Rwanda: I Am Not Rwandan, Try Me As a Belgian - Rusesabagina

Paul Rusesabagina.
20 October 2020

Hotel Rwanda film 'hero' Paul Rusesabagina is insisting he is no longer a Rwandan citizen and should be tried as a Belgian, in the hope that this line of defence will win him court time outside the jurisdiction of the government in Kigali.

Rusesabagina appeared at the Kicukiro Primary Court on Tuesday after prosecutors appealed that he be remanded for another 30 days, four days after the previous order for his remand expired.

Prosecutors said they need more time to carry out investigations and interview witnesses and victims related to the 13 counts of terrorism that Rusesabagina is charged with.

But he once again requested to be released on remand on grounds that he should be tried in Belgium since he is no longer a citizen of Rwanda, repeating an argument he made on previous appearances in court.

"When I left Rwanda in September 1996, I gave up my passport and national identity card to authorities in Belgium. I basically turned into an orphan without a State, together with my family. I ceased to be a Rwandan national," he said.

His lawyer, David Rugaza, added that Mr Rusesabagina has never reclaimed his Rwandan nationality and that he now has a Belgian passport and officially resides in the European country.

"The fact that my client is a Belgian and not Rwandan has been reflected in his personal details read by the court clerk," Mr Rugaza said.

Under Rwandan law, dual nationality is allowed. But a citizen can give up their Rwandan nationality by surrendering their identification documents to authorities and indicating, in writing, that he has quit. The Minister in charge of citizenship would normally have to approve it.

Rwanda's cabinet has approved a draft amendment to the citizenship law which, if passed by parliament, means renunciation of citizenship cannot be accepted if the person could become stateless or a refugee.

The law also proposes that renunciation is not transferrable, meaning that only individuals who actually sign their renunciation may be granted one, not their family members who are citizens of Rwanda.

His lawyers now want the judge at the Kicukiro Primary Court to conclude the matter of his identity before the case proceeds further.

But prosecutors opposed the request on grounds that Mr Rusesabagina had agreed to be identified as a Rwandan in previous court cases.

"On September 14 in court, Mr Rusesabagina himself consented to be a Rwandan. It is therefore surprising that he can change this before the same court," prosecutors said.

"Besides, the court has already ruled on this claim and it should not be brought's wastage of the court's time."

The judge will make a ruling on Friday.

Foreign lawyers

Last week, his family said two of his foreign lawyers jetted into Rwanda but were denied access to him. They allege that the two lawyers provided to him by the Rwandan Bar Association are "controlled by the government".

They also claim that his private local lawyer, Gatera Gashabana, was also being denied access to him. However, his two-team lawyer told court that Mr Gashabana is now part of his legal team and will appear in future court hearings.

Mr Rusesabagina was paraded in handcuffs by the Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) on August 31 after spending more than two decades out of the country.

An air of mystery surrounds the circumstances under which he was arrested.

The 66-year-old is charged with 13 crimes including terrorism, arson, forming terror groups, recruitment of child soldiers and financing terror among others.

Early this month, the prosecution said it intends to hold a joint trial of Mr Rusesabagina with 16 prisoners who are also charged with similar crimes.

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