By Erasme Rugemintwaza
It is now almost a year since Rusesagabina has been kidnapped by the Government of Rwanda. He risks life imprisonment, after a trial whose errors and mistakes are notorious. Yet since his kidnapping, day after day, his relatives are in negotiations, to demand rectifications of errors in order to ensure a fair trial. His country, Belgium, is silent and seems rather to be intimidated by Rwanda which refuses any collaboration. This is a total outrage!
Rusesabagina’s trial has worried the whole world since his kidnapping, which is a worse human rights violation. Whether the European Union, the United States, Belgium, his family, his lawyer, the Belgian Vincent Lurquin, the HRW, the Lantos Foundation, all have from one moment to another shown that this trial starts from a very bad beginning which does not guarantee a fair trial: his kidnapping hides nothing other than the unfairness of the trial. Some people find that Rwanda is not qualified to give a fair trial because quite simply it is judge and defence. Ms. Els Van Hoof says of the arrest, “This is a flagrant violation of the international convention on protection from enforced disappearance. Rights have been systematically violated. […] If Rwanda is not able to provide for the minimum conditions for a fair trial, Belgium must take action to allow a fair trial in our country “.
Since his kidnapping, moreover elegantly accepted by Kigali through the voice of the Attorney General, Minister of Justice Johnston Busingye, the family of Paul Rusesabagina, mainly its three children Roger Rusesabagina, Anaïse Kanimba and Carine Kanimba with his lawyer, Me Vincent Lurquin, continue tirelessly their odyssey in search of justice. This is neither the first time nor the last that they have hosted a press conference and delivered interviews to retrace the ordeal and injustice looming against Rusesabagina and to call for the intervention of the international community.
On August 25, 2021 Roger Rusasabagina, his two sisters and Me Vincent Lurquin hosted a press conference in Brussels. This time they are outraged against Belgium which is becoming a “willing victim” of the arrogance of Rwanda.
Initially Kagame terrorizes the international community
In response to growing international concern over Rusesabagina’s trial that all see inequity and foresee a tragic outcome, Kagame replied, “Of course, I call for a fair trial on my side. It’s not the UK or the US, or the European Union. No, I want to see a fair trial too. Why? Yeah, you know, that’s how people say crazy things and end up being racist. It’s like saying, the only way to be fair in Africa or Rwanda is for it to be monitored by Europe, the United States, or some other country. Not at all.”
Three months ago, in the interview with the Jeune Afrique newspaper on 05/25/2021, here is the response that Kagame reserved for the international community which continue to say that Rusesabagina was kidnapped: “There are two very distinct aspects in this case. The first is the process that brought Rusesabagina to Kigali. The second is whether Rusesabagina is guilty or not. We must stop mixing the two. If it is established that he was illegally arrested, then it would be possible to argue about it, make it a separate procedure and debate it. But if, on the other hand, someone tells you that this same Rusesabagina has belonged for several years to a terrorist group that is attacking Rwanda. That this is supported by evidence that is being presented right now in a court of law cannot be ignored. There are even statements where he boasts of being the leader of one of these groups operating in the DRC or Burundi. If the United States or Belgium, where he had lived for several years, had wanted to prosecute for these facts, we would have provided them with the same evidence”.
“Because he has been allegedly arrested ‘illegally’, should he be okay with this terrorist group which killed people in Rwanda? I would prefer the two cases to be dealt with separately. Or those who say so, prove he was illegally arrested. If a case is open, fine, we’ll argue. But he must also be judged for what he is suspected in Rwanda. If he is innocent he will be free. If he is guilty he will pay the price. If people think he was arrested because he was a hero, a status he was given due to a film that was originally supposed to be a fictional film, that shows their level of laziness, ” Kagame says.
One-way judicial collaboration
Kagame’s words simply prove his refusal to reconsider the procedure for ’Rusesabagina’s arrest even though he seems to understand this should constitute judicial deliberation. And it is this judicial debate that Me Vincent Lurquin still calls for. Because not only is Rusesagagina being prosecuted by Kigali but also there is a trial opened in Belgium, which must continue there, because an investigation is still on-going. “There is a file open in Belgium, which is not yet closed, which allows us to request a transfer”, said the lawyer who wonders: “Why Belgium continues to be silent? “
It is this quest for a legal and worthy debate and for a collaboration respecting the values of universal justice that, such Don Quixote, Vincent Lurquin, went to Kigali to try to see his client Rusesabagina. It was horrible. In fact, this August 19, 2021, Me Vincent Lurquin, once again tried to meet his client Paul RUSESABAGINA, for his trial in Belgium and not for the Kigali trial. The Rwandan bar which knew very well the visit of Me Lurquin triggered general confusion alleging that Me Vincent Lurquin has broken the laws of representing a person in the jurisdiction; the bar accused him to usurping its power. Firstly, at Nyarugenge prison, his request to see his client Rusesabagina was initially rejected. Me Vincent Lurquin protested: “I have the right to meet him and no authority in a state of law can refuse me that”. And in his anger, he shouted “Rwanda is violating the most basic rights”, and is indignant that “The judges and the international community are silent”. It was a chaotic moment, which will turn into a tragicomedy to ridicule Me Vincent Lurquin and once again to arrogantly mock the Belgium. Me Vincent Lurquin was kicked out of Rwanda, almost with boots, as a prohibited immigrant! It was the last straw!
