hero of the ‘Hotel Rwanda’ awaits verdict on terrorism charges | Africa | DW
The verdict of Paul Rusesabagina, a longtime critic of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, is scheduled for Monday, September 20. His trial attracted international attention for his role in saving hundreds of people during the 1994 Rwandan genocide against the Tutsi.
In early September, President Kagame defended Rusesabagina’s trial, saying the 67-year-old former hotelier was in court not because he is famous but because of his subsequent actions.
Rusesabagina is charged with nine offenses, including membership of a terrorist organization, terrorist financing, murder and armed robbery.
The charges relate to a series of attacks carried out by the Front Armé de Liberation Nationale (FLN) in southwestern Rwanda between June and December 2018, in which nine civilians were killed.
The FLN is the military wing of the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change, which Rusesabagina co-chairs.
During a hearing in September 2020, he admitted having participated in the creation of the FLN. He and his family, however, deny supporting or participating in acts of violence or killings.
Rusesabagina could face life in prison if found guilty.
He gained celebrity status after the release of the Hollywood film “Hotel Rwanda” in 2004. The Oscar nominated film describes how he saved the lives of more than 1,200 Tutsis by giving them refuge in a hotel he managed for the Rwandan genocide of 1994, which saw the massacre of some 800,000 Tutsis as well as moderate Hutus.
Rusesabagina’s arrest is mysterious
During the trial, Rusesabagina’s lawyer argued that the court lacked jurisdiction to try Rusesabagina, a Belgian citizen who claims to be a victim of illegal restitution.
Rusesabagina was traveling from the United States, where he lives, to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates in August 2020 when he disappeared for several days to appear handcuffed in a court in Kigali. Former Rwandan justice minister Johnston Busingye told Al Jazeera that the government paid for the flight that brought Rusesabagina to Rwanda.
“If a Belgian citizen is legally deported to Rwanda, he can be tried locally. But is this what happened? We have to examine how he was arrested because it did not comply with the laws, ”said Rusesabagina’s lawyer Gatera Gashaba, according to AFP.
The US Congress released a letter sent to the Rwandan government late last year urging the government to allow Rusesabagina to return home to Texas on humanitarian grounds as the 66-year-old suffers from health problems. and is a cancer survivor.
He also expressed his “grave concern” over the manner in which the Rwandan government “has extrajudicially transferred Mr. Rusesabagina from the United Arab Emirates to Rwanda”.
The European Parliament also issued a joint resolution calling for the release of Rusesabagina and condemning his “enforced disappearance, illegal renditions and incommunicado detention”.
In turn, Rwandan lawmakers criticized the EU resolution as “imperialist,” according to the East African news site.
Rwandan parliamentarians and senators said the EU resolution interferes with Rwanda’s sovereignty and undermines the country’s judicial independence.
The EU, they said, “focused on Paul Rusesabagina and ignored the victims of his crimes who also demand justice,” the East African reported.
The film ‘Hotel Rwanda’, based on the story of Rusesabagina, caught the attention of the world
A controversial figure
“I think the charges [against Rusesabagina] have some credibility, ”University of London SOAS political analyst Phil Clark told DW.
“He has become a bit of a sensation on YouTube, especially in the Rwandan diaspora, where he often places videos of himself calling for the armed overthrow of the regime in Kigali,” Clark said.
In Rwanda, Rusesabagina, an ethnic Hutu, has already sparked outrage and accusations of promoting ethnic hate speech after warning of yet another genocide, this time perpetrated by Tutsi against Hutus. He also claimed that biased traditional courts ignored war crimes committed by Tutsis during the 1994 genocide.
“Many welcomed his arrest as good news, saying that this way parts of the country will no longer be destabilized,” said DW correspondent Alex Ngarambe. “Others say he was a politician and, as such, was only involved in politics.”
Some also accuse Rusesabagina of exaggerating his heroism.
“Some of the survivors [who stayed in the hotel] and the government says it didn’t save them and actually asked them for money to let them into the hotel for security, ”Ngarambe said.
This is confirmed by Rwandan expert Phil Clark, who said some survivors told him they had to pay to be protected, while others were handed over to their killers by the former hotelier.
“What happened is much more complex than the movie ‘Hotel Rwanda’ suggests,” Clark said.
“From interviews with survivors inside the hotel, one of the things I do know is that a lot of them are very angry that he basically could have hijacked the story. of what happened at the Hotel des Mille Collines using this film and the international notoriety it enjoyed afterwards. “
Rusesabagina says he was illegally returned to Rwanda
“Rwanda keeps a lot of Western diplomats awake at night”
Meanwhile, the Rwandan opposition views Rusesabagina’s arrest and trial as yet another example of President Kagame’s well-documented attempts to crush dissent. Kagame recently denied that his government used Israeli spyware Pegasus to monitor critics, including Rusesabagina’s daughter.
Kagame has ruled Rwanda since the end of the genocide and won the last election – in 2017 – with almost 99% of the vote.
“On the one hand, you have a society that uses aid finance extremely efficiently,” said Phil Clark, adding that Rwanda had established one of the best welfare states in the region, spurred growth. economic and is making “great strides” in terms of peace and reconciliation.
On the other hand, Rwanda is an authoritarian state without “any viable political opposition inside the country, where dissidents have been regularly killed or harassed over the past ten or fifteen years,” Clark said.
“Western donors like their recipients to be nice liberal Democrats, who also use their funds efficiently.”
This makes Rusesabagina’s arrest and trial one more complication in a country that poses a real dilemma for the West.
“Rwanda keeps a lot of Western diplomats awake at night just because of the complexity of the country,” Clark said.
Etienne Gatanazi contributed to this article, which is an updated version of an article that first appeared on February 17, 2021.