RUSESABAGINA CASE: A MULTIFACETED TRIAL

Paul Rusesabagina

INTRODUCTION

On 31 August 2020, believing he was taking a flight to Burundi from Dubai, he arrived in Kigali, where he was arrested on nine charges of terrorism that related to his association with the FLN (National Liberation Front), the armed wing of PDR-Ihumure, who claimed responsibility for terrorist attacks in 2018 which killed at least nine people. Rusesabagina has admitted to backing and “diplomatically” supporting the group, as evidenced in a widely-disseminated video in which he pledges his “unreserved support” for the FLN, but has denied any wrongdoing. His family deny all charges, and are suing charter airline GainJet for not disclosing the true destination of the flight to Rusesabagina. Was the accused rendition compliant with national, regional and international rules relating to conditions of arrest? What about the incident on Belgian nationality? what are the underpinnings of statements of Nsabimana Callixte a.k.a. Sankara scathing his alleged boss?

Throughout the following lines, there are discussed some legal and political issues among many others arising from this complex judicial cases encompassing procedural and substantive aspects.

1.The attorney general admits the kidnapping operation contradicting Prosecution and the Head of State

For weeks, the mystery has been how Mr. Rusesabagina, a Belgian citizen and American permanent resident, was lured to Rwanda from his home in Texas. In an interview, Rwanda’s spy chief gleefully described how Mr. Rusesabagina had fallen for an elaborate ruse, involving a private jet from Dubai, that he called “flawless.” Human Rights Watch called it illegal, a “forced disappearance.”

Mr. Rusesabagina, speaking in jail, said he believed he had been flying to Burundi. His family insists that he cannot speak freely.

“With guns around him, he’s saying that in the belly of the beast,” said his son, Trésor Rusesabagina, 28, speaking from the United States. “And the beast can bite at any time.”

In an interview with Al Jazeera English’s UpFront, Rwanda’s Justice Minister, Johnston Busingye, admitted that the Rwandan government paid for the plane that transported Paul Rusesabagina from Dubai to Kigali.

“The government paid,” Busingye told UpFront host Marc Lamont Hill.

“There is a person who was operating with Rusesabagina for a long time, who was an interest of our public criminal investigation department, who accepted to turn him in and the payment was to facilitate the plan of this man to transport Rusesabagina to Rwanda,” he added. “The government did not play a role in transporting him. It was facilitating this gentleman who wanted to bring him to Rwanda.”

Busingye said the Rwandan government had acted legally when it duped Rusesabagina, a Belgian citizen and US resident, into boarding a plane to Kigali.

“In international criminal law, luring people into places where they can be brought to justice has happened and happened in many jurisdictions,” he said.

When asked if it was legal for the Rwandan government to pay for a plan to bring Rusesabagina, a Belgian citizen and US resident, to Kigali against his will, Busingye said, “Yes it is.”

Human rights organisations, members of the U.S. Congress and the European parliament have described Rusesabagina’s rendition to Rwanda as illegal under international law and called for his immediate release.

Is luring a person for judicial purposes legal in international law as per various international and regional instruments of human rights? Could the National Public Prosecution Authority stand for this count which is procedural as far as Miranda rights and even habeas corpus are concerned?

2. The confession per se

According to article 145 of the constitution of Rwanda of 2003 as revised in 2015, the National Public Prosecution Authority is under the supervision of the Minister in charge of Justice. In matters relating to prosecution of offenses, the Minister in charge of justice determines the general policy and may, in public interest, issue written instructions to the Prosecutor General to undertake or refrain from investigating and prosecuting an offense. The Minister may also, in cases of urgency and in public interest, issue written instructions to any Prosecutor to investigate and prosecute or refrain from investigating and prosecuting an offense and inform the Prosecutor General of such instructions. 

In this line, the chief of the Rwandan public prosecution admits that the rendition of the hero of hotel Rwanda was planned and enforced by the state 

3.Contradiction 

The attorney general of Rwanda seemingly contradicts the head of state who previously denied the state role in the rendition of the accused but said that he was just mistaken. Besides, the representative of the public prosecution before the court excluded the alleged illegality of arrest and detention.  

4.Issue of nationality

There some states where getting their nationality entails giving up the nationality the applicant has to give up the citizenship prior getting the new one and others which recognize double citizenship. The issue hereby is how to abandon the nationality of origin and circumstances in which the accused may comply with legal requirements for that.

For the case of RUSESABAGINA Paul, according to article 33 of Rwandanorganic law n° 30/2008 of 25/07/2008 relating to Rwandan nationality that states that For persons holding more than one nationality, including that of Rwanda, only the latter shall be considered in cases involving compliance with Rwandan laws. 

In case there is a problem of knowing the nationality that should be considered for a person with more than one nationality, the nationality of the country the person with many nationalities resides in shall be the one to be considered. In other cases, consideration shall be given to the nationality of the country with which he or she has the closest relationship. 

Besides, article 37 of the same law specifies that Any Rwandan with dual nationality shall be required to declare it before the Directorate General or, when living abroad, to the Rwandan Embassy or Consulate when he or she is not in Rwanda, within a period not exceeding three (3) months from the period when he/she acquired another nationality. 

Any declaration made before the Ambassador or Any Rwandan with dual nationality shall be required to declare it before the Directorate General or, when living abroad, to the Rwandan Embassy or Consulate when he or she is not in Rwanda, within a period not exceeding three (3) months from the period when he/she acquired another nationality. 

Any declaration made before the Ambassador or Consulate representing Rwanda shall be forwarded to the Directorate General within one month from the date of the declaration. 

These legal provisions of the Rwandan law were not applicable to the case of RUSESABAGINA Paul given that he was a political refugee and such a status should not allow him to resort to embassies of a country he fled; it goes to not say that he could not travel to Rwanda to fulfill those formalities in the migration authority unless he does it now as he is unwillingly in the country. 

5.Nsabimana Callixte a.k.a Sankara: an FLN commander or RPF agent? 

One of Rusesabagina’s co-accused, FLN commander Callixte Nsabimana, appeared to have sided with the prosecution; however it was unclear why he had turned on a man he said had been “my president”.“He had ambitions to become the president of Rwanda. Now how do you have such ambitions when you’re not Rwandan?” Nsabimana said.“We waged war on Rwanda, and failed and were captured. It is embarrassing for him to now claim that he is not Rwandan,” said Nsabimana, who was arrested in April 2019.

These statements of Callixte Nsabimana a.k.a Sankara before the court and against his so called «boss» push any attentive analyst to conclude that Rwanda has nucleated the FLN by infiltrating its elements within the armed rebellion.

This arguments ad hominem against RUSESABAGINA to whom he objectively owed respect if he was really his boss proves that NSABIMANA Callixte must be just a double agent infiltrated by the RPF to espionage the FLN and disturb its military operations so that he may have played an active role to be captured and arrested, the reason which he immediately admitted facts and begged pardon. The similar stratagem is met in the fights against FDLR where ancient rebels who returned in the country reported that many RDF “dissidents” integrated this rebellion and some of them were surprised communicating with Rwandan officers who sent them. This practice is frequent in Rwanda where some inmates are sent in jail to record information from other convicts and after completion of their mission they disappear to report what they have got from the milieu. This is helpful for the intelligence service because in prisons there are detained different people among whom politicians, rebels, murderers, etc.

6.Crimes politically motivated

The Hero of Hotel Rwanda has been well seen by the Kagame regime till he criticized it where he became a deadly enemy. 

While it has received widespread acclaim in both the United States and the Western world, Hotel Rwanda and Rusesabagina’s role during the Genocide have both been subjects of significant controversy elsewhere, particularly in Rwanda. 

In 2008, the book Hotel Rwanda or the Tutsi Genocide as seen by Hollywood, by Alfred Ndahiro, a public relations advisor to Kagame, and journalist Privat Rutazibwa, was published. The authors conducted interviews with 74 people who had stayed in the Hotel during the Genocide. Their accounts provide an alternative take to the portrayal of Rusesabagina’s actions as seen in the film Hotel Rwanda: many of the survivors criticize Rusesabagina in their interviews. 

This was followed by the 2011 publication of Inside the Hotel Rwanda: The Surprising True Story … And Why it Matters Today, co-written by Hotel des Mille Collines Survivor Edouard Kayihura and American writer Kerry Zukus.

Both books are immensely critical of Rusesabagina, alleging that he forced refugees to pay for their rooms and all of the food which was given to them, he cut off communication lines to the hotel which were located outside his own office, he was a prominent member of Hutu Power politics, and he handed a list of refugees over to Interahamwe forces and broadcasters at the RTLM, among other things.Odette Nyiramilimo, a prominent survivor who became a senator in the new government, has openly testified that Rusesabagina was a friend, who helped save her and her family – “because of him, I am here”, she said. However, she has also acknowledged that she “never witnessed any act of charity on the part of Paul Rusesabagina”.

Similarly, UN Peacekeepers who were present at the Hotel des Mille Collines during the genocide have also been critical. At a conference in 2014, General Romeo Dallaire, who led the UNAMIR mission, said that the film was “not worth looking at”, adding: “I would like you to acknowledge the role played by those UNAMIR troops who stayed in Rwanda, including the troops from Congo-Brazzaville who were the ones who saved the people at the Hotel Mille Collines – not the hotel manager, Paul Rusesabagina”. Captain Amadou Deme, who was also a part of the UNAMIR mission and heavily involved with events at the Hotel, said “I can testify that I personally was not able to watch that movie beyond a point as I found it so repulsive for its untruthfulness”.

CONCLUSION

The detention of RUSESABAGINA Paul is unlawful considered conditions in which he was fraudulently forced to return in Rwanda in the detriment of national, regional and international rules relating to human rights and the good administration of justice. This count deserves to be prior examined to comply with due process and in case the illegal arrest and detention are conclusive, the suspect be released and be prosecuted placed in provisional liberty. By alleging the requirement of having formally abandoned the Rwandan nationality before pretending a Belgian citizen, the prosecuting party sets aside his status of refugee which involves not returning back to the country which is accused to persecute the refugee.

By The Rwandan Lawyer

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