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Rwanda: the mystery surrounding Paul Rusesabagina’s arrest

By Mehdi Ba
Posted on Friday, 4 September 2020 16:44

Paul Rusesabagina decorated by former U.S. President George Walker Bush in 2005. LAWRENCE JACKSON/AP/SIPA

Still in the hands of the Rwanda Investigation Bureau, waiting to be brought to justice, the former director of the Hotel des Mille Collines was transferred from Dubai to Kigali in conditions that are still unclear. The international arrest warrant against him sets out a long list of terrorism-related charges.

The list is endless, and the charges are heavy.

Heavy enough to suspect that Rusesabagina will face a long imprisonment at the end of the Rwandan judicial process against him if found guilty. Since August 31, the exiled opponent has been in police custody in Kigali awaiting trial before a magistrate.

Made public on Twitter by the Rwanda Investigation Bureau, his arrest surprised everyone, both relatives and detractors of the man whom Hollywood made famous in 2004 through the film Hotel Rwanda, by Terry George, recounting the role of savior lent to him – abusively according to many Rwandans [Jeune Afrique, French] – during the genocide against the Tutsis in 1994.

We able to consult the international arrest warrant issued on November 9, 2018 by Jean Bosco Mutangana, then Attorney General of Rwanda, against Paul Rusesabagina. In this 14-page document, specifically addressed to Belgium, the senior magistrate lists a long list of charges against the 66-year-old Rwandan, who has dual Belgian nationality.

In addition to the “constitution of an illegal armed group,” the document lists no less than six charges related to terrorism and contravening Rwandan laws. Paul Rusesabagina was also wanted by the justice system for “murder”, “armed robbery”, “incitement to insurrection”, “arson”…

Fierce opponent

It was unexpected return to the country for the man who, in 1994, when the genocide began, supervised the management of the Hôtel des Mille Collines in downtown Kigali where nearly 1,300 refugees had found refuge.

With a little protection from UNAMIR (United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda) peacekeepers, and support from Brussels and Paris – the hotel was owned by Sabena, and France had installed a listening station on the floors – the hotel was a small hotel with a large number of refugees.

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By negotiating daily with Rwandan army officers (in particular their chief of staff, Augustin Bizimungu), Paul Rusesabagina managed to get through the genocide unscathed, along with his hotel’s residents.

In 2004, inspired by this heroic journey, Terry Jones made his film, in which Don Cheadle played the role of Paul Rusesabagina and Sophie Okonedo played the role of his wife, Tatiana.

But even before the film’s first official screening at the Amahoro Stadium in Kigali, Paul Rusesabagina made public his criticism of the regime. In the stands, his seat remained empty.

Over the next few years, Rusesabagina’s position evolved, to the point of repeatedly assuming, in front of TV cameras, the option of armed struggle against Kagame’s regime.

This was cemented on July 4, 2017 (the anniversary of the “liberation” of Rwanda by the RPF) when the party he founded, the Party for Democracy in Rwanda (PDR-Ihumure) merged with an armed movement, Wilson Irategeka’s National Council for Renewal and Democracy (CNRD-Ubwiyunge).

The two movements together form the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), which in March 2018 was joined by a para-military wing, by absorbing the Rwandese Revolutionary Movement of Callixte Nsabimana, alias Sankara. Sankara became the second vice-president of the MRCD and spokesman for the National Liberation Forces (FNL), the armed wing of Paul Rusesabagina’s party.

In the arrest warrant, the former Rwandan Attorney-General details at length the abuses and attacks attributed to this armed movement, which he attributes to Paul Rusesabagina and his associates.

He relies in particular on public interventions of “Sankara” in various media, in which he claims reprehensible acts against the Rwanda of Paul Kagame. In the meantime, he was arrested in the Comoros before being delivered to Kigali.

He later pleaded guilty and could have given Rwandan investigators information to incriminate Paul Rusesabagina.

Mysteries of the arrest

Since his arrest, his personal entourage, as well as the main Rwandan opposition movements in exile, have denounced a “kidnapping”.

“When Calixte Sankara was arrested in the Comoros, the Rwandan services came to pick him up in a private plane and they left with him on the same plane”, says a Rusesabagina sympathizer, according to whom “this disguised extradition was done outside of international law”.

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In the case of Hotel Rwanda’s “hero”, a veil surrounds the exact circumstances of his arrival in Kigali, where the Rwanda Investigation Bureau announced his arrest on Twitter.

Admittedly, this organization specified in its first message that this arrest was made possible by “international cooperation”. But in Kigali, for several days now, no details have been provided as to which states may have played a role in the operation.

Snippets of information provided by the family and by an anonymous official quoted by CNN suggest that the United Arab Emirates would have been Paul Rusesabagina’s last stop before finding himself on the tarmac of the Kigali airport.

The man is indeed thought to have landed in Dubai on Thursday, August 27, which seems to be confirmed by his family, who spoke to him on the phone that day. The next day, he apparently voluntarily boarded a private jet bound for an unnamed Central African country.

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For some unexplained reason, this same plane landed unexpectedly in Kigali, where the Rwandan authorities, informed of the identity of the illustrious passenger, picked him like a ripe fruit.

An official Rwandan source confirms this version, without being able to say more: “He boarded this private jet voluntarily, what the Emirati authorities say is true. And when the plane made a stopover in Kigali, he was placed under arrest, in accordance with the arrest warrant issued in 2018. I don’t know why or how, but Rwanda took advantage of this situation. »

It is not certain that Paul Rusesabagina is helping to lift the veil on the circumstances of this surprising arrest.

In an interview with the Kigali correspondent of The East African, the prisoner assured the Kigali correspondent that he was “treated well” and that he is in the process of putting together a team to defend him. However, he refrained from commenting on the charges against him and the conditions of his arrest, saying that he would reserve his statements for the courts.

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