Paul Rusesabagina and his foundation, Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation, duped the American public out of millions of dollars for charity but ended up using the funds to bankroll subversive activities aimed at undermining the government of Rwanda.
This was revealed by American Prof. Michelle Martin, affiliated to California State University, Fullerton, who was a volunteer with Paul Rusesabagina’s Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation (HRRF), when she took the stand in the terror case involving Rusesabagina and 20 others, all linked to the MRCD/FLN coalition.
Prof. Martin, who appeared as a ‘prosecution witness’ to furnish the court with information to assist in the case, took the stand after the court ruled in favour of the proceedings continuing despite Rusesabagina opting not to attend court sessions.
The academic’s testimony, which covers mainly the period between 2009 and 2012, when she got to know and work with Rusesabagina and his close acquaintance, Providence Rubingisa, who purported to be a genocide survivor but later found out that they peddled narratives that negated the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. She was also able to access correspondences dating way back to 2006.
Prof. Martin revealed how Rusesabagina and Rubingisa used their influence to amass funds which they purported to be using to support genocide orphans in Rwanda but would later divert the resources into activities aimed at undermining the government of Rwanda and financing terrorist groups such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).
Armed with thousands of emails and text messages captured during her period of engagement with Rusesabagina and Rubingisa, Prof. Martin, who would later be intimidated when she decided to leave their circle, gave a damning personal account of events, shedding light into the activities of the groups which worked to undermine and malign the Rwandan government.
Prof. Martin told the High Court Chamber for International and Cross Border Crimes. that from her engagement with the group she found out that Rusesabagina, who purported to be a humanitarian was more than involved in subversive and political activities as he sought to cement his political career.
The academic detailed how Rusesabagina and Rubingisa peddled a different narrative of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and actively defended Rwanda exiles in North America, who were suspected of committing genocide-related crimes in Rwanda.
She said that through his foundation, Rusesabagina hired attorneys to defend the suspected perpetrators, blocking their extradition to Rwanda to face justice, claiming that they are innocent and that they are being targeted by the Rwandan government for being critical.
Rusesabagina and his American acquaintances tirelessly worked to undermine efforts to bring to justice genocide perpetrators, using their contacts in Homeland Security to frustrate processes. They claimed the U.S was sending ‘innocent refugees’ to Rwanda to be persecuted.
“I made the difficult decision to copy and PDF any email that I found particularly disturbing ultimately over the course of several months. I copied approximately 747 emails and downloaded approximately 1076 attachment,” Prof. Martin told court.
Scheming, manipulation of truth
The emails contain hundreds of Rusesabagina and Rubingisa personal exchanges and correspondences, including declarations of their political activities, both in the U.S and Europe, where they canvassed for support- complete with names and dates of events.
Among the documents in her possession, include email exchanges in which Rusesabagina and co. plotted to malign the Rwandan government using ‘Rwanda Briefing’, a document authored by renegade former government officials, as well as Spanish indictments.
They also discussed a project to push the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda (ICTR) to try senior members of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF-Inkotanyi), as they advanced the double genocide theory and for alleged crimes in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Rubingisa, who she later found out had acquired asylum in the U.S, and Rusesabagina used their influence to lobby against Rwanda, intentionally targeting Americans with political connections as well as writers, who they manipulated into supporting their cause.
They would then use the exchanges with unsuspecting Americans to convince people in Europe and beyond that they are making progress and hence people should support their efforts to ‘remove’ the Rwandan government.
“It was very clear in their internal discussions that they use these positions to disseminate propaganda narratives of the genocide that were not supported by experts and scholars, but we’re consistent with the pre-genocide propaganda campaign,” she said, adding that the exchanges consistently espoused the double genocide theory.
She got more concerned when the conversations increasingly deteriorated into war talk where they discussed funds to buy military equipment such as landmines and guns, asking rebel groups they backed in DRC what they needed to carry out operations.
In other exchanges, Rusesabagina and Rubingisa plotted to disrupt President Paul Kagame’s official visits to the U.S with protests and propaganda to malign the Rwandan leader but the efforts flopped, mainly due to divisions.
Prof. Martin talked about many emails in her possession which contain information that she believes is “highly relevant to this case” which she accessed directly from Rubingisa and Rusesabagina.
They include letters to high-ranking U.S Politicians such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former President Bill Clinton. She said it took her time to go through the emails and make sense of them but later it all became clear as she patiently connected the dots.
She said that the emails that she believes are the most relevant to the case are emails she saved around the summer of 2011, particularly those left by Rubingisa on her laptop.
Prof. Martin said “I noted a collection of email exchanges I found very worrisome” which related to Western Union transfers to people she knew were affiliated to FDLR. The emails were 33 in total and detailed how Rusesabagina offered financial support to the terror outfit.
“I was able to read some of the emails. I immediately recognized that they were not propaganda like so many other emails but rather they represented concrete attempts by PDR-Ihumure, including Paul Rusesabagina as the party’s leader, to provide financial support to the FDLR, for the purposes of, according to the emails, violently overthrowing the Rwandan government,” she said.
She also revealed that Rusesabagina travelled to South Africa to meet Ignace Murwanashyaka, a senior leader of FDLR, with the purpose of buying weapons. The emails included detailed information on the weapons requested by the FDLR militia and a discussion of how and where the weapons would be purchased.
