On 31 August 2020, the world was shaken by the images of the 1994 Rwandan hero – Paul Rusesabagina who, during the Rwandan tragedy, saved 1268 people – being handcuffed, surrounded by heavily armed Rwandan police in Kigali, while being presented to journalists. Since then, efforts by various governmental bodies such as the US Senate and Congress, the European Parliament, non-profit organisations such as Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation and The Tom Lantos Human Rights, have been made in vain to try and secure the release of Mr. Rusesabagina.
The request to set Mr. Rusesabagina free, was driven by a number of good reasons ranging from his kidnapping and extradition from Dubai to Kigali, illegal detention and deprivation of his rights while in custody, among others. Now that his trial is nearing its end, the political organization – Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (RMDC) – that Mr. Rusesabagina was among the founding members and Vice President of, reacts on the way his pseudo trial was conducted, and calls for more support for his unconditional release.
From the onset, Mr. Rusesabagina was detained illegally at an unknown destination for 3 days (from 28 – 31 August 2020), during which period he was blindfolded, hands and feet tied up together, with a gag on his mouth and deprived of food and drinks and sometimes deprived of sleep. This ill-treatment continued even after he had been shown to the public. At one time, a government employee tramped on his neck with military boots in an attempt to persuade him to sign a statement indicating that he received some money from foreign countries to sponsor FLN activities of destabilizing Rwanda. From that time, his family and lawyers recorded a series of his rights violated, starting with the right to freedom from arbitrary detention, the right to legal representation, and the right to humane treatment in detention.
According to The American Bar Association, a list of 13 charges against Mr. Rusesabagina was made public on November 16, 2020:
- The creation of an illegal unit
- Being a member of a terrorist organization
- Sponsoring terrorism
- Murder as an act of terrorism
- Illegal human trafficking as an act of terrorism
- Armed robbery as an act of terrorism
- Raiding of buildings and transporting persons or objects to commit terrorist attacks
- Murder as an act of terrorism
- Beating and intentionally injuring as an act of terrorism
- Burning as a terrorist act
- Murder as a terrorist act (a second count)
- Assault and battery as terrorist acts
However, as it was feared prior to the trial, the process failed to meet the required international and regional standards of a fair trial, particularly for a person who is allegedly accused of such heavy crimes. To begin with, Mr. Rusesanagina’s family was able to identify and appoint lawyers of international reputation from various countries including Belgium and the United States. However, the Government of Rwanda did not allow all these lawyers to undertake the task in Rwanda. Only Me Gatera Gashabana, a Rwandan lawyer who is based in Rwanda, was allowed to represent Mr. Rusesabagina.
The trial started on 17 February 2021. During a series of audiences that followed, Mr. Rusesabagina and his lawyers explained how the Rwandan courts didn’t have authority to prosecute him for a number of issues, including the way he was transferred to Rwanda which is not regulated by any legal framework around the world, as well as the restricted access to his case files. This means that Mr. Rusesabagina was denied of his right to adequately prepare for his case. Furthermore, the Rwandan Minister of Justice who has prisons under his responsibilities, ordered prison authorities not to let any document reach Mr. Rusesabagina’s hands unless it had been scrupulously screened by them. These orders included the denial of Mr. Rusesabagina access to more than 3,000 pages of his case. The request to grant more time, had also been refused. As if that was not enough to deprive him of his rights to prepare for his case, Mr. Rusesabagina was further denied the right to meet with his lawyer to discuss his trial. This implies that Mr. Rusesabagina was denied of his right to private communication.
During the audience of 5 March 2021, Mr. Rusesabagina’s defense team raised the issue of how their client reached Rwanda from Dubai, arguing that it didn’t comply with the normal extradition procedure, and when the court resumed on 10 March 2021, it concluded that it was the right procedure because Mr. Rusesabagina was lured to come to Rwanda, rather than being forced. During his interview with the Rwanda Broadcasting Agency (RBA) on 6 September 2020, President Kagame himself admitted to Cléophas Barore that his government’s wrongdoing in Mr. Rusesabagina’s matter is a “lie” – which has become a strong weapon of his government since July 1994, which is when he ascended to power with the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).
Additionally, on 26 February 2020, the Rwandan Minister of Justice Mr. Johnson Busingye gave an interview to a journalist from Al Jazeera during which he admitted that Rwanda collaborated with other parties to lure Mr. Rusesabagina into Rwanda, and that his government paid for the private jet that landed Mr. Rusesabagina in Kigali. Both of them (President Kagame and his Minister of Justice) have indeed confirmed their government’s involvement in kidnapping and illegally extraditing Mr. Rusesabagina into Rwanda.
