Court adjourns case against ‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero over jurisdiction query

Thursday February 18 2021
Paul Rusesabagina.

'Hotel Rwanda' hero Paul Rusesabagina (centre) and co-detainees in a court room Kigali, Rwanda, on February 17, 2021. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA| NMG


A Rwandan court will decide on Friday on whether it proceeds with the trial of Paul Rusesabagina after he objected to being tried as a Rwandan citizen and stated that he is Belgian.

Judges during the first day of the trial on Wednesday said they needed more time to deliberate on the issue.

Mr Rusesabagina's defence lawyer Gatera Gashaba had raised the matter of the court’s jurisdiction in hearing the case, a point that was challenged by the prosecution lawyer who argued that the court had jurisdiction to hear the case.

“This court does not have the powers and the jurisdiction to try Mr Rusesabagina and we request that he is sent to Belgium for trial,” Mr Gashaba told the court. 

Lead Prosecutor Bonaventure Ruberwa told the three-judge panel that Rusesabagina committed crimes on Rwandan territory, and Rwanda had previously requested Belgian prosecutors to charge him and try him from Belgium as a dual citizen.

“He has never renounced his Rwandan citizenship even as he holds Belgium nationality. We request the court to disregard his claim,” Mr Ruberwa said.


“Rusesabagina was questioned in 2011, and in 2012 we wrote to Belgium demanding cooperation that they try him for crimes committed under his affiliation with the FDLR rebels, and we wrote referring to him as a Rwandan with dual citizenship as a Belgian.

“Therefore, regardless of the nationality, Rwandan laws are very clear. For a crime committed on Rwandan soil against Rwandans, our courts have the jurisdiction to try the suspect.”


Mr Rusesabagina further argued that he had travelled to Rwanda on two different occasions as a Belgian. 

“I travelled to Rwanda in 2003 and 2004 and on both occasions, I was told by the Rwandan embassy in Belgium that I needed to pay for a visa to go to Rwanda. I paid around 120 Euros like any foreigner would.

“That is how foreigners are treated, which shows clearly that I’m not a Rwandan national. Even if you asked me to show you a Rwandan ID or a passport, I do not have them,” he said. 

“When in 2010 Rwanda requested Belgium authorities that I will be tried in Belgium, they did so because they knew that I am a Belgian citizen.”

The prosecution urged the court to reject Mr Rusesabagina's claim that he is not a Rwandan citizen, arguing that he did not renounce his citizenship even after acquiring Belgian citizenship.

Mr Rusesabagina, 66, also argued that he was kidnapped by Rwandan agents, and his lawyer urged the judge to examine the legality of how he ended up in Rwanda under arrest.

However, the prosecutors maintained that he was arrested on Rwandan soil.

In December last year, Rusesabagina sued Gainjet, a Greek air charter company in the United States, accusing it of aiding Rwandan agents in his “kidnap”.


The trial, however, took a twist when Callixte Nsabimana, aka, Sankara, one of the terror suspects on trial, sided with the prosecutors against Mr Rusesabagina.

Mr Nsabimana, who is the former commander and spokesperson of the FLN rebels, told the court that Mr Rusesabagina was his president and that they had waged war on Rwanda. 

“Rusesabagina was the president of MRCD. He was my President, so I’m embarrassed by what he is claiming now. He had ambitions to become the president of Rwanda. Now how do you have such ambitions when you're not Rwandan?” he said.

The FLN was the armed wing of the Rwanda Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD).

Mr Nsabimana, who is pleading for a lighter sentence, was arrested in April 2019 and deported to Rwanda from the Comoros.

In May 2019, he pleaded guilty to 16 charges related to terrorism.

In July 2019, the former rebel commander alleged in one of the court hearings that Mr Rusesabagina received financing from Zambia in support of his rebel activities against Rwanda.

He claimed that Rusesabagina got $150,000 as part of a $1 million pledge to oust President Paul Kagame.

The Zambian government denied this claim and sent a delegation to Rwanda to discuss the allegations with President Kagame.

Mr Rusesabagina’s trial was attended by journalists and few members of the public. Some victims of the 2018-2019 FLN attacks in southern Rwanda were also in attendance.

The victims are seeking compensation from Mr Rusesabagina and his co-accused for the losses they suffered as a result of FLN attacks.

US Ambassador to Rwanda Peter Vrooman and a Belgian diplomat were also in attendance.