In the emails, Rusesabagina committed his full support and pledged that ‘we will never fail you’. He also had a network of people in Kampala, South Africa, DRC and Tanzania who facilitated the process.
She also revealed how Rusesabagina and others plotted to form another organisation different from the stained FDLR, which is globally categorised as a terrorist organisation, which they would use to carry out their subversive activities while hoodwinking the world that it is not FDLR.
At this point what was important to them was to capture Rwanda, attacking from Tanzania and DRC but they needed a greenlight from Tanzania.
They also believed that they had the support of former DRC President Joseph Kabila but it wasn’t strong enough and bringing Tanzania on board would make him more courageous.
“Tanzania is more influential than any other country in the Great Lakes particularly on political military matters. That means victory shall have come and the enemy will be obliged to defend himself on many different fronts,”
“He is going to be weekend from all over in fact tell him to move faster because Tanzania has a successful history of helping people get into power. They are unstoppable. It’s a known fact in the region,” one of the emails read.
In the emails, Rubingisa said that it was time for ‘Hutus’ to take over, claiming that they had people backing them in the then DRC government, including Kabila’s Minister of Defence. She also revealed that Rusesabagina had engagements in Zambia, including assets.
In order to be transparent, Prof. Martin revealed to court that in December 2011, she travelled to Rwanda with another American scholar to attend a conference and she handed over everything she knew about Rusesabagina and co. to Rwandan law enforcement organs.
“It was my desire that at that point that once I handed everything over to law enforcement, to transition to an academic role in support of Rwanda,”
“So, I had the hope that time with the other academic that we were going to sign a contract with Rwanda to help in a more academic way understand the nature of the diaspora relations in a positive way,”
“When I met with us law enforcement, they asked me to postpone and I agreed to do that after I was done working with law enforcement, I then signed a contract with the Rwandan government to provide academic support,” she revealed.
Due to the nature of work she had done with U.S law enforcement before, she was advised to register for the foreign agent registration Act.
“I did not have any intention and nor have I ever lobbied the US government on behalf of the Rwandan government. Everything I did, I did it in my own accord. Because I had worked with U.S law enforcement, I wanted to be very transparent because the contract involved paying me for my scholarly work,” she said, adding that all that was on public record.
This would later be used against her as Rusesabagina and co. attempted to blackmail and intimidate her after she opted out of their activities. They launched a barrage of attacks targeting her person.
She also revealed that she has messages detailing how the group wanted to recruit rebels from Rwandan universities to help them start social movements in Rwanda by building cells inside the country, but they were concerned because of the ‘many spies’ in universities.
When that failed, they tried recruiting from refugee camps, particularly ‘Hutu’ youth in Nakivale camp in Uganda, which they saw as a much safer option. The recruiters included Alexis Bakunzibake of PS Imberakuri (Bernard Ntaganda faction).
Other activities involved online attacks targeting independent scholars writing about Rwanda, with a purpose of intimidating them.
“From what I could tell they were very well coordinated and they were highly successful,” she said, citing an example of institutional bullying where they filed lawsuits against universities that invited President Kagame to speak.
“While these actions may not have been illegal, they did remind me of research on what’s called swarming, which is defined as a form of negative online advocacy designed to intimidate and cause harm to individuals and institutions,” she said, adding that these attacks were aimed at silencing people and isolating the Rwandan government.
“One example of institutional bullying is a lawsuit filed against William Penn University in 2012 after the university announced that President Kagame would be a keynote speaker at the May 2012 commencement,” Prof. Martin said, adding they barraged the university with letters and threats, mobilising support from ‘Friends of Congo’.
However, the university did not withdraw the invitation for President Kagame to speak because they had four presidential scholarship students from Rwanda who were graduating. She was disturbed by these well-coordinated attacks.
It is at this point that she confirmed that she was in the midst of a network of genocide deniers, genocide sympathizers and apologists, which stained her career and private life.
“As I prepared this testimony, I spent a considerable amount of time reflecting on my original motives, including reflecting on what prompted me to do what I did and to keep going when at times I felt like I was completely overwhelmed,”
“I felt like I stepped into a minefield and I wasn’t always sure what to do or how to handle the information I found I’m not a politician nor do I have the mindset of a politician and my choices may not make sense to some people involved in the politics of this region in all honesty,” Prof. Martin told court.
The academic explained to court what prompted her to gather evidence and later submit it to law enforcement organs.
“I believe that what motivated me to follow my instincts and take the risks relates to my gender and I am a mother. While most combatants in protracted civil conflict are men, women and children by far bear the brunt of the long-term burden and consequences of violence in this world,”
“The impact of violence on women and children is very personal to me as a woman and a mother. I feel a connection to women everywhere including women in Rwanda. I hope this is obvious, but I want to say this very clearly. The Rwandan government never directed what I did; they never did it. I did this on my own,” she said, adding that nobody influenced her testimony.
“These are my words and as I mentioned before I have all the emails and documentation to back it up,”
“It’s very hard for me to come here today but I believe it’s my duty as a woman and as a mother to speak the truth about what I know and to find the courage to do something about it, including coming here today and testifying before this court,” an emotional Prof. Martin said.
She said she has been subjected to vile online attacks by the members of the so-called opposition groups and it has since impacted on her career and private life.
The hearing will continue today, Thursday, March 25.