CHICAGO – Nov. 11, 2020 – On November 10, Paul Rusesabagina, who has been in the custody of the Rwandan government since his kidnapping, torture and arrest in late August and early September was in court again. Finally, after more than two months in custody, he has been allowed lawyers of his choosing. This denial of legal representation of his choice on the part of the Rwandan government is obviously a gross violation of human rights guidelines and international law.
His family once again found out through the news stories. They have not been made aware of any of the legal proceedings against Rusesabagina by the Rwandan government. They only find out after the fact through accounts in the news media.
Paul Rusesabagina still does not have access to his full legal team. While Rwandan lawyer Gatera Gashebana now has access to Paul, the Rwandan government is still using bureaucratic procedures to block Paul’s international lawyers. Lawyers on Paul’s team have worked in Rwanda many times before with other clients and have had unfettered access to their clients. Now they are being blocked from seeing this client, Paul Rusesabagina. This lack of access to clients is unprecedented. In addition, the Rwandan government has many times allowed other international lawyers to participate in other cases. Right now, it appears that political reasons are the only reason why Paul’s lawyers are still being blocked.
The Rwandan government forced two lawyers on Paul on September 7. Paul did not have a real choice on using these lawyers. The government prevented his family from providing him with information that they had attorneys for him for almost three months. Under Rwandan law, the lawyers assigned to Paul are only supposed to be available to indigent Rwandans who cannot get their own representation.
The family and Gatera had informed the Rwandan government on multiple occasions that Paul had lawyers selected and available. The information presented to the Rwandans included letters to the Rwandan Batonnier (President of the Bar Association) and letters delivered through the Belgian and US Embassies in Rwanda to the Rwandan government. Additionally, Gatera presented letters from the family personally to the Rwandan government. Nevertheless, Gatera was not officially allowed to represent Paul until he was in prison for more than 10 weeks, and the two lawyers forced on Paul were not withdrawn until a few days later.
The fact that Paul Rusesabagina has been held and is undergoing pre-trial hearings with lawyers who do not represent his interests is a key issue. This is another factor that shows the trial is not being held in a fair manner. This is not in keeping with either Rwandan law, or international law.
More importantly, none of the government assigned lawyers ever brought up the fact that Paul was kidnapped by the Rwandan government in Dubai and brought to Rwanda illegally. Under international law, this is considered illegal or extraordinary rendition. While the Rwandan government claims that Paul boarded the plane to Rwanda by choice, that fact is irrelevant. Paul Rusesabagina would never have gone back to Rwanda of his own free will, as he knew what would await him there. Whether he was taken by force, or whether he was tricked into boarding a plane, the act of bringing him to Rwanda against his will is contrary to international law, and Paul should be freed based on that fact alone.