The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) calls for due process to be followed in the trial of the exiled Rwandan dissident Paul Rusesabagina, who has been in police custody in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, since 31 August 2020.
Mr Rusesabagina, an outspoken critic of President Paul Kagame, told the court when applying for bail that he was held bound, blindfolded and incommunicado for three days, before being taken to the court in Kigali under heavy security. He faces a multitude of charges, including terrorism and supporting armed rebels in a conspiracy to overthrow the government of President Kagame. He has denied all allegations against him and refused to enter any pleas in court. His trial, originally scheduled to start on 26 January, has been adjourned indefinitely.
IBAHRI Co-Chair and former Justice of the High Court of Australia (1996–2006), the Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG, commented, ‘The arrest of Paul Rusesabagina in Kigali is very disturbing. It is shrouded in mystery. The Rwanda Investigation Bureau stated on social media that the arrest occurred through “international cooperation”. However, clarity on the exact meaning of the phrase has not been forthcoming, leading to speculation that international law was breached. The current unsatisfactory situation finds Mr Rusesabagina detained without a trial date and without legal representation of his choosing. The IBAHRI emphasises the need for due process and international fair trial standards to be upheld, as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and points to the key provision of Article 10, which states “everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charges against him.”
Mr Kirby added: ‘Furthermore, the IBAHRI calls for international observers and media to be given virtual access to the court in order to monitor Mr Rusesabagina’s trial. It is vital that Rwandans and the international community have access to independent, accurate and credible information, and can bear witness to proceedings.’
Exiled as a Belgium citizen and United States resident, Mr Rusesabagina had been living abroad prior to his arrest in Kigali. His family has stated that he would never have willingly returned to Rwanda and conclude that he was ‘kidnapped’.
Commentators are recalling the case of opposition politician Victoire Ingabire, who in 2010, returned from exile in the Netherlands to participate in presidential elections. Prior to the start of her trial, her reputation was smeared by the local press. The critic of President Kagame’s 20-year rule was described as an enemy of the state, arrested, put on trial and jailed. Reports indicate that dissent and freedom of expression are not tolerated by the authorities and can deprive an individual of liberty and life.
Mr Rusesabagina, a former hotel manager in Kigali, was the inspiration for the film ‘Hotel Rwanda’, which portrayed his heroism in saving the lives of more than 1,200 Tutsi people during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, when approximately one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were massacred. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the US’ highest civilian award – by US President George W Bush in 2005.
Notes to the Editor
- The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), established in 1995 under Founding Honorary President Nelson Mandela, is an autonomous and financially independent entity, working to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.
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- The International Bar Association(IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world’s bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.
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