Rwanda’s President Says the US Can’t ‘Bully’ Him Into Releasing Rusesabagina

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Politics|Rwanda’s president says the United States can’t ‘bully’ him into releasing a political opponent.

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda suggested that only an invasion of his country could force him to release Paul Rusesabagina, a rescuer in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Paul Kagame, in a suit, delivering remarks.
President Paul Kagame of Rwanda delivers remarks during the Space Forum at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit on Tuesday.Credit…Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Michael Crowley

Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame, suggested that only an invasion of his country could force him to release Paul Rusesabagina, a rescuer in the 1994 Rwandan genocide whose release the Biden administration has called for.

“We’ve made it clear there isn’t anyone going to come from anywhere to bully us into something to do with our lives,” Mr. Kagame said in response to a question about Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken’s appeals for Mr. Rusesabagina’s freedom.

“Maybe make an invasion and overrun the country — you can do that,” he said. Mr. Kagame spoke on the sidelines of the U.S.-Africa summit at an event hosted by the news organization Semafor.

Asked whether he would be meeting one on one with President Biden during this week’s summit, Mr. Kagame said he was “not sure yet.”

Mr. Rusesabagina, 68, worked during the genocide as the manager of the Hôtel des Mille Collines in Kigali, the setting for the film “Hotel Rwanda.” The hotel housed more than 1,000 people at risk of murder; all survived. President George W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

He is a longtime critic of the Rwandan leader, who was himself once hailed as a peacemaker — but has more recently been criticized widely as a repressive strongman. In August of 2020, Mr. Kagame lured Mr. Rusesabagina to Rwanda under false pretenses from his home in Texas, where he was a permanent resident.

Mr. Rusesabagina, a Belgian citizen, had vowed never to return to his native country and believed he was flying to Burundi. He was arrested on his arrival to Kigali and eventually convicted on charges of involvement in violent rebel attacks within Rwanda in 2018 and 2019.

The State Department determined in May that Mr. Rusesabagina was being “wrongfully detained,” a status that was also given to the basketball star Brittney Griner when she was held in Russia, and which makes Mr. Rusesabagina tantamount to a political prisoner.

Some human rights activists have criticized the attendance of Mr. Kagame at the summit. Writing for Time this week, Jeffrey Smith, an activist who promotes democracy in sub-Sarahan Africa, said: “Rwanda’s president stands out as particularly cunning and ruthless in his full-throttle consolidation of political power back home.”

Mr. Blinken raised Mr. Rusesabagina’s case during an August visit to Kigali, where he met with Mr. Kagame. Mr. Blinken has also pressed the Rwandan leader on his country’s support for militias in eastern Congo and other human rights concerns in the country.

“This problem was not created by Rwanda and is not Rwanda’s problem,” Mr. Kagame said on Wednesday of the conflict in neighboring Congo. “It is Congo’s problem. They are the ones that have to deal with it.”

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