Rwanda: IBAHRI condemns unfair trial leading to conviction of Paul Rusesabagina

Wednesday 29 September 2021

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) condemns the numerous violations of fair trial rights leading to the 25-year sentence against Paul Rusesabagina, the exiled Rwandan dissident. The guilty verdict, issued by a Kigali court on 20 September, confirms what his family and legal team have described as their long-held expectations – that a conviction, without credible evidence linking Rusesabagina to any of the crimes of which he was accused, was all but assured from the trial’s beginning.

An outspoken critic of Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame and co-founder of the opposition political party the Rwanda Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD) – a coalition of opposition groups – Mr Rusesabagina was charged with 13 offences, including terrorism and founding and financing armed groups. Mr Rusesabagina is accused of recruiting fighters for the MRCD’s armed wing, the National Liberation Front (‘FLN’), which carried out deadly attacks in Rwanda. In 2018, nine people died, including two children, in two attacks said to have been committed by the FLN.

Mr Rusesabagina has been held in custody since 31 August 2020 and his trial commenced on 17 February 2021. He has denied all charges levied against him.

IBAHRI Co-Chair and former Justice of the High Court of Australia (1996–2006), the Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG, commented, ‘IBAHRI Co-Chair and former Justice of the High Court of Australia (1996–2006), the Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG, commented: ‘The trial of Paul Rusesabagina has displayed apparent violations of his rights to a fair trial, including adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence; adequate time to examine the witnesses deployed against him; and the benefit of the presumption of innocence in all such proceedings. The reported actions of the judiciary of Rwanda manifestly contravened Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; concerning the right to liberty and security of the person. The IBAHRI strongly condemns the unfair trial and the guilty verdict that followed. The verdict was based on questionable evidence presented against Mr Rusesabagina. The IBAHRI calls for these violations against the right to a fair trial to be remedied and the conviction set aside.’

Reports indicate that the fairness of the proceedings was so tainted as to nullify the legitimacy of any conviction of Mr Rusesabagina. His co-defendants withdrew their prior accusations against him in court, stating that they were coerced into impugning him. Trial monitor notes record instances of the prosecution asking witnesses leading questions. Accounts also indicate the Court failed to establish the credibility of the two sworn witnesses and permitted testimony without cross-examination, violating Article 7(c) of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) and Article 14(3)(e) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Also, during the rendering of the verdict, additional evidence, not previously heard by the Court or submitted during the trial, was announced, relating to the allegation that Mr Rusesabagina had raised funds for the armed FLN. Much of the evidence cited is derived from statements that Mr Rusesabagina claims were made under duress and without counsel.

Additionally, Mr Rusesabagina’s family has revealed that he was held in prolonged solitary confinement for 258 days and deprived of food and water over the weekend of 4-6 June 2021. These conditions constitute torture under the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules). Mr Rusesabagina’s family also maintains that the team of lawyers who initially represented him was not of his choosing, accusing the lawyers of acting for the state. Further, they claim that from April 2021, the lawyers of choice to whom Mr Rusesabagina eventually gained access were prevented from meeting with him. This action would be in contravention of Article 14 of the ICCPR.

IBAHRI Co-Chair, and immediate past Secretary General of the Swedish Bar Association, Anne Ramberg Jur dr hc, stated: ‘The road to Mr Rusesabagina’s conviction has been paved by forcible disappearance, numerous fair trial violations, including the Rwandan President publicly characterising Mr Rusesabagina as guilty as well as allegations of torture and inhumane treatment. The proceedings explicitly failed to uphold Mr Rusesabagina’s right to personal liberty and protection from arbitrary arrest, as stated in Article 6 of the ACHPR. The profile of this case highlights the environment in which critics of the Rwandan government have been deemed enemies of the state and deprived of their liberties, as well as the lengths taken to avert justice through a fair trial. It is imperative that the international community receive assurances that the guilty verdict against Mr Rusesabagina will not be sustained without review and rectification of the many troubling injustices upon which it relies. This would ultimately lead to the overturning of the ruling.’

From the apprehension and detention of Mr Rusesabagina through to the trial there appears to have been a litany of rights violations. The state-managed operation to apprehend Mr Rusesabagina from a flight that he did not know would land in Kigali may violate the right to liberty and security of a person guaranteed under Article 24 of the Rwandan Constitution and Article 9 of the ICCPR. While, under the principle of non-intervention, the arrest of Mr Rusesabagina may contravene the sovereignty of the state out of whose territory he was allegedly lured, namely the United States. The extradition law of Belgium, of which he is a citizen, may also have been contravened.

Convicted alongside Mr Rusesabagina on charges related to the two FLN attacks were 20 co-defendants, including Callixte Nsabimana, the FLN’s former spokesperson, who received a sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment.


Notes to the Editor

  1. As former manager of Hôtel des Mille Collines in Kigali, Mr Rusesabagina is reported to have used his connections to save the lives of more than 1,200 Tutsi people fleeing slaughter by extremists from the Hutu community during the 1994 Rwandan genocide in which nearly a million people were massacred.
  2. Related material:

    Click here to see previous IBAHRI news releases on the Rusesabagina trial

    Click here to see the work of the IBA African Regional Forum

    Click here to see the IBA news release on the launch of International Fair Trial Day

  3. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), established in 1995 under Founding Honorary President Nelson Mandela, is an autonomous and financially independent entity, working to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.
  4. Find the IBAHRI on social media here:
  5. The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.

    The IBA acts as a connector, enabler, and influencer, for the administration of justice, fair practice, and accountability worldwide. The IBA has collaborated on a broad range of ground-breaking, international projects with the United Nations, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, The Commonwealth, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Trade Organization , the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank , among others.


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