CHICAGO – Nov. 18, 2020 – Paul Rusesabagina is the highest profile humanitarian caught in the anti-dissent web spun by Paul Kagame’s government around the world, but he is not the only one. Tracking, surveilling, harassing and sometimes even attacking anyone who speaks out against Kagame or his government, whether in Rwanda or other countries, is par for the course when it comes to Rwandan policy.
Rusesabagina, the international human rights icon whose true story of saving 1,268 people during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide was told in the film Hotel Rwanda, was kidnapped from Dubai at the end of August 2020 and brought to Rwanda where he remains detained illegally. Despite having left the country more than two decades prior, and holding Belgian citizenship and legal permanent resident status in the United States, he remained a target of the Rwandan government.
After Rusesabagina became a refugee from Rwanda, he continued to speak out to try to save lives and protect those still in Rwanda and DRC who were victims of the Kagame regime. Rusesabagina often says that he believes he survived the the Genocide so that he could continue to be a voice for the voiceless. While in exile, Rusesabagina has spoken out about the human rights abuses committed by the government of Rwandan President Paul Kagame. Kagame’s actions often result in dissidents being forced to leave the country and seek citizenship elsewhere to protect themselves and their families. Unfortunately, a change in geography still doesn’t guarantee a person will be entirely free from harassment, surveillance or worse at the hands of Rwanda.
According to a September 2020 report in The New York Times, “In at least six countries, Rwandan exiles have been harassed, assaulted or killed, as part of an apparent covert campaign targeting Mr. Kagame’s most nettlesome detractors. Some were accused of having participated in the genocide.”
Today, we found out through a BBC report, “The Loyalty Oath Keeping Rwandans Abroad in Check,” that the Rwandan Embassy in the United Kingdom holds on-site ceremonies where attendees are required to swear loyalty not to their country, but to the governing political party the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). Part of the pledge, recited in Kinyarwanda, reads: “If I betray you or stray from the RPF’s plans and intentions, I would be betraying all Rwandans and must be punished by hanging.” Multiple attendees anonymously told the BBC that they were there under duress and fearful that their family members still living in Rwanda would be targeted if they did not participate. For many Rwandans who travel abroad, whether as students, diplomats or business people, there is an expectation that they will act on behalf of their government against any dissenters, and in particular against anyone who speaks out about the Kagame regime.
Despite the fact that Rwanda is not allowed under law to surveille Rwandans living in other countries, they do and that behavior is being increasingly exposed. Over the years when Paul Rusesabagina gave speeches about the Genocide or advocated for an internationally sanctioned Truth and Reconciliation Commission for the Great Lakes Region of Africa, the Rwandan Government regularly watched and harassed him. They sent threatening letters to host groups, they sent spies to watch Rusesabagina’s presentations, they tried to hack his email, they even sent Rwandan diplomats to follow Rusesabagina’s movements on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The Rwandan government routinely sent agents to disrupt private events held by Rusesabagina’s Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation, or third party events where Rusesabagina was the speaker. Threatening emails and electronic surveillance to Rusesabagina, his foundation and host groups were routine occurrences.
Following is a sampling of news coverage that details the harassment of many other Rwandans living in exile everywhere from Australia, Belgium and Canada to Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States have had to endure, along with stories on the Rwandan government’s surveillance practices.
- The Guardian (UK) 9/3/20: Rwanda dissidents suspect Paul Rusesabagina was under surveillance
- Advox 8/7/20: The chilling tale of mass surveillance and spying in Rwanda
- The Brussels Times (Be) 11/22/19: Belgium: a playground for Rwandan spies?
- ABC Australia 8/24/19: Spies in our suburbs
- The Guardian (UK) 1/15/19: Rwanda’s Khashoggi: who killed the exiled spy chief?
- New York Review of Books 8/4/17: Rwanda: Kagame’s Efficient Repression
- The Sun (Canada) 4/11/15: Four other Canadians believe they’re being targeted by Rwanda
- New York Times 6/17/14: Why Are Rwandans Disappearing?
- Facebook post (Sweden) 2/12/13: The Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs exposes how the Rwandan intelligence planned to Assassinate Rwandans Refugees
- The World 2/13/12: Rwanda News: Sweden expels Rwanda diplomat for spying