Lantos Foundation Files Magnitsky Submission with U.K. Foreign Office, Urging British Government to Sanction Rwandan Officials Involved in Kidnapping and Torture of “Hotel Rwanda” Hero
December 15, 2021 – The Lantos Foundation today filed a formal U.K. Global Human Rights Sanctions submission with the United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), urging it to impose Magnitsky-style sanctions against two Rwandan individuals involved in the kidnapping and torture of Paul Rusesabagina, the humanitarian hero of Hotel Rwanda. The two individuals named in the filing are former Rwandan Justice Minister Johnston Busingye and head of the Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) Colonel Jeannot Ruhunga. The Foundation submitted a similar filing to the U.S. Departments of State and Treasury in May 2021, which was automatically transmitted to officials in the U.K. at the time. Now a new submission, adapted to align with specific U.K. regulations, has been filed directly with the FCDO.
The submission follows a Westminster Hall debate held by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Magnitsky Sanctions on December 8, during which members of the APPG recommended that the U.K. Government sanction both Busingye and Ruhunga for their involvement in human rights violations. The APPG also recommended sanctions for individuals involved in human rights abuses in China, Iran and Sudan.
Lantos Foundation President Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett said, “I am truly grateful to the British MPs and peers who are boldly standing up to the dictatorial regime of Rwanda and firmly asserting that its actions against Paul Rusesabagina have been a flagrant violation of his human rights. Now it is time for the FCDO to take their recommendation, along with the Lantos Foundation’s Global Human Rights submission, and respond with real, tangible action in the form of Magnitsky-style sanctions against the two Rwandan officials in question. There is unequivocal evidence that former Minister Busingye and Colonel Ruhunga violated the basic human rights of a humanitarian hero, and a strong response by the British government is not only fully warranted but would be particularly impactful, given Rwanda’s status as a member of the Commonwealth.”
It can often prove difficult to build a case for Magnitsky-style sanctions that establishes government officials’ direct involvement in and responsibility for human rights abuses. However, in the case of Paul Rusesabagina’s August 2020 kidnapping and subsequent torture, the complicity and responsibility of both Busingye and Ruhunga is crystal clear. Busingye admitted during a televised interview on Al Jazeera in February 2021 that the Rwandan government paid for the plane that transported Rusesabagina, without his knowledge, to Kigali, Rwanda. Colonel Ruhunga, as head of the RIB, not only oversaw the operation to kidnap Rusesabagina but was also named in a jailhouse transcript as one of two people who visited Rusesabagina when he was held incommunicado and tortured in an unknown location during the three days between the time he was kidnapped and when he was presented in handcuffs in Kigali. In addition, it has since been made public that Rusesabagina was held in solitary confinement for more than 250 days in clear violation of the United Nations’ Mandela Rule, which sets a threshold of 15 days for such confinement and defines anything beyond that as torture.
The U.S. has not yet taken public action to sanction Busingye and Ruhunga, but the matter is particularly urgent in the United Kingdom. Mr. Busingye was abruptly relieved of his duties as Justice Minister earlier this year and named by President Paul Kagame as Rwanda’s high commissioner, or ambassador, to the United Kingdom. At the time, the Lantos Foundation urged the U.K. Government not to accept Mr. Busingye’s credentials and instead to apply Magnitsky-style sanctions for his clear role in the human rights abuses against Mr. Rusesabagina. Speaking at the Westminster Hall debate last week, Chris Bryant MP, Chair of the APPG on Magnitsky Sanctions, remarked, “As far as I understand it, the U.K. has still not yet given its agrément to this appointment. I hope it will announce today that it has absolutely no intention of doing so because [Busingye] should be on our list of sanctioned individuals, not people being escorted to Buckingham Palace to have their credentials agreed by Her Majesty.”
Dr. Lantos Swett said, “I sincerely hope to see the British government follow through on these actions. Moreover, I would hope that strong action taken by the U.K. would encourage the United States to abandon its shameful policy of inaction regarding Paul Rusesabagina’s illegal kidnapping, torture and detention and finally engage publicly on behalf of a man who is not only one of its own, a U.S. Permanent Resident, but who has been awarded America’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.”
Background: Paul Rusesabagina, the humanitarian hero whose story was depicted in the film Hotel Rwanda, received the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 and was honored in 2011 with the Lantos Human Rights Prize. In late August 2020, he was kidnapped and flown against his will to Kigali, Rwanda. He was imprisoned, tortured and forced to undergo a sham trial that ended in October 2021 with a guilty verdict, at which time he was sentenced to 25 years in prison. A variety of legal organizations, human rights groups and government officials from around the world have decried the illegal rendition and trial, noting that Mr. Rusesabagina’s rights have been violated at virtually every stage. As a 67-year-old man with serious health conditions, his family and other supporters have implored the Rwandan government to release him immediately on humanitarian grounds.
About the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights & Justice: The Lantos Foundation was established in 2008 to carry forward the legacy of Congressman Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor ever elected to the U.S. Congress and a leading human rights champion. The Foundation works with a range of partners and often in cooperation with the U.S. Government on issues that span the globe. The Foundation’s key areas of focus include human rights issues related to religious freedom, rule of law, internet freedom and activist art. The Foundation also administers the Lantos Congressional Fellows Program, supports human rights advocates, activists and artists through its Front Line Fund grant program, and awards the annual Lantos Human Rights Prize to honor and bring attention to heroes of the human rights movement. Past recipients of the Prize include His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Professor Elie Wiesel, the real-life hero of Hotel Rwanda Paul Rusesabagina, Israeli President Shimon Peres, Iraqi Parliamentarian Vian Dakhil, Hong Kong Democracy activist Joshua Wong, Bill Browder, the driving force behind the global Magnitsky movement, among others.