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What You Need to Know Before the Rusesabagina Verdict
By: Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation
In late August, 2020, Paul Rusesabagina, the international human rights icon whose story of saving 1,268 people during the Rwandan Genocide was told in the film Hotel Rwanda, was flown against his will from Dubai, United Arab Emirates to Kigali, Rwanda. He has been on trial in Rwanda since February 17, 2021 and the verdict is expected on September 20, 2021.
About the trial:
After a decade of unsuccessful attempts by the Rwandan authorities to have Paul Rusesabagina charged in Belgium or in the USA, a sophisticated scheme was deployed by Rwandan authorities to lure him from his home in San Antonio, Texas to Dubai, where he was kidnapped and brought to Rwanda against his will. He was tortured for his first four days in captivity. This was an early sign – no fair trial begins with a kidnapping and torture. Paul was then held in solitary confinement for more than 250 days, in violation of the UN's Nelson Mandela Rules for the treatment of prisoners. He has been mistreated under international standards throughout his imprisonment.
His trial ran from February through July and concluded this morning with the verdict. Paul's legal rights were violated from the beginning to the end of the trial. Motions to consider the kidnapping and torture were ignored. He did not have access to lawyers of his own choosing for months. Once he named his lawyers, their access to Paul was severely restricted. Lawyers are not allowed to bring him documents, confidential and privileged documents they bring are confiscated and read by the prison, the lawyers have been harassed by prison authorities, and Paul has never had access to the full case file being used against him.
In Paul's opening statement at the trial, he firmly refuted and denied a statement that he was forced to sign under duress on August 31, 2020. This was after four days of torture, and with no legal counsel present during an interview at the Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB). Many of the admissions made are demonstrably untrue on their face, and others have been shown to be untrue during the course of the trial.
The trial began with Constantin "the Bishop" Niyomwungere, the Rwandan agent who, according to his own testimony, lured Paul to Kigali and coordinated his kidnapping with the RIB, effectively confirming the details of the illegal kidnapping. While the Bishop claims that he was acting under his conscience, he was not under oath and was accepted in court as an "informant" who could not be questioned by the defense. No mention was made of the Bishop's long-time connections to the Rwandan government and his relationship with the RIB was downplayed. No details were provided explaining how he went from terrorist suspect to willing participant in the elaborate scheme to abduct Paul Rusesabagina and submit him to a sham trial.
There were only two formal witnesses called during the trial, Dr. Michelle Martin and Noel Habiyaremye. Martin, a paid agent of the Rwandan government who filed under the Foreign Agent Registration Act in the US stating that she received $5,000/month from the Rwandan government, provided testimony that was read from a document. She was a volunteer for a brief time with the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation from November of 2009 to the autumn of 2010, for less than a year, and only met Paul once. Her testimony came almost entirely from hacked emails that were stolen at the time from one or more other Rwandans in the US. These talked about Rwandan diaspora politics, and while Paul was mentioned, he did not author or respond to any of the emails in her "testimony" and was not implicated in any way. All of Martin's information occurred 8-9 years before the alleged attacks involved in this trial. None of the information provided any evidence to prove any of the nine charges.
Sadly, Habiyaremye's testimony was that of someone who is just as much a victim of Rwandan "justice" as Paul Rusesabagina. Habiyaremye was arrested and jailed for three years on politically motivated charges. During that time, apparently to cut down his sentence in 2010 the Rwandan government coerced him into providing false testimony against former presidential candidate Victoire Ingabire, who was on trial on false charges. This was the start of a pattern in 2010, with Paul Rusesabagina also linked to Ingabire. Both were accused by Habiyaremye of supporting the FDLR militia based In the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo. During the Ingabire trial Habiyaremye's testimony was considered not credible by the court, and was ignored. And then in March, Habiyaremye gave effectively the same testimony again against Paul Rusesabagina, restating the charges of sponsoring the FDLR that were disproven years ago.
Together, Martin and Habiyaremye were the only two witnesses in this trial who were not the co-accused. And together they provided no evidence whatsoever about the charges in question, and in no way linked Paul to these charges.
Many of Paul's 20 co-accused also testified both in written statements and at trial. A pattern became clear from their testimony: the written statements that incriminated themselves and the FLN were all given under extreme duress. The co-accused testified that these were written by their lawyers and handed to them to sign, and that in at least one case the defendant was not even allowed to read the statement by his own lawyer. When taking the stand, these defendants denied their statements. Another common theme was that the FLN had nothing to do with the MRCD, and many had not even heard of the MRCD until they were jailed and told to testify about a connection. All of the co-accused who commented on it declared that the "MRCD-FLN" at the basis of the trial accusations did not exist, and that these were two different entities.
One of the primary defendants was Callixte "Sankara" Nsabimana, the leader of the CNRD political party that formed the FLN. Sankara corroborated published MRCD documents in late 2019 arguing that the FLN had engaged with Rwandan soldiers, but had never attacked civilians and was not involved in the attacks in questions in the charges. As a key player in the political parties, he confirmed that he was a political spokesperson for the FLN, and a representative in the MRCD, but that these groups had no connection beyond that. He confirmed that Paul Rusesabagina was not a founder or a member of the FLN in any way. Sankara was supposedly a star witness for the prosecution, but only provided evidence exonerating Rusesabagina.
Four of the alleged victims also appeared in court, but they did not provide any evidence against the accused. These alleged victims only testified to the fact that they were attacked. They never identified any attacker either in the court or by identifying a group. There was no linkage made in court by the witnesses between the attacks and Paul or the other accused. Several "victims" also appeared to be planted by the Rwandan government, including Alice Kayitesi, an actress who claimed an injury that harmed her career, but was seen after the alleged attacks on a television show with no injury. It appears that Kayitesi may have been engaged by the Rwandan government to play the role of victim in this trial.
Sadly, there is nothing strange about the above circumstances in Rwanda. As Human Rights Watch and many other groups have reported, the Rwandan government regularly forces false confessions and statements under duress, and also regularly provides false witnesses with prepared statements at trial.
The "Belgian Dossier"
From the first days after Paul Rusesabagina was kidnapped, tortured and imprisoned, the Rwandan government purported that much of the evidence of his guilt would come from a dossier provided to them after investigations by the Belgian government. The Rwandan government asked the Belgians to investigate Paul Rusesabagina in July, 2019 in relation to alleged forthcoming charges. These investigations did, in fact, take place. In July 2021, Rusesabagina's Belgian lawyer, Vincent Lurquin, was informed that the investigation was closing and that no evidence had been found. Paul's team has reviewed the dossier, and there is no evidence which supports the charges in Rwanda. Contrary to Rwandan claims, there is no proof of the financial transfers mentioned. There are no incriminating WhatsApp messages. There is nothing on which any government with a fair and just legal system would even rely on to bring charges against an accused.
It is even more interesting that the Rwandan prosecutors did not enter the Belgian Dossier, or any of the documents contained in it, into evidence. The entire campaign to use this dossier against Paul has happened in the court of public opinion. Rwandan prosecutors and government leaders make speeches about how damning the dossier is. And now that the trial is ending, the Rwandan press and twitter trolls are resurfacing claims. In these cases, there are even forged WhatsApp conversations included in the allegations. As such, the last minute attempts to leak alleged documents from the Belgian Dossier through state-controlled press in Rwanda should be seen as nothing more than a desperate reaction to the reality; the trial produced no credible evidence linking Paul to any of the charges.
Please find the link to watch the verdict live here. It will begin at 11am Kigali/ 5am EST/ 4am CST/ 11pm HST / 10am BST. https://www.youtube.com/
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