Rwanda has been accused of being among the worst perpetrators of “transnational oppression” in the United States, persecution, harassment and threat of exile there, according to a new report.
The report from the Freedom House advocacy group in Washington cites Rwanda, along with China, Russia, Iran and Egypt, as the main offenders in an attempt to extend the scope of their oppressive regimes to the United States.
Isabel Linzer, one of the authors of the report, said the results raise further questions about the British government’s agreement with Kigali to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda. The first expulsion flight is due on June 14th.
“People often focus on Saudi Arabia, Iran, China, Russia, but Rwanda is one of the most productive perpetrators of transnational oppression in the world,” Linzer said. “And it has certainly not gained the same degree of control as some of the other countries.
“The asylum agreement between the UK and Rwanda is quite shocking given how often the Rwandan government has gone after Rwandans in the UK and the UK government is well aware of that,” she added.
The Freedom House report, Unsafe in America: Transnational Repression in the United States, notes that attacks on exile have taken place since the Cold War, but adds that “operations by foreign intelligence agents have intensified significantly in recent years.”
“Autocrats are casting a long shadow on American soil,” it says. “The governments of Iran, China, Egypt, Russia, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia and other states are increasingly and aggressively disregarding US laws to threaten, harass, monitor, prosecute and even plan to physically harm people throughout the country.”
One of those targeted was Paul Rusesabagina, the former hotel director in Kigali, whose efforts to save people in the 1994 genocide are told in the film Hotel Rwanda.
Rusesabagina, a U.S. resident and prominent dissident, was abducted while traveling in the Middle East in August 2020, tricked into boarding a private plane that took him to Rwanda, where he was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Last month, the U.S. State Department formally declared him “unlawfully detained.”
Rusesabagina’s daughter, Carine, and other Rwandan dissidents have been shown to have been targeted for surveillance using Pegasus spyware made by the Israeli security firm NSO Group.
The Rwandan government has refused to use the spyware, but did not respond to a request for comment on the Freedom House report.
Rwandan opposition figures in the United States are talking about constant surveillance, harassment and threats.
“You’re going to understand that it’s a part of your life,” said Theogene Rudasingwa, a former chief of staff to President Paul Kagame, who was once Rwanda’s ambassador to the United States and is now a strong critic of Kagame’s regime. “My wife is constantly in fear. My children are constantly in fear, especially for me. Every time I step out of the house, they are on edge. I have decided that I can not be paralyzed and live in fear 24/7, but the feeling of being a hunted person is around me 24/7, ”Rudasingwa told the Guardian.
Three months ago, he said he came out of his local bank to be told by a passerby that they had seen someone walking under his car. Rudasingwa called police, who conducted a three-hour search, but found nothing, possibly because the uninvited guest had been disturbed.
Rudasingwa was the target of an assassination plot in Belgium in 2015, which failed when he postponed a planned trip there. Following the assassination of his co-opposition leader, former Rwandan intelligence chief Patrick Karegeya, in South Africa in 2013 – a assassination that is widely believed to have been ordered in Kigali – Foreign Ministry Rudasingwa advised to take extra precautions.
“They told me they had taken the hand out to Kigali to warn them not to try to do that kind of thing here in the United States,” he told the Guardian.
In March this year, the FBI launched a website on transnational repression that provides advice on how to report incidents, part of a broad campaign by the administration to confront the growing threat.
“Transnational repression is used not only to harm or threaten individual dissidents, journalists, activists and diaspora members, but to silence entire communities,” a National Security Council spokesman said.
“Our intention is to use the full package of tools and resources at our disposal to protect and build support for targeted individuals and communities, and to hold perpetrators accountable for their actions.”
However, Claude Gatebuke, another Rwandan activist who has received repeated anonymous threats, said many in the diaspora do not report harassment because of the close diplomatic ties between Washington and Kigali.
“Part of the reason people do not want to say no is because they know that the Rwandan government has a very close relationship with the US government and that they share information, they think they are telling about themselves,” said Gatebuke to Freedom House writers. .
Senior members of Congress have also expressed concern over Washington’s embrace of Kagame. After the head of the US African Command, Gen Stephen Townsend, posted pictures of him posing with the Rwandan president, the top Republican in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, James Risch, warned that the bilateral relationship “faces serious complications”.
“Portraying the opposite is counterproductive and undermines [state department] messages on other top diplomatic concerns, ”Risch wrote on Twitter.
“I am always sensitive to the fact that there is that level of interaction at the intelligence level, at the level of the FBI, by senior officials who always go to Kigali, as if it is their Mecca,” Rudasingwa said. “How could I even say I’m confident and share sensitive information with them? So sometimes you just keep it to yourself.
“No one ever calls out Kagame. No one seeks responsibility from him,” he added. “They give these occasional slaps on the wrist, but then you see Britain sending refugees there. So where would you get the courage to call him out when he does you a favor?”