Paul Rusesabagina. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
After six hours in court today in Kigali, the High Court judges denied all of the motions filed by Paul Rusesabagina and his attorneys. They then announced that the trial would begin immediately.
“I’d like to tell the court and the judges that my basic rights to defend myself and to have a right to a fair trial were not respected by the court,” Rusesabagina said, when he was given the floor. “Therefore as my rights have been violated, I’d like to tell the court that I don’t expect any justice in this court. And so I want to inform you that I will not be appearing again in court for the hearings. I have stopped my trial.”
Rusesabagina’s multiple pre-trial motions and letters were not dealt with in advance of the trial. Instead, these issues were taken up in the first five days in court. These included the fact that Rusesabagina was lured from San Antonio, the U.S. to Dubai, and then kidnapped to Rwanda when he believed he was going to Burundi. This illegal act alone, violating international and domestic laws, should be enough to stop the trial.
Rusesabagina has also been denied the right to lawyers of his choice. The international lawyers on his team have been barred from assisting in the case. He had no access to lawyers of his choice for more than two months, and limited access until a few weeks ago. “I don’t understand why I am the only one in this country who cannot have my lawyers and have to choose lawyers only from here,” Rusesabagina declared in court, today. He still has no way to make confidential phone calls to his lawyers, and only talks with them when they visit the prison.
After more than six months Rusesabagina still has no access to the more than 5,000 pages case file that details the charges against him and his 20 co-accused, most of whom he does not even know. He has not had the opportunity to study the indictment.
Legal standards around the world allow the defendant and his lawyers time to review the case against the accuse and provision with materials to do so. While Rusesabagina’s lawyers can access these documents, the prison has confiscated all of the papers brought to him, including letters from his family and confidential documents that he was given by his lawyers.
These have not yet been returned, even after the judges ordered it earlier in the week. More importantly, the Rwandan government now has access to all of these files, including privileged discussions of defense strategy, in violation of both Rwandan and international legal standards.
One of Rusesabagina’s central arguments is that he has been systematically denied his ability to prepare for the trial by the government that has falsely charged him.
At the end of a two hour adjournment today, the judges returned and denied all of Rusesabagina’s motions. They then declared that the trial would begin immediately and that Rusesabagina could prepare his case while all of the co-accused went on trial.
Since they are charged together, this is another denial of basic rights as Rusesabagina and his lawyers will have no opportunity to cross-examine witnesses, all of whom are expected to give government coerced testimony against him.
The judges then ordered that the first witness take the stand. This is also in violation of standard Rwandan court practice, in which the detailed charges against the accused are read out loud in court before the proceedings begin, a process that can often take many days.
Rusesabagina was hailed for his bravery for shielding in the hotel he managed, 1,200 refugees during the Rwanda genocide of 1994, saving their lives. That episode inspired the 2004 film “Hotel Rwanda,” where Don Cheadle plays Rusesabagina’s character. He was awarded the presidential medal of freedom by president Bush in 2005.
The next court date is set for March 24, 2021.