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Opinion: Dear Prince Charles, don’t shake hands with the tyrant who kidnapped our father

Opinion: Dear Prince Charles, don't shake hands with the tyrant who kidnapped our father

He rescued us from a refugee camp in Rwanda after our biological parents were killed during the 1994 genocide and raised us as his own. We, Carine, who was one year old at the time, and Anaïse, who was two years old, were saved in addition to the 1,268 lives he saved by sheltering inside a hotel during the genocide.

His story was told in the Oscar-nominated film “Hotel Rwanda,” and he received numerous awards for his bravery and humanitarian work.

Over the years, he became one of the most high-profile critics of Rwandan President Paul Kagame. Then, in August 2020, our father, now a Belgian citizen and US permanent resident, was kidnapped by the Rwandan government and has since been in jail on trumped-up charges for over 650 days.

As representative heads of state, including the Prince of Wales, arrive in Rwanda for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) on Monday, they must not turn a blind eye to the host nation’s human rights violations.

While it is sad that CHOGM is being held this year in a country that does not adhere to the core values ​​and principles of the Commonwealth, we must see this as an opportunity to shine a light on the lack of democracy in Rwanda.

Our family asks Prince Charles not to remain silent in the face of this reality and not to shake hands with the tyrant who has our father as a political prisoner.

The United Nations, the Clooney Foundation for Justice, the International Bar Association, and many others have publicly stated that our father is only in prison because he spoke out against a government that takes no criticism.

The United States recently classified our father as “wrongly detained,” pointing to massive irregularities in his capture and trial.

Rwanda has no freedom of expression, a core value of the Commonwealth of Nations and a right to exercise my imprisoned father. There is also no democracy, freedom of association or right to participate in opposition political parties in Rwanda.

Kagame “won” two elections with more than 98% of the vote in 2017 and 93% in 2010 and may run for office for decades to come following changes to the constitution in a controversial 2015 referendum. Critics are hounded, regularly abused, tortured, imprisoned, exiled or have disappeared or died in suspicious circumstances.

This includes both political opponents and former members of the regime who are seen as potential threats. Rwanda is a government that rules only for Kagame and a small elite.

Our father is also one of the many victims of Rwanda’s practice of transnational repression, a tactic typically used by Russia, China and Iran, where a government crosses borders to silence critics. In addition to my father’s case, Rwandan officials and agents harass and intimidate opponents in other countries, including the US, UK and Europe.

Our father was kidnapped nearly two years ago, lured from our home in San Antonio, Texas, via Dubai, where he was tricked into boarding a flight to Kigali. A Rwandan government agent, posing as a bishop, asked our father to go to Burundi and talk to church groups about reconciliation. Having boarded a plane in Dubai intending to fly to Burundi, he was drugged and woke up only to find that he had landed in Kigali, Rwanda, a place he would never voluntarily return to.

Upon his arrival he was tortured for four days and forced to make a false confession, which was later used as “evidence” against him. He did not have access to an attorney of his choosing. He was forced to endure solitary confinement for 250 days, in violation of UN Nelson Mandela regulations, which criminalize solitary confinement for more than 15 days as torture.

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And he was subjected to what international observers say is a sham trial, with no credible evidence being presented that he was in any way involved in the terrorism-related crimes with which he was charged.

The Rwandan government has rejected all criticism of these proceedings, incredibly claiming that it has acted in a manner consistent with international law.

Even more heartbreaking is that governments like the UK continue to partner with the Rwandan regime, including in the plan to send vulnerable asylum seekers back to Rwanda. It is no surprise that the British government’s willingness to turn a blind eye to widespread human rights abuses in Rwanda is generating strong opposition from the church, civil society and all those who care about the plight of those fleeing in search of a better life.

Now our father has been sentenced to 25 years in prison, which will be life for a man who turned 68 last week. Our only wish for his birthday is to bring him home safe and sound. He is a cancer survivor with hypertension whose health is deteriorating while he is incarcerated. His current symptoms, which include a weak right arm and facial paralysis, indicate that he may have already had one or more strokes while in prison, but these are not treated.

While it is still incomprehensible to us, and to so many victims of the Rwandan regime around the world, that Rwanda has had the privilege of hosting CHOGM this year, your presence in Kigali also offers a unique opportunity.

The Prince of Wales and other CHOGM leaders may choose to focus on their shared values ​​and principles and put pressure on those members who do not uphold those values ​​in practice to do so. This includes Kagame’s Rwanda. Although Prince Charles is not a political figure, he can seek dialogue behind closed doors, or even ask to visit our father.

Rwanda has many friends in CHOGM, both countries and individuals, and we urge the Prince of Wales and all other assembled leaders not to remain silent and ask Kagame to grant our father a compassionate release now, before it is too late. . .

Our father saved us in 1994. We beg the international community to seize this opportunity to save him.

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