CHICAGO – After hearing from Paul Rusesabagina on Friday that his access to food, water and medicine would be cut off, his family and team anxiously awaited any word of his situation. Daughter Anaise Kanimba noted on Monday that “we have no idea if our father is eating or has any water at all this weekend. We are very afraid for what this will do to him in the next few days, and for his long term health.”
The US and Belgian embassies were unable to see him over the weekend, but received assurances from the Rwandan government that he was “being treated like all other prisoners.” Since government statements on Paul’s condition are often false, these could not be trusted by the family. Paul’s Rwandan lawyers were finally able to see him briefly on Monday and confirmed that he had received the Rwandan standard prisoner rations over the weekend, consisting of a single “meal” each day of corn gruel, beans and a serving of water.
This is a dramatic change from Paul’s previous conditions in prison, where he was provided with regular, if sparse meals by the Rwandan government, as is required by international law in a variety of conventions. The International Convention on Civil and Political Rights enshrines the right to food and water in prison, and the details are specified by the United Nation’s Mandela Rules, which provide the minimum standards for the treatment of prisoners. On food and water, they state that every prisoner shall be provided at the usual hours with food of nutritional value adequate for health and strength, and that drinking water shall be available to every prisoner whenever he or she needs it. Sadly, Rwanda’s typical provision of food to prisoners regularly violates their human rights as it is below these standards, and Paul is now subject to this treatment.
Paul and his lawyers were also told that he would have access to the prison cantina, where he can somewhat supplement his meals, but he would need to have money “on account” in order to access it. No instructions have been given to date on how to add money to his account. Paul has stated that he had $2000.00 (US) with him when he was arrested, and while that would usually be added to his prison account, that money has not surfaced. In addition, the Rusesabagina family had previously forwarded money through the Belgian embassy that has yet to be made available to Paul.
While his family is still concerned about his health and the availability of food and water, the government’s actions also raise concerning long term questions:
- Why was this change made now? The Rwandans claim it was because Paul was moved from solitary confinement, which they euphemistically call a “private room,” to a cell with other prisoners, and that required a change of food. No notice was given though that would have allowed Paul to have a seamless transition to anything above starvation rations.
- Is this change another punishment against Paul by the government? “Paul said that he understood that the change was intended to get him to go back to the courtroom, which he has boycotted since March. His team and family also fear that this is in retribution for Paul telling the world about his torture during his first four days in custody. Changing his food conditions for either of these reasons would also be violations of his legal and human rights.
It seems likely that this is just another in a long line of human rights violations thrown at Paul Rusesabagina by the Rwandan government in an effort to control him and move him back to their attempt at a show trial. With Paul not giving in, it also seems likely that attempts will continue in the future.
The United States, Belgium and the world need to act NOW to demand the release of Paul Ruseabagina before more harm is done.