World reaction to ‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero’s prison sentence

Family, governments, and rights groups say Paul Rusesabagina, who saved hundreds of lives during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, did not receive a fair trial.

Paul Rusesabagina looks on at the Supreme Court in Kigali on February 17, 2021 [Simon Wohlfahrt / AFP]
Rusesabagina's daughter said charges against him were 'completely invented' [File: Simon Wohlfahrt/AFP]

The former Rwandan hotelier Paul Rusesabagina, credited with saving hundreds of lives during the 1994 genocide, has been found guilty by a Rwandan court of being part of a group responsible for “terrorist” attacks and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Rusesabagina, whose heroics during the genocide were portrayed in the 2004 film, Hotel Rwanda, boycotted the verdict on Monday after declaring he did not expect justice in a trial he called a “sham”.

This is how his family and the rest of the world reacted to the verdict:


Rusesabagina’s daughter, Carine Kanimba, said her father should be released and allowed to come home.

“This verdict means nothing for us. Our father was kidnapped,” Kanimba told Al Jazeera.

“He was dragged across international borders in violation of international law. My father knows that his rights were violated … that’s why he decided to step out of the trial, and this is all political,” she said adding that her father was “a political prisoner”.

“The charges are completely invented.”

The daughter said her family was “very worried” about Rusesabagina’s health and was afraid he would die in prison.

United States

The US voiced its concern over the Rusesabagina case saying the former hotelier did not get a fair trial.

“The United States is concerned by the Government of Rwanda’s conviction of US lawful permanent resident Paul Rusesabagina,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

“The reported lack of fair trial guarantees calls into question the fairness of the verdict.”

“We urge the Government of Rwanda to take steps to examine these shortcomings in Mr. Rusesabagina’s case and establish safeguards to prevent similar outcomes in the future,” he added.

Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro said the decision by the Rwandan court was “deeply disappointing”.


“Despite repeated appeals from Belgium on this matter … Mr Rusesabagina did not benefit from a fair and equitable trial; particularly with regard to the rights of the defence,” Belgium’s Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmes said in a statement.

“The presumption of innocence was not respected either. These elements de facto call into question the trial and the judgement.”

The statement said Wilmes would hold talks with her Rwandan counterpart this week on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.

“In the meantime, Belgium remains in close contact with Mr Rusesabagina,” it said.


“This was a show trial, rather than a fair judicial inquiry,” said Geoffrey Robertson QC, the Clooney Foundation for Justice’s TrialWatch expert on the case.

“The prosecution evidence against him was unveiled but not challenged. Given Mr. Rusesabagina’s age and poor health, this severe sentence is likely to be a death sentence.”

Amnesty International

There were “numerous fair trial violations including Rusesabagina’s arrest under false pretences and unlawful transfer to Rwanda, enforced disappearance and incommunicado detention following his rendition to Rwanda”, according to Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes.

“Fair trial violations in the case were a disservice to the course of justice and to the victims and survivors of the attacks for which Rusesabagina and others were accused of being responsible.”

Human Rights Watch

The New York-based Human Rights Watch said there were “multiple violations” of the right to a fair trial and that “Rwanda courts are overpowered by political influence.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies