CHICAGO – Dec. 3, 2020 – After 90 days in custody, our father, husband, and beloved human rights hero Paul Rusesabagina was finally able to appear in court with his own chosen lawyer. We are relieved and energized that he is finally able to exercise the international right to utilize his own legal counsel instead of an attorney unjustly forced upon him by the Rwandan government. This was very positive news for us. Our father – our mother’s husband – and his attorney Gatera Gashabana were incredibly brave as they spoke before the court about the direly pressing issues that the former government-dictated attorneys refused to address. This news from Kigali brought us hope and relief that our father is finally being represented by his own attorney and is able to speak about the most pressing issues of his detention, and we remain more determined than ever to bring Paul home.
Our father was kidnapped from Dubai in late August and brought against his will to Rwanda. While the situation is terrifying and painful, we know that it is paramount that people everywhere know the truth of his circumstances – so we’re relieved he was able to elaborate in court about how he was tortured upon arrival in Rwanda and that Mr. Gashabana made it clear that even Rwanda’s own legal processes were not followed in his arrest.
After fleeing Rwanda in 1996 due to targeted attacks on his life and subsequently receiving asylum in Belgium, our father has remained a staunch advocate for global human rights, justice, and genocide prevention. This made him a frequent critic of Kagame’s government, which continued to earn him – and the rest of our family – scorn, harassment, and threats. He never would have traveled to Rwanda of his own free will. He told us, and spoke in his public appearances, about what would happen to him if he ever returned to Rwanda. He knew he would be arrested or worse, because that’s what has always historically happened to Kagame’s critics – and our father is an outspoken dissident.
Still to this day we have not been able to learn the details of how they managed to kidnap our father, whether by outright force or by tricking him into getting on the plane and then restraining him. The distinction between those things doesn’t change the illegality of this situation, though. Manipulation is coercion, coercion is not consent, and if you are taken somewhere without your consent, you have been kidnapped. Kidnapping a Belgian citizen and US resident on a private charter from Dubai is not moral, fair, just, or legal under international law. As our father pointed out himself in the hearing yesterday, he is not a Rwandan citizen – he had to renounce his Rwandan citizenship in order to receive Belgian citizenship in 2000, when neither Belgium or Rwanda allowed dual citizenship. Rwandan prosecutors are saying he was immediately arrested when he landed and that is a laughable platitude – born out of a serious logic gap, asking people to conveniently ignore how he ended up there after fleeing the country, renouncing his citizenship, and never going back until now – meant to sanitize the fact that they kidnapped him and forcibly brought him to Kigali to imprison him.
We want to make sure that the world realizes our father is in Rwanda because he was kidnapped. He was kidnapped because his devoted advocacy for human rights and justice has made him the victim of a political vendetta from Kagame’s government. But even for those who may find that vendetta persuasive – however fiercely we may disagree with that stance – we ask those people to respect international law.
The Rwandan prosecutors could have brought their charges to the United States or Belgium, as they have done in the past, and those governments would investigate him. We have no doubt that our father would cooperate. He was not involved in the activities that he is now accused of. But the Rwandan government has decided to do this illegally, which has marred their own reputation and processes as a result. Instead of seeking his extradition, they chose to grab him in Dubai and bring him back to Rwanda for their show trial.
Our father is 66 years old and has long-standing health problems. He is a cancer survivor and he has a heart condition with hypertension that requires monitoring and medication. We are very concerned that he will not receive appropriate treatment in Rwanda. He has already been complaining of headaches and dizziness, and he’s apparently been taken to the hospital at least three times – yet the Rwandan government has refused to share details or records with his doctors abroad. In addition, the COVID-19 conditions in Rwanda, and in particular in the jail in which he is held, are terrible, and we fear that he is at an increased risk of catching the disease. Around the world, governments have acknowledged that prisons are a uniquely dangerous place for high-risk patients like my father and have widely extended bail programs as a result. We urge the world community to pressure the Rwandan government for a compassionate release. We have no doubt that, upon returning home, our father will cooperate with authorities as required if the Rwandan government has actual evidence to bring against him that will stand up in an unbiased court of law internationally.
There was great progress yesterday, but this is still undoubtedly an unfair, biased, and irreparably flawed trial process. Returning our father to Belgium or the United States is the right thing to do on compassionate grounds. Doing so would go a long way to show that the Rwandan government accepts the international rule of law, as they can still ask that he be extradited after that time if the charges warrant and doing so through the proper global channels. Until then, we once again urge the world community to step in and help free our father and husband, Paul Rusesabagina. We leave you with a few words from some of the attorneys fighting across the world for him.
“Our legal team was relieved to see Mr. Gashabana appear in court with Mr. Rusesabagina today. After 90 days without Mr. Rusesabagina being afforded the right to lawyers of his own choosing, we are encouraged by this progress. Mr Gashabana, for the first time, was able to make submissions to the court about Mr. Rusesabagina’s kidnapping and extraordinary rendition from Dubai to Kigali. It is important to remember that the Rwandan government had the opportunity to request the legal extradition or deportation of Mr. Rusesabagina from the United States, which has already transferred 12 persons to Rwanda through those channels. Instead, it mounted an operation to take Mr. Rusesabagina to Rwanda against his will. This is a violation of international law and circumvented the extradition and deportation procedures which are the foundation for the rule of law between countries. The Judges are now finally aware of these circumstances. Crucially, they are also now aware that Mr. Rusesabagina was held bound and blindfolded for three days upon his arrival in Rwanda, while he was interrogated without lawyers in violation of his rights under both Rwandan and international law. Any one of these violations would be cause for an immediate dismissal of the case by an independent judiciary. We look forward to securing Mr. Rusesabagina’s release on these grounds, or alternately his release on compassionate grounds due to his serious and deteriorating health condition.”