A federal judge in Washington, D.C. has dismissed claims of kidnap and torture filed by ‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero Paul Rusesabagina against Rwanda.
The decision was reached this January 23, 2023 reaffirming the government’s position on not having kidnapped Rusesabagina who is currently in jail after he was sentenced to 25 years over financing terror attacks, damaging property and lives of many citizens between 2018-2020.
After his arrest in August 2020, Rusesabagina and his family filed a complaint in February 2022 arguing that his kidnapping happened after the country and its leadership lured him back under the guise of paid speaking events which should have precluded immunity for defendants under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act under the law’s commercial activist exception.
However, the U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon, in a 15-page opinion issued Monday afternoon, was unconvinced by the effort.
“All plaintiffs’ claims against those defendants are barred by foreign sovereign immunity and head of state immunity,” he wrote.
Rusesabagina’s attorney, Steven R. Perles, said his client was drugged and taken to Rwanda, where security agents forcibly abducted him, tortured him, and forced him into illegal imprisonment.
But Judge Leon found this argument unpersuasive.
“Read fairly, there is no doubt that the gravamen of plaintiffs’ amended complaint is Rwanda’s treatment of Rusesabagina, not any commercial dispute between plaintiffs and Rwanda and its agents,” he wrote, siding with the defendant country (Rwanda government).
On Rusesabagina’s attorneys claiming he underwent a torture-induced confession to terrorism charges and asking court to preclude any immunity, particularly under Torture Victims Protection Act claims, against President Kagame.
Judge Leon said that the title as president comes with a grant of absolute immunity and there is no legal backing to this claim.
“Plaintiffs cite no legal authority for the proposition that the court could fashion an exception to this categorical rule,” Judge Leon said in writing.
Rusesabagina had sought $400 million in damages in the claims but also 90 victims in this case (from Nyaruguru, Rusizi and Nyamagabe districts had filed for compensations amounting to over Rwf1. 6 billion.
The victims have also appealed his 25 year sentence seeking a heavier sentence for the damages caused by actions of Rusesabagina funding terror groups that attacked Rwandans on Rwandan soil.