Rwandan lawmakers have criticised the European Union Parliament for calling for the release of "Hotel Rwanda" hero Paul Rusesabagina, terming the resolution “imperialistic” and politically motivated.
During a day-long virtual plenary joint session in the Rwandan Parliament on Monday, both parliamentarians and senators said the EU parliamentary resolution interferes with Kigali’s sovereignty, promotes genocide denial and undermines the country’s independent judiciary.
The EU, they argued, has “focused on Paul Rusesabagina and ignored the victims of his crimes who also demand justice.”
“This is a clear case of extended colonialism. Europe thinks they have the right to interfere in the affairs of our country whenever they want to. It is time for us to tell them enough is enough,” MP Emmanuel Bugingo said.
MP Christine Muhongayire also accused the EU of ignoring the atrocities committed during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, noting that “they only seem to want to protect individuals and groups that want to stir trouble for Rwanda but did nothing to prevent the genocide.”
Several other MPs shared parallel views and tasked the Rwandan Parliament to adopt a unanimous resolution calling for the EU to renounce its resolution. By press time, the resolution had not yet been publicised. Officials said it was still being translated into three languages – Kinyarwanda, English and French.
In its resolution, which is non-binding, the EU legislators termed Rusesabagina’s arrest as “enforced disappearance”.
“The European Union Parliament strongly condemns the enforced disappearance, illegal rendition, and the incommunicado detention of Paul Rusesabagina and calls for his immediate release,” the resolution adopted on February 11 reads.
Mr Rusesabagina, who inspired the 2004 Hollywood movie Hotel Rwanda, is scheduled to appear in court on Wednesday morning to answer to nine charges related to terrorism, financing terrorism, forming illegal armed groups, arson and kidnap.
His high-profile arrest attracted international attention, while it also drew the ire of his family and international human rights organisations, which have insisted that he was illegally arrested and flown to Rwanda against his will.
The highly anticipated trial has drawn international attention due to his celebrity status achieved after the movie that depicts his acts in saving more than 1,000 people inside a hotel he managed during the height of the genocide against the Tutsi in 1994.
His trial was shifted to the Supreme Court housing in Kigali, which has a larger room compared to the High Court Chamber for International Crimes in Nyanza, outside Kigali, where it was initially to be held.
“When it comes to Rusesabagina, most know little about the man other than the film Hotel Rwanda (2004) which portrayed him as Oskar Schindler, a Nazi who helped save Jews (including someone in my family). This was a perfect way to glorify Rusesabagina within the eyes of the EU as he fit within a tight box of a 'good guy’.
“This resolution isn't calling for an investigation on the situation but rather is expressing its disproval,” Dr Jonathan Beloff, a researcher at King's College London, focusing on the foreign, regional and internal politics of the African Great Lakes, told The East African.
Mr Rusesabagina, 66, will be represented by Rwandan lawyer Gatera Gashabana.
Mr Rusesabagina's family – living in Belgium – previously named a team of seven international lawyers to represent him but they claim that they were denied entry into Rwanda.
The Rwandan Bar Association had provided him with two lawyers – David Butera and Emeline Nyambo – who represented him during his bail ruling. But he did not retain their services for the main hearing.
The team of prosecutors that will take on his trial was yet to be made public by press time.
Rusesabagina is expected to be tried alongside 17 co-accused, mainly captured rebels of the FLN group which is accused of conducting armed attacks in Rwanda that killed up to nine people between 2018 and 2019.
One of them is Callixte Nsabimana, aka Sankara, a former Commander and Spokesperson of the FLN rebels who previously pleaded guilty to all 16 terrorism charges he faces.
Mr Nsabimana has previously claimed in past court hearings that Mr Rusesabagina got funds from Zambia to finance rebel activities against Rwanda.
The Zambian government denied the allegations.
Details surrounding how he was arrested in August last year remain blurry, with his family insisting that he was kidnapped, while the Rwandan government said he was arrested on a valid warrant with the assistance of other countries.