By Olive Mukahirwa
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Rwanda on Thursday as his last stop in Africa. His agenda while in Rwanda included U.S.-Rwanda relations, peace and security in the region, and Paul Rusesabagina.
Mr. Blinken was received by Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, at the State House in Urugwiro Village. The two leaders discussed regional peace and security, human rights, and Paul Rusesabagina – a permanent U.S. resident who is serving a 25- year sentence in Rwanda.
On Wednesday, in Democratic Republic of Congo, Blinken expressed grave concern about a U.N. report presenting “solid evidence” that Rwanda is backing M23 rebels in neighboring DR Congo. Rwanda continues to refute the evidence in the report.
According to Blinken, both President Kagame and Felix Tshisekedi, the President of DR Congo, say they are willing to engage in talks aiming for peace and security in the African Great Lakes region.
Blinken said, “My message to both president Tshisekedi and President Paul Kagame this week has been the same. Any support or cooperation with any armed group in Eastern DRC endangers local communities and regional stability, and every country in the region must respect the territorial integrity of the others…. Both presidents have agreed to engage in direct talks with each other.”
Rwanda’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Vincent Biruta confirmed that Rwanda backs peace in the region.
“We agreed on the need to eradicate all irregular armed groups operating in the Eastern DRC, including the FDLR and its factions.” Minister Biruta said.
Rwanda seems calm despite pressure for Rusesabagina’s release
Another main item on Blinken’s agenda was Paul Rusesabagina, a 68-year-old Rwandan permanent resident of the U.S. who went to Rwanda in 2020, was arrested and tried by Rwanda’s justice system, convicted of terrorism-related crimes, and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Two days before Antony Blinken arrived in Rwanda, he faced pressure to push Rwanda for the release of Paul Rusesabagina. Back in May, the U.S. State Department had stated publicly that Rusesabagina had been” wrongfully detained.”
Antony Blinken said that during his meeting with President Paul Kagame, they discussed Rusesabagina’s trial and conviction – particularly “the lack of fair trial guarantees.”
“We continue to urge the government to address concerns about the legal protections afforded to [Rusesabagina] and his case and establish safeguards to prevent similar outcomes in the future,” Blinken said.
Rwanda says that Rusesabagina was lawfully detained, tried, and convicted in a fair trial. The Minister of Foreign affairs Vincent Biruta said Rwanda does not intend to change its position toward Rusesabagina.
“When Rwanda deals with people who commit crimes against our country and our people, we abide by the laws – both national and international laws. We know some other countries have their own methods to deal with those kinds of people, those criminals who commit crimes against their own countries, but as far as Rwanda is concerned, we do it in respect of our laws and in the respect of international laws. Any other people could qualify it as international repression, or whatever….” Minister Biruta said.
Biruta said that despite Rusesabagina’s permanent resident status in the U.S., he is a Rwandan citizen, so he was convicted according to both Rwandan and International laws.
In the 2004 film Hotel Rwanda, Rusesabagina was portrayed as having saved the lives of hundreds of ethnic Tutsis during the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. In 2005, President George W. Bush conferred the Presidential Medal of Freedom upon him, and that same year he also received the National Civil Rights Museum Freedom Award and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation’s Humanitarian Award.