In the News

How the U.S., Family and Hollywood Freed the ‘Hotel Rwanda’ Hero

The New York Times

April 3, 2023

Paul Rusesabagina, depicted in the 2004 film about genocide in his country, was reunited with his family last week. It took years of pressure to get him out of Rwanda, where he was convicted on terrorism charges.

Rwanda’s leader was in combative form last December when, on a visit to Washington, he was asked about his country’s most famous political prisoner, and his personal foe.

No amount of U.S. pressure could “bully” Rwanda, President Paul Kagame said, into releasing Paul Rusesabagina, the hotelier whose heroism during the 1994 genocide inspired the movie “Hotel Rwanda.”

“Maybe make an invasion and overrun the country — you can do that,” he added tartly, at an event during the Biden administration’s U.S.-Africa Summit for leaders from around the continent.

Nevertheless, early the next morning, one of Mr. Kagame’s top aides met quietly with President Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, to discuss the terms of a potential release.

It was a key step in a complex, secretive effort to free Mr. Rusesabagina, which culminated on Wednesday in his return to the United States, where he was reunited with his tearful family at a U.S. Army base in Texas.

“All of us crumbled when we saw him,” his daughter, Anaïse Kanimba, 31, said in an interview.

The freeing of Mr. Rusesabagina, a 68-year-old dissident and permanent U.S. resident, was not only a triumph for quiet, patient diplomacy. It resolved a growing burden in Washington’s relationship with a small yet important African ally that punches above its weight on the continent, and is accused of stoking a conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo that could explode into a regional war.

Mr. Rusesabagina’s plight also presented a delicate challenge for the United States as it seeks to reset its relations with African countries to counter surging Chinese and Russian influence on the continent.

That has meant shoring up ties with leaders like Mr. Kagame, a prickly authoritarian whose achievements in rebuilding Rwanda after the genocide have been overshadowed by a repressive rule that brooks no dissent — a trend that Mr. Rusesabagina’s case has come to symbolize.

Read the complete story on The New York Times.

Cohen Milstein is honored to have played an instrumental role in the litigation leading up to the release of Mr. Rusesabagina.