CHICAGO – Jan. 27, 2021 – January 26 was a typical day in the “trial” of Paul Rusesabagina in Kigali, Rwanda. The humanitarian whose real life story was made famous in the movie Hotel Rwanda was brought before court virtually in a pre-trial hearing designed to set a new trial date. The original trial was scheduled for January 26, and is now delayed until February 17.
But that is where any semblance of proper trial procedure ended. Paul’s trial date was originally postponed on January 21st, but he did not find out about the postponement until his family told him in a brief phone call the following day. No one in the Rwandan system had informed him, and his lawyer was prevented from contacting him.
Worse yet, yesterday Rwanda formally denied Paul representation by his international legal team. In an unprecedented move, the Rwandan Bar Association sent a letter denying Paul’s request to be represented by two international lawyers who have experience in defending Rwandan accused. In other trials in Rwanda, international lawyers from the US, Canada, EU, and UK, among others, have been allowed to represent Rwandan accused. Link to letter here (https://hotelrwandarusesabaginafoundation.files.wordpress…)
Paul’s Rwandan lawyer currently has no way to communicate with Paul. Right now Kigali is under a two week COVID lockdown. Paul is given limited access to a phone, and all of his calls are monitored. This includes what should be confidential calls with his lawyer. This is a clear violation of the right to counsel accepted in Rwanda and around the world.
In addition, Paul’s case has been joined to the cases of 19 other defendants. A photo released by the Rwandan government of the hearing on 26 January shows all the defendants together in one room, brought before a judge who appears on a video monitor. None of the defendants have counsel present. Paul’s lawyer, and presumably none of the other defendant’s lawyers, were allowed to be present on line.
Even more disturbing is the fact that many of the defendants in the room with Paul, including the one seated directly behind him, were not wearing masks. Kigali is under a COVID lockdown, and the prison in which Paul is held reportedly has one of the worst infection rates in the country. Yet prisoners here are pushed together into one room and masks are not enforced. This disturbing image demonstrates that the Rwandan authorities do not place the same value on the health and safety of those detained in its prisons. For a 66 year old man with co-morbidities, this kind of exposure puts Paul at significant risk.
When the world looks at this situation, everyone needs to understand the real situation. Trials held in Rwanda, especially high profile trials like this one, not only fail to meet the standards of international law, but they do not even meet the supposed standards of Rwandan law. They ignore Rwandan law when it is inconvenient. An example is that Paul’s international attorneys are now being told they cannot come to Rwanda, they cannot access Paul, and they cannot assist and represent him. In other cases, international lawyers have been welcomed.
All of these reasons, starting with Paul’s illegal kidnapping and extradition to Rwanda and illegal arrest, are why the international community, especially the United States and Belgium, must call for Paul Rusesabagina’s immediate release.
On January 21 the legal team for Paul Rusesabagina filed a Motion for Remedy (https://hotelrwandarusesabaginafoundation.files.wordpress…) in a Rwandan court arguing that the egregious violations of his fundamental rights require his immediate release, and a permanent stay of proceedings against him.
Background: Paul Rusesabagina, an internationally renowned humanitarian who saved the lives of 1,268 people during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, has regularly criticized human rights violations and a lack of democracy in Rwanda, while working for an internationally sanctioned truth and reconciliation process and sustainable peace in the Great Lakes Region of Africa. He was kidnapped by the government of Rwanda on August 27 and taken to Kigali, where he is currently held in prison. Rwandan President Kagame is a dictator who does not tolerate dissent, who slanders and intimidates critics of his government, including calling them “terrorists,” and who has a long record of imprisoning and even killing those he considers to be critics or political opponents.