We arrested 'Hotel Rwanda' hero on our own, Kigali says

Wednesday September 9 2020

Paul Rusesabagina, whose heroic actions during

Paul Rusesabagina, whose heroic actions during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi inspired the Hollywood movie Hotel Rwanda, at the Rwanda Investigations Bureau in Kigali on August 31, 2020 following his arrest. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA | NMG 

IVAN R. MUGISHA
By IVAN R. MUGISHA
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Paul Rusesabagina, the Hotel Rwanda hero who faces terrorism, murder and arson charges in Kigali, was not arrested with help from any country, Rwandan investigators now say.

On Monday last week, the Rwanda Investigative Bureau (RIB) paraded Mr Rusesabagina in handcuffs before the press in Kigali saying he had been arrested on an international warrant with the co-operation of other countries, but declined to provide more details on grounds that doing so would jeopardise investigations.

The arrest drew global attention with no country admitting having co-operated with Rwanda.

Now RIB officials say the "international cooperation" Rwanda got was in “the form of collecting evidence on his involvement in crimes” but not for his arrest.

“We got cooperation from different countries during investigations, which allowed us to issue an international warrant… When someone is wanted by justice we can employ all legal means to arrest him,” Col Jeannot Ruhunga, Secretary-General of RIB told The EastAfrican on Monday.

Belgium – where he is a citizen – said last week that they had nothing to do with his arrest, while the United States – where he is a resident – only called for humane treatment and transparent legal process for Mr Rusesabagina.

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The United Arab Emirates has also denied any involvement in his arrest, saying he left Dubai legally last Friday on a private jet bound for Rwanda; his family claimed he had been kidnapped.

Family

In an interview with The EastAfrican last week from his cell in Remera police station, Mr Rusesabagina said he had yet to access his family.

Col Ruhunga, on Monday told this paper that “he spoke to some of the family members via telephone.”

A team from the Belgian embassy also visited him in detention.

Rwanda opened a criminal file on Mr Rusesabagina in 2012 and investigation teams were sent to Belgium twice, in 2012 and 2016, to gather evidence on his involvement with the alleged crimes.

“When our investigations intensified, we were prompted to issue an international warrant for his arrest [in November 2018]. Countries have been cooperative in providing evidence. When he was arrested, we had enough evidence which underscores that this was done legally,” Mr Ruhunga said.

He, however, did not name the countries that provided the evidence.

On Sunday, President Paul Kagame hinted that Mr Rusesabagina was tricked to take a flight that eventually led him to Rwanda in handcuffs as a wanted criminal.

Mr Kagame said he has to answer to the authorities on the activities of rebel groups that attacked Rwanda and killed civilians in three districts.

Defence team

Controversies have now emerged on who will represent him in court after the family denounced a Kigali-based lawyer who had claimed he was on the list of Mr Rusesabagina's legal representatives.

David Rugaza had told The EastAfrican that Mr Rusesabagina had picked him “from a list of lawyers” to be his attorney.

However, his daughter, Carine Rusesabagina denounced him, saying that Mr Rugaza had been “chosen by Kagame’s people,” in a short interview with The EastAfrican.

The Hotel Rwanda Foundation also released a statement on Monday denouncing Mr Rugaza, saying he is unknown to the family.

“A person unknown to the Rusesabagina family put on a sham press conference saying that he is the lawyer that Rusesabagina has chosen. That is not true. This is another travesty of justice that the international community must not tolerate,” the Foundation's statement reads.

“He has been denied access to his chosen local counsel who has repeatedly been turned away at the police station. There is no way Rusesabagina would interview and hire this lawyer without consulting with his family first.”

When The EastAfrican sought comment from the RIB regarding the said lawyer, Mr Ruhunga admitted that an individual who claimed to be Mr Rusesabagina's attorney had indeed been turned away because he did not provide proof that he had been authorised by the family.

“One individual who was claiming to be his lawyer was requested for evidence to prove so but did not show it. Rwanda is ready to work with any lawyers who will join the case as long as they follow the legal channels [submit a formal request through Rwanda Bar Association],” Mr Ruhunga said.

The family has now released a list of six lawyers to represent him – a Rwandan, Australian, Belgian, Canadian, and two Americans.

Mr Rusesabagina faces up to 14 criminal charges, including terrorism, murder, arson, and kidnap.

Mr Rusesabagina, 66, shot to international fame when he was depicted as a hero in the film Hotel Rwanda, for his role in saving more than a thousand people from being killed during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis.

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