, and I don't want to lose another father again.”
  • Kanimba birth parents were murdered in the Rwandan genocide, and she and her sister were adopted by Rusesabagina after being found in a refugee camp.

The backdrop: Rusesabagina gained worldwide fame as the person depicted in the 2004 film depicting his efforts to save the lives of his family and more than 1,000 other refugees from genocide in Rwanda in 1994.

  • He did so by sheltering them in the Hôtel des Mille Collines.
  • In 2005, President George W. Bush presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
  • Rusesabagina was tricked into returning to Rwanda from the United States and subsequently found guilty of forming a terrorist group in September.

Big picture: His family and supporters maintain his innocence and contend the trial was a “sham” manufactured to silence him.

  • Rusesabagina, who had not lived in Rwanda since 1996, said he was kidnapped from Dubai in 2020 and has denied all the charges.
  • A bipartisan group of over 30 lawmakers initially called for the activist’s release in late 2020, before the trial had concluded.

What they're saying: A State Department spokesperson told Axios the U.S. government remains “concerned” by the lack of a fair trial granted to Rusesabagina.

  • The spokesperson noted his case is currently under appeal.
  • “It is Mr. Rusesabagina’s prerogative to determine how he wishes to engage in that process," the spokesperson told Axios. "We remain focused on the fairness of the process."
  • The spokesperson added: “The Department of State is engaging the Government of Rwanda at high levels in Kigali and the United States on this matter."

What we’re watching: Rusesabagina’s family speaks with officials in the State Department and White House on a fairly regular basis, Kanimba told Axios.

  • Family members also keep in touch with Rusesabagina, who's being held in Kigali, through five-minute phone calls every Friday.
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