Oslo Freedom Forum: Rusesabagina in the Crosshairs of the Rwandan Dictatorship

Paul Rusesabagina

The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is organizing the 16th annual Oslo Freedom Forum (OFF) from June 3 to 5, 2024, at the Oslo Konserthus in Oslo, Norway. This prestigious event gathers human rights advocates from around the world to discuss their efforts in combating repression, advocating for justice, and promoting liberal democracy. This year’s theme, “Reclaim Democracy,” highlights the crucial role every individual—both speakers and participants—plays in the global movement for freedom and democracy.

One of the prominent speakers at the forum is Paul Rusesabagina, a humanitarian renowned for his actions during the Rwandan genocide. As a former hotel manager, Rusesabagina saved over 1,000 refugees, an act of bravery that was depicted in the Hollywood film “Hotel Rwanda.” However, in 2020, he was kidnapped by the Rwandan regime and arbitrarily detained for two and a half years, before being released in March 2023.

The inclusion of Rusesabagina as a speaker has provoked a reaction from the Rwandan government, which played a role in his kidnapping in 2020. The Rwandan authorities have employed their supporters in Norway to launch a campaign against Rusesabagina’s participation in the Oslo Freedom Forum. These supporters wrote a defamatory letter to the OFF, attempting to discredit Rusesabagina and indirectly justify the torture and kidnapping he endured at the hands of the Rwandan government’s intelligence services. The letter requested that he be denied a platform at the forum.

These pro-government Rwandan supporters wrongly assume that Norway, like Rwanda, is a country where authoritarian tactics can suppress democratic and human rights activists. The letter was sent on behalf of two organizations: URUKUNDO, a Tutsi extremist group led by Félix Muhigana, and Arc-Norway, which is represented by Peter Mugisha and misleadingly claims to represent the entire Rwandan community in Norway, though it only includes a small faction of government supporters.

A local analyst expressed disbelief at how these individuals, after over 20 years in Norway—a country known for its human rights and democratic values—have not adopted these principles. Some of them are even involved in Norwegian political parties. The greater concern is that some serve as interpreters for the Norwegian government and judiciary in genocide-related cases, raising questions about their professionalism, impartiality, and integrity given their apparent dedication to Rwanda’s discriminatory and authoritarian ideologies under President Paul Kagame’s regime.

The modus operandi of these pro-Kagame associations in Norway mirrors tactics used globally to harass opponents, human rights activists, and journalists, as highlighted in the recent investigation Rwanda Classified.

The Oslo Freedom Forum (OFF) is an international human rights conference series hosted by the Human Rights Foundation (HRF). It brings together some of the world’s most compelling human rights advocates, journalists, artists, tech entrepreneurs, and world leaders to share their stories and brainstorm ways to expand freedom and unleash human potential worldwide.