Hotel Rwanda humanitarian and San Antonio resident Paul Rusesabagina saved 1,268 people during the Rwandan genocide. That story was the basis for the 2004 movie Hotel Rwanda; Paul was played by Don Cheadle.

While Paul’s life is dedicated to helping his fellow Rwandans, he was lured from his home last August and now sits in a Rwandan jail. 

Since 2004, Paul has undertaken humanitarian work focused on Rwanda and the region. He advocates tirelessly for the human rights of the Rwandan people. Rwanda is a dictatorship where citizens have no rights to free speech. Paul is a voice for the voiceless, bringing the issues of his home country to the wider world and advocating for real democracy and human rights. 

Paul’s work has been noticed and honored by many over the years. This included a 2005 visit to the White House, where President George W. Bush awarded him one of the highest U.S. civilian honors, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 

Unfortunately, because of his humanitarian work Paul was kidnapped in August 2020. He was lured from his home in San Antonio through Dubai, and brought against his will to Rwanda. On arrival, he was held for four days completely incommunicado and tortured by Rwandan agents in a place he described as a “slaughter house.” After that ordeal, he spent over 250 days in solitary confinement — which is defined as torture by the U.N.’s Nelson Mandela Rules for the treatment of prisoners. 

Paul was charged with “terrorism,” with a list of seven false crimes he did not commit. In a sham trial that lasted from February 2020 to November, the Rwandan government presented no credible evidence. Not only did they fail to link Paul to the alleged crimes, but they did not even prove that the alleged terrorist attacks happened. But this is Rwanda, where critics of the government have no free speech, and the rule of law is whatever President Paul Kagame makes it out to be. As expected from the day he was kidnapped, Paul was found guilty and sentenced to 25 years in jail. This is effectively a life sentence for a 67-year-old man. 

Paul’s health has been a grave concern since his kidnapping. He suffers from hypertension and is not receiving adequate medication. He frequently complains of dizziness and faintness. Just as urgently, he is a cancer survivor who has now gone two years without a follow-up appointment. The Rwandan government has made excuses and covered up his medical issues, saying that they are handling it, but have provided no proof. Since this is a country where political opponents and critics frequently die in jail of undetermined causes, this is a very serious issue. 

Now is the time to bring Paul home. The legal process in Rwanda was completely unfair, with all of Paul’s trial rights violated at every step of the way. This was documented by the American Bar Association, the Clooney Foundation, Human Rights Watch, the EU Parliament, and many other organizations. 

It is essential that the U.S. government put pressure on the Rwandans. As a resident of San Antonio, Paul has enjoyed the support of many in the Texas House and Senate delegations, but more work is needed. We need to continue to put pressure on Congress and the State Department to bring Paul home as soon as possible. An innocent humanitarian now sits in a dictator’s jail, and he will die there without our help. 

His defense is also expensive. Paul’s family has brought together an international team of lawyers to help both with legal and political issues in the U.S., Europe and Rwanda. The family will hold a fundraiser in San Antonio this Thursday night, and your support is greatly appreciated.

Brian Endless

Brian Endless is the director of African Studies and a senior lecturer in the Political Science department at Loyola University Chicago. He has worked with Paul Rusesabagina and his Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina...