Family, Legal Team of Illegally Jailed Humanitarian Paul Rusesabagina Provide Update on Legal Issues and New Information from Rwanda
CHICAGO – Oct. 15, 2020 – While groups and individuals all over the world have called for a fair trial for Hotel Rwanda humanitarian Paul Rusesabagina, his lawyers today laid out actions already taken by the Rwandan government that make that impossible.
Lawyers Vincent Lurquin of Belgium and Philippe Larochelle of Canada detailed how they had travelled to Rwanda in the past weeks in an effort to meet with Paul Rusesabagina, only to encounter one obstacle after another. Rusesabagina’s daughter, Anaïse Kanimba, also recounted that the family had retained Rwandan lawyer Gatera Gashabana to see Paul Rusesabagina shortly after his arrest, and he had been refused access to Paul on multiple occasions.
Paul Rusesabagina was taken to Rwanda against his will on August 27th, in violation of international law. Instead of presenting a request for extradition or deportation to the United States or Belgium, the Rwandan government took Paul Rusesabagina to Rwanda by extrajudicial rendition.
Once they arrested Paul in Kigali, the Rwandan government kept him tied, bound, and blindfolded for three days before parading him to the news media. Then the Rwandan government provided him with government-controlled defence lawyers.
The lawyers who have been engaged by the family to defend Paul Rusesagabina have watched in agony as his fake lawyers appeared with Paul in court. Paul’s illegal rendition would make any subsequent prosecution null and void. His Rwandan lawyers failed to even raise it. Instead, they made perfunctory arguments for his provisional release without even mentioning his vulnerability to COVID-19, a circumstance that has resulted in the release of thousands of prisoners worldwide during this pandemic.
Additionally, the Rwandan government is burdening its taxpayers with paying the legal fees of these government-sponsored lawyers when Mr. Rusesabagina has lawyers ready, willing, and able to defend him at his own expense. The right of an accused to legal counsel of his choosing is a fundamental component of a fair trial.
The only explanation for this is that they want to control all aspects of the proceedings—the judge, the prosecutor, and even the defence counsel. These are not the elements of a fair trial by any definition.
It has now been 48 days since Paul was arrested in Rwanda, and the government continues to block the real legal team from defending Paul Rusesabagina. When they sought access to Paul, the Rwandan government consistently refused on the grounds that Paul had never requested to be represented by the lawyers chosen by his family. This is not the case. Paul has told his family on the telephone, including his daughter Anaïse, that he wants to be defended by the team of lawyers led in Rwanda by Gatera Gashabana, Vincent Lurquin, and Philippe Larochelle.
Gatera Gashabana is the former President of the Rwandan Bar Association. He has defended the last two of President Paul Kagame’s political opponents who were imprisoned—Victoire Ingabire and Diane Rwigara. He has the courage and experience to fight for his clients, even in the courts of Rwanda.
Vincent Lurquin is a lawyer from Belgium who has been representing Paul Rusesabagina since the Rwandan authorities presented the Belgian authorities with a request to investigate.
Philippe Larochelle is a lawyer from Canada who has also defended clients at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. These three lawyers all have tried to gain access to Paul Rusesabagina and been denied multiple times.
We are asking the United States, Belgium, and the European Union not to simply stand by while the fundamental rights of its citizens and residents are being violated. Rwanda must respect international law by returning Paul Rusesabagina to the United States or Belgium, where it is free to make a proper request for his transfer to Rwanda via extradition or deportation, or to have him prosecuted in Belgium. By having illegally transferred him to Rwanda and continuing to deny him his right to counsel of his choice, the Rwandan authorities have shown that they cannot be trusted to provide a fair trial for Paul Rusesabagina, and have no intention of doing so.
Both Vincent Lurquin and Philippe Larochelle related the roadblocks that they faced in Rwanda because of their association with Paul. On arrival at immigration, Mr. Lurquin was singled out and taken out of line and questioned extensively in ways that have never happened to him before when he has gone to the country for other work. “Rusesabagina is the name that cannot be said in Rwanda,” said Vincent Lurquin.
The attorneys said that they felt their recent treatment in Rwanda was in retaliation for their association with Rusesabagina. They are international lawyers who have worked in Rwanda without trouble before.
This time each was blocked for a week or more despite the fact that they had both had fulfilled the requirements of the Rwandan Bar Association and their home bar associations in Belgium and Quebec, Canada.
Day after day, Rusesabagina’s lawyers have been told that they needed signatures or stamps from the Bationnier, the head of the Rwandan Bar Association or his Executive Secretary and both of these people disappeared from their office for the duration of Lurquin’s visit. (Note: when opposition leader Victoire Ingabire tried to register her political party in advance of the election she was told the only person who could register her party was out on maternity leave and would not return before the election.)
Carine Kanimba reminded everyone that Paul has not received any consular visits since September 17 and no one from either the Belgian Embassy nor the United States Embassy has seen him since he was moved from the police station, to the prison where he is now being held. The Rwanda authorities have not allowed doctor visits.
You can watch a rebroadcast on the #FreeRusesabagina Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/FreePaulRusesabagina (https://www.facebook.com/FreePaulRusesabagina/videos/6940…)