The details of this visit to Rwanda have been given and have been clearer in the conference on August 25, 2021 in Belgium. Me Vincent Lurquin specified that Belgium had collaborated with the Rwandan justice on the case in Belgium, and that he came to Rwanda with the agreement of all the authorized authorities including the president of Belgian bar to see Rusesabagina But he was quite simply surprised when he was mischievously avoided by the Rwanda’s bar president. However, through its Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sophie WILMES, Belgium had made three requests to the Rwandan authorities so that he could see his client. This is what he said about these requests: “I just received 15 minutes ago the answer to three verbal notes introduced over the past year: they answer is negative and they refuse to let me see my client at the prison; the attorney general of Kigali gave instructions to the Belgian investigating judge to withdraw from his case (…). Can the Kigali public prosecutor’s office really give instructions to an investigating judge in Belgium without anyone standing up against? We have never seen this at the judicial level “.The Belgian investigating judge had also written four times to Rwanda, without a response.
Me Vincent Lurquin clearly underlined that he went to Kigali, not for the Kigali trial, which was also at the time of the verdict, and which took place in Kinyarwanda, the language he ignores, but for the trial in Belgium. Everything that has been said about his visit is nothing but defamation, because as a knowledgeable lawyer, he could not claim to represent Rusesabagina before the Rwandan courts, without prior permission or explicit consent from the competent authority or collaboration of two bars, Belgian and Rwandan.
But all this raises questions. How does Belgium, which let the Rwandans undertake legal work to Belgium, in this Rusesabagina trial, until the legal search of the Rusesabagina office, accept to be intimidated by Rwanda, to expel its lawyer?
Yet the ways that can facilitate a real legal debate on the Rusesabagina case exist but seem to be blocked by Kigali. In fact, not only the Rwandan prosecutor’s office has been allowed to work in Belgium on this Rusesabagina case but there is also jurisprudence in the case of Guy THEUNIS, a Belgian national like Rusesabagina who was intercepted in Kigali to be brought before the Gacaca courts. The case of Guy THEUNIS, arrested in 2005 on the presumption of participating in the genocide, has been quite simply dealt with through one of the possible ways between states to cooperate: the diplomacy. It is well known that Belgian-Rwandan cooperation dates back a very long time, and that it is very important in the area of justice. The Gacaca courts were almost totally financed by the Belgian Technical Cooperation of yesteryear. In addition, Belgium has made its apology about its role in the Genocide against the Tutsi. On this point, Me Lurquin noticed that there is a certain “arrogance towards Belgium” which has become “a willing victim”.
The other way to establish the judiciary debate, always possible, is legal cooperation; the Federal Prosecutor of Belgium can do that. Fortunately, there are some actions which testify that this is possible. The Rwandan prosecution has indeed allowed working in Belgium in a good collaboration with the prosecution of Belgium. But here again it is regrettable that the cooperation is one-sided, there is no reciprocity, Rwanda refuses to cooperate and this attitude confuses everyone. The Belgian authorities are silent and reject everything to the head of Belgian diplomacy Mrs. Sophie WILMES, to whom a categorical refuse was given to her verbal notes.
In brief, the purpose of this conference on August 25, 2021 was to demonstrate how much Belgium is more than despised by Rwanda in the Rusesabagina affair. It was an opportunity for the family to cry out their indignation at the Belgian government for abandoning its citizen while giving in to some kind of blackmail from Rwanda. Thus, Rusesabagina’s family exposed Rusasabagina’s injustice to obtain the support from the European Union, including the resolution of 02/22/2021, which asked Kigali to allow an independent investigation about the “legality” of Rusesabagina’s arrest. This resolution has so far gone unheeded. What would the EU expect, especially since the corroborating facts have established that it was against his will that Paul Rusesabagina was brought to Rwanda? Those facts have been accepted by Kigali through the Minister of Justice Johnston Busingye. Finally, who is ultimately going to restore the justice? After all, it shouldn’t be too late!