Human Rights Watch or Terrorist Rights Watch?

Rusesabagina with his lawyer. Photo: Kigali Today

Much has been and continues to be written about Rusesabagina’s arrest. The constant being the remarkable dishonesty with which this case is covered by Western media and human rights institutions that, ironically, have come out in defence of terrorism.

It is as if it is Rwanda in the dock rather than the suspected terrorist. On September 10th, 2020, Human Rights Watch (HRW) joined the lynch-mob against Rwanda with a headline, "Rusesabagina Was Forcibly Disappeared." Facts, unsurprisingly, took a backseat. But what is forced disappearance?


For a forced disappearance to happen, at least three conditions must be met, according to the United Nations Human Rights:

  • Deprivation of liberty against the will of the person;
  • Involvement of government officials, at least by acquiescence;
  • Refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person.

By the time HRW made its publication, Rusesabagina had already been presented to the media. The Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) had already admitted having the suspect in custody and had announced the transfer of his case to the prosecution.


As the procedure requires, the latter had also announced the charges against Rusesabagina. As per the conditions set by the United Nations, one cannot speak of an enforced disappearance once the arresting authority acknowledges the arrest.

Therefore, HRW uses this terminology out of ignorance or out of malice. However, what suggests that it is out of malice is what HRW states after, “Rwanda should immediately grant the government opponent, Paul Rusesabagina, access to legal counsel of his choosing, confidential consultations, and regular contact with his family.” In this declaration, HRW sounds rather authoritarian.

One would think that Rwanda had been waiting anxiously for HRW’s guidance on how to proceed with this ‘unusually complicated’ case. Had HRW not been driven by malice, it would have taken the time to investigate and then tell the truth on what is an open secret that Rusesabagina had been talking to his family on the phone and that a representative of the Belgian embassy had paid him a visit. When driven by hate, facts matter less.

In fact, it does not matter to HRW that the detainee himself says he had the opportunity to choose his team of lawyers in an interview with The East African. Nor does it matter to HRW that Rusesabagina again confirmed this choice in an interview with the New York Times.

With its head in the sand, HRW is adamant that Rusesabagina should be represented by the team of lawyers chosen by his family despite Rusesabagina’s insistence that he had made his mind; it is as if Rusesabagina is not part of his family and the most affected by the current situation he finds himself in.

 “I chose my lawyers and I’m happy with them” Rusesabagina told the NYT journalist. By insisting against his wishes, HRW seems oblivious to the fact that Rusesabagina is neither a minor nor incapacitated.

Moreover, at no point did Rusesabagina, who had an opportunity to speak, raise the issue of access to legal representation during his pre-trial hearing where he requested to be released on bail and said he would appeal the ruling.

Similarly, at no time did HRW acknowledge the concerns for transparency of the Rwandan judicial system which allowed a detainee suspected of the most heinous crimes to give not one but two interviews to international media. Certainly, the global media isn’t interviewing any Guantanamo inmates anytime soon.

Neither does HRW concern itself with matters of procedure as it fails, with its usual contempt for Rwandan institutions, to note that Rusesabagina’s family did not officially introduce its appointed lawyers to the Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB), to the prosecution or to the judiciary of Rwanda; instead, the family chose to introduce the lawyers to the media because they seem intent on replacing the court with the media that is so infatuated by Rusesabagina’s stardom as if that status is immunity for crimes, even those as grave as terrorism that involved the death of scores of innocent people in Rwanda’s southern province.

In other words, the family knows that the media is the only court where they stand a chance of winning the case given the overwhelming evidence at the disposal of the prosecution.

Unwilling to preserve the little credibility it has left, HRW further states that Rusesabagina should be allowed “promptly to exercise his right to challenge the legality of his arrest, represented by legal counsel of his choosing before an independent tribunal applying international human rights norms.”

This smokescreen immediately vanished with Rusesabagina’s narration that showed that nothing illegal was done as he found himself in Rwanda. This surprised even an incredulous NYT journalist who couldn’t help but speculate that the interviewee was talking under duress. Yet the story is as simple as it is hilarious.

The Hollywood “hero” willingly boarded a private jet, thinking he was going to Burundi but instead found himself in Rwanda where he was arrested. For Rwanda’s justice system, this was early Christmas.

Time is always on the side of the truth. As time passes, HRW’s case is slowly but surely falling apart. The enforced disappearance narrative was obviously based on a dubious interpretation of the law, and reflects the dubious character of HRW.

Unwilling to concede defeat, the ridiculous “human rights” organization whose corruption was documented by independent media resorted to questioning the credibility of Rusesabagina’s testimony even as the suspect accused the police of tying him up and blindfolding him for three consecutive days.

Rarely had we seen a doctored testimony where the arresting authority forces the suspect to accuse them of ill-treatment. If the authorities couldn’t intimidate him into suppressing this information, you would have to be medically checked for bias to think that Rusesabagina was speaking under duress.

HRW’s smear campaign aims to pre-empt any condemnation that may be pronounced by Rwandan courts. HRW thinks that “international” (read western) tribunals are best suited to adjudicate this case.

Yet Rusesabagina called for war on Rwanda from their territory, claimed responsibility for deadly attacks against innocent Rwandan civilians, and continued to enjoy impunity in those countries.

This could not have been possible had one, just one, of his victims been a citizen of the West. But if they wish to try him, they had the time to arrest and try him when he was committing these crimes from their soil, and this is the advocacy that HRW should have done on behalf of the innocent victims of Rwanda.

On the contrary, in its spirited defense of terror, not a single time during this travesty of activism has HRW published the names of the victims of terror attacks by Rusesabagina’s terror outfit that even he says he is sorry for, although he denies command responsibility.

If a suspected terrorist is sorry for the killing of innocent lives and HRW isn’t, then something must have gone terribly wrong. Nor has HRW called for justice for these innocent victims. As Richard Johnson who served as a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State notes “What Human Rights Watch (HRW) does on Rwanda is not human rights advocacy.  It is political advocacy which has become profoundly unscrupulous in both its means and its ends.”

If Human Rights Watch is defending terrorist, then it is high time it changed its name to Terrorist Rights Watch.

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