Our Voices

Humanitarian Paul Rusesabagina Wrongfully Convicted

We condemn the wrongful conviction of Paul Rusesabagina by a court in Kigali after a year-long trial tainted by procedural irregularities, violations of fair trial rights, and wanton abuse of the rule of law. Rusesabagina, who is globally acclaimed for his role in saving thousands of lives during the Rwandan genocide in 1994 and has been a critical voice against the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Kagame regime, was sentenced to imprisonment for 25 years on charges of financing terrorism.

Rusesabagina, who received the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005, has been the target of state-sponsored attacks since the publication of his 2006 memoir which sharply criticized the Kagame government of being exclusionary and abusive. In response, the Kagame government commenced a campaign to discredit and intimidate Rusesabagina. These attacks culminated in Rusesabagina’s kidnap by agents of the government in the United Arab Emirates, extraordinary rendition to Rwanda, flawed trial and conviction—all of which violate international and regional human rights law applicable to Rwanda. We filed a petition before the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on behalf of Rusesabagina.

Before the trial began, Rusesabagina’s rights to be brought promptly before a judge, be presumed innocent, and have access to consular assistance were violated. He was not allowed access to lawyers of his own choosing for many weeks, or access to international lawyers. Privileged documents were routinely confiscated and read by prison and other officials. He was denied access to his casefile and had no time or means to prepare. His Rwandan lawyers faced harassment and discrimination by prison authorities, limiting their effective representation.

The Rusesabagina family released the following statement after the verdict was announced:

“Our husband and father, Paul Rusesabagina, was kidnapped, tortured and held in solitary confinement. He was forced to undergo a show trial this past year. We knew from the day he was kidnapped that the verdict would be ‘guilty’ on some or all of the false charges. We are happy that the charade of the trial is ending.”

Independent observers and lawyers of Rusesabagina anticipated the outcome of the trial given the government’s disregard for the rule of law and the lack of judicial independence in Rwanda.

Australian lawyer Kate Gibson said that: “Paul Rusesabagina’s inevitable conviction is the end of a script that was written even before he was kidnapped in August 2020. The only thing that has been surprising in watching this horror show unfold over the last year, has been the brazenness and openness with which the Rwandan authorities have been willing to systematically violate all of the fair trial rights to which Paul was entitled.”

American lawyer Peter Choharis notes that: “In truth, the verdict was delivered long ago: the trial has been fundamentally unfair and has lacked due process. And despite that, the prosecution still did not produce any evidence linking Paul to the attacks in question.”

“Dissent is an essential element of democracy, one that must be actively protected. Rusesabagina’s ordeal in the hands of Rwandan authorities is not only an affront to international human rights law, but is sadly emblematic of the worrying state of civic space in the country,” said Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights.

We call on the Government of Rwanda to ensure a fair and transparent review of this verdict as provided under Rwandan criminal law and in compliance with international human rights standards.