However, it important to note that Mr. Rusesabagina wouldn’t have wished to come to Rwanda of his own will.
It was during the same audience of 5 March, that Bishop Niyomwungere gave his testimony that was qualified as “information”, during which he mentioned that Mr. Rusesabagina was a leader of the FLN in 2017. We vehemently deny this accusation and though the FLN were a military wing of one of the RMDC organization members, Mr. Rusesabagina has never been the leader or commander of the FLN which operated in Rwanda, especially he was a civilian, responsible for political and diplomatic affairs of the coalition.
On 12 March 2021, Mr. Rusesabagina made a brave decision to withdraw himself from the case after realizing that he would never get a fair trial. Since then, the trial has continued without the presence of him or his lawyers, and the case mainly consisted of hearing the “witnesses” and interrogating his co-accused. Even if some of them defended themselves by invoking the responsibility of Mr. Rusesabagina, we recall that these co-defendants, like Nsabimana Callixte (Sankara) were also kidnapped and tortured, practice considered as normal by the agents of the Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) at the time of the preliminary interrogations. He is an example of those kidnapped individuals who were forced to incriminate Mr. Rusesabagina.
Despite his withdrawal from the case, his rights could have been respected. In fact, according to the UN Human Rights Committee, “when exceptionally for justified reasons trials in absentia are held, strict observance of the rights of the defense is all the more necessary”. In the trial of Mr. Rusesabagina, this was not the case. Instead, the Prosecuting Authority and the court, were constantly looking for ways to incriminate him by deviating other co-accused such as Nsengimana Herman, Marcel Niyirora, Emmanuel Nshimiyimana, even when they were speaking on a different topic.
In this letter, the RMDC would like to comment on the testimony given by Ms. Michelle Martin and Noel Habiyaremye. Ms. Martin once worked as a volunteer for Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation and also worked for the government of Rwanda as a spy. Mr. Habiyaremye, was a military officer in the former army, and was once used to incriminate another high ranking political opponent in Rwanda. Ms. Martin recounted how she intercepted communications between Mr. Rusesabagina and others, including Mr. Providence Rubingisa, by searching his computer. Mr. Habiyaremye related how he communicated with Mr. Rusesabagina’s representative about the establishment of a military wing of his political organization in 2008. This sounds bizarre as Mr. Rusesabagina was not the President of the Party for Democracy in Rwanda (PDR) at the time. He only became its President in 2012. Furthermore, Mr. Habiyaremye could not provide any evidence, however, the court accepted his testimony. What is further shocking, is that both so- called testimonies from Ms. Martin and Mr. Habiyaremye, were not cross-examined. However, the court accepted them.
One of the charges against Mr. Rusesabagina includes illegal human trafficking, consisting of people that were taken by the FLN from their villages into Nyungwe forests. The RMDC condemns this allegation and wants to inform the public that it was the Rwandan Defense Forces (RDF) that took the civilians with them and later released them as they testified it themselves. On this point, it is important to remember that this practice of attributing its wrong doings to others, has become the RPF’s trade mark since it started its war in 1990. A few examples can be cited here:
- The RPF killed Felicien Gatabazi, Emmanuel Gapyisi, Martin Bucyana and attributed those killings to the regime of President Habyarimana
- The RPF killed Abagogwe in 1991 and attributed this assassination to Habyarimana
- The RPF killed the American tourists in the Rwindi forests in 1995 and attributed thesekilling to the Interahamwe
- The RPF killed refugees in Mudende camp and attributed the killings to the Interahamwe
The RPF shot down the presidential Jet that was carrying President Habyarimana and Ntaryamira of Rwanda and Burundi respectively and attributed the assassination to the Habyarimana army.
In light with the above brief of the trial against Mr. Rusesabagina, the RMDC would like to inform the public that this trial contained multiple flaws that make it a pseudo-justice. We further aim to reiterate that there is no evidence in what Mr. Rusesabagina is being accused of. All these are fabrications in order to incriminate an innocent person who has been vocal against the absence of human rights in Rwanda and a way of silencing all other individuals that are critical of the way the country is run by the RPF since its ascendance to power.
We call upon all Rwandans, governments around the world and various organisations to make use of their influence to secure the release of Mr. Rusesabagina, – as he is innocent of all the charges – as well as all other prisoners who are in custody for their political views, in particular Nsabimana Callixte (Sankara), who, as we know, was kidnapped, tortured and forced to admit, sign and say what he does not believe in so that he can save his life.
For the RMDC, Celestin Komeza, President.