‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero trial to be held in his absence

Wednesday March 24 2021
Paul Rusesabagina.

"Hotel Rwanda" hero Paul Rusesabagina in the pink inmate's uniform arrives from the Nyarugenge Prison at the Nyarugenge Court of Justice in Kigali, Rwanda, on September 25, 2020. PHOTO | SIMON WOHLFAHRT | AFP

By Johnson Kanamugire

A Rwandan court has on Wednesday ruled that the trial of Paul Rusesabagina, who faces terrorism among other charges, will be held in his absence after he refused to attend the proceedings.

Mr Rusesabagina and his defence lawyers were not present as the court in Kigali resumed the trial hearings on March 24.

He, alongside 20 co-accused — including one woman, are charged with several counts of terrorism and armed violence that attract sentences ranging from 20 years to life imprisonment.

A report by authorities of the Nyarugenge Prison, where Mr Rusesabagina is being held, and which was read in court, indicated that he declined to show up including in all other trial hearings that would follow as he expects to receive no justice from the court.

On March 12, he had protested the court’s refusal to allow him six months to prepare his defence and a demand to be presented by his Belgian lawyer.

Commenting on his absence, the prosecution said his non-attendance should not stop the trial from going on as he had been legally notified about the proceedings and has chosen not to attend.


In reference to precedents both in local and international courts in which defendants chose not to appear before the court, the prosecution demanded that the case continues.

“Based on this, and the report from the prison authorities, and what Mr Rusesabagina had earlier told the court that he would never come back to this trial, he is the one who decided to remove himself from this case. 

“Therefore, we request the court to proceed with this trial as if the defendant was present because he has been notified based on the law and all decisions by the court,” argued the prosecution.

After retreating for 25 minutes, the judges ruled that the accused should attend court but failure not to would not stop the trial from proceeding.

“Court has decided that this hearing will carry on even in the absence of Rusesabagina. The court also finds that every time that he will not appear in court he will be informed of the next hearing, the time, and the venue. He, however, has the right to come to any of these hearings as long as the case is still open.” 

The court also maintained its decision not to allow that Mr Rusesabagina six months to prepare his defence, noting that he already had been given ample time and was always meeting his legal counsel whenever he needed.

Mr Rusesabagina, 66, was arrested in August last year.

He is charged with nine counts – reduced from 13 – related to financing terrorism, armed robbery, abduction, arson, attempted murder, assault, and battery.

His co-accused include Callixte Nsabimana, aka, Sankara, former spokesperson and commander of the FLN rebels, accused of killing up to nine people in attacks in southern Rwanda between 2018 and 2019 and former rebel commanders Gen Felicien Nsazubukire and Gen Anastase Munyaneza.

His trial has attracted international attention.

He was made famous by the 2004 Hollywood movie Hotel Rwanda which depicts his heroic acts in saving over 1,000 people inside a hotel he managed during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis.