Arrested last year, Rusesabagina faces nine counts linked to terrorism, and he is co-accused with other 20 individuals who were allegedly involved in terror attacks that took place between 2018 and 2019 and claimed nine lives.
During trial proceedings, Rusesabagina has been heard claiming that he was abducted.
This prompted the prosecution to request the court to allow a Burundian Bishop, Constantin Niyomwungere, who rused Paul Rusesabagina until his arrival to Rwanda to provide testimonies showing how the latter was not abducted but tricked by his trusted friend until he arrived in Rwanda.
Commenting on why people make a lot of noise claiming that Rusesabagina was tricked into Rwanda, the President labelled him a "criminal" getting fair trial along with 20 co-accused terror suspects.
“What is wrong with tricking a criminal you are looking for? When you get him, where do you put him? If it is in a court of law, I think that is okay,” he stated.
He explained that these suspects who committed these crimes against Rwanda and Rwandans are all appearing in court highlighting that some of them are giving overwhelming evidence against him (Rusesabagina).
“So, I do not see why people make a lot of noise. He is in court of law. He is not just being, you know, hidden somewhere under arrest. He is in a court of law, like many others,” he said.
Talking about the United States and European Union’s concern about him, Kagame stressed that Rwanda has all it takes to try him fairly.
“Sure, I am calling for fair trial myself. So, it is not UK, US, or the European Union. No. I want to see a fair trial myself. Why do you think being fair belongs to Europe, or US or anybody else and not to us – why? This is how people, you see, end up being caught up in some of these useless things, and they end up being racist. It is like the only thing to be fair in Rwanda or in Africa, has to be supervised by Europe or US or some other place. No. Absolutely not,” he affirmed.
MP: Hello and welcome on FRANCE 24 and Radio France International for an interview with the President of Rwanda Paul Kagame. With me for this interview, Alexandra Brangeon from rfi. Mr. President you are welcome. A recent report by French historians was commissioned by the French President Emmanuel Macron and the report concludes that France had an overwhelming responsibility in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. The French President is scheduled to visit Rwanda in a few days, is this a watershed moment in the relationship? Are we on the brink of formalization of the relationship between France and Rwanda?
PK – To begin with, with all you said, I think this is a big step forward that is welcome by Rwanda and I guess by many in France, that we can have these facts, the truth, established, by independent people, by independent commissions. Because there is a report by Duclert and another commission on our side by Muse. There is convergence as to the facts and evidence for what happened, and I think France and Rwanda have a chance now and good basis on which to create a good relationship as the case should have been. Then the rest we can leave behind us, may be not forget it but forgive it, and be able to move forward. I think that is the most important thing. So, I think we are really moving very well forward.
AB: Mr. President you talk about moving forward. Now this report concluded that France bears an overwhelming responsibility, but it does not conclude that France was complicit. Do you agree with that conclusion?
President Kagame: I agree with many things that the two reports established, and I think more work can still be done moving forward, but the most important thing has been covered, and that is when you talk about the overwhelming responsibility. That is loaded, it is huge, it means a lot. So, it Is not up to me to conclude and say this is what they should have said, or this is what it is. But it is something I can accommodate, and say okay, let us go with the most important thing that has been established by both – that overwhelming responsibility.
AB: You say ‘accommodate’, but less than 10 years ago in an interview in 2014, you said France was not only complicit but actively participated in the execution of the Genocide. So, what has changed between now and then?
President Kagame: For me I am entitled to my own opinion, because I also lived this situation, I was in it, so I said what I said, and I may even believe what I said then, or even now, but we are talking of independent commissions that went into what they did, and the fact they did not come to the same conclusion one way or the other, well that’s their problem, not mine.
MP: United States, United Nations, Belgium – former colonial power, have all formally apologized for what they did or did not do back in 1994. France has not done so; would you like France to do so as a gesture of good will to build this new relationship that you are describing?
PK – All that matter is up on France to decide what they think is best for them. The worst thing I can do, which I would not actually wish to do, is to ever ask anybody to apologize or to do this or do that. I leave it to them because that is when it comes out honestly, genuinely, and people, the world judges, not just me.
MP: But it would be an important gesture. I understand you would not go for it, but if it happened you would deem it as an important…
PK – I think so. If anybody recognizes a problem and does something about it, I think that would make the best outcome, and absolutely I would appreciate that.
MP: As you would appreciate the French Ambassador going to Rwanda after years of not…
PK – Yes, we are in the process of normalization…
MP: You think this is on the horizon, I mean very soon?
President Kagame: I would wish that was the case. Again, that is a matter for France to decide.
MP: A few months ago, France had Felicien Kabuga arrested. He was the financier, if I may use that expression, of the Genocide. Does this signal in your eyes, that France is really, finally willing to go after these so-called Genocidaires on its soil?
PK – Well, I think it is a good start. And may be more could be done. So, my perspective is that we can encourage more good things to happen, if France is willing to do that. There is still a number of genocide suspects here in France whose cases have not been handled the way they should.
MP: Let us take an example of Agatha Habyarimana, the former wife of the killed President. She is in legal limbo here in France. Would you like France to kick her out, extradite her? This would obviously be a very symbolic gesture. It has been hanging over the relationship for years now.
PK: I think we can continue to get things done much better. Whether Agatha or other individuals, they are many here, and as I said…
MP: But she would be an important one, you agree with that.
PK – She is one of those. She is on the list, there is no question. On the long list she is at the top. But France will decide what to do. I am not going even to advise them what to do. I can only request them, may be, and that should be done officially in an official communication, but I am not going in any way to tell them what to do. I can only request them what to do.
AB: Staying with justice and accountability, last month the Congolese Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Dennis Mukwege was in Paris. He called and he asked France to help bring justice to those responsible of crimes in Eastern Congo, some of them were committed by soldiers of the region – Congo’s neighbors, that is according to UN experts. Would you agree to have Rwandan officers prosecuted for crimes committed in Eastern Congo in the wake of the Genocide?
PK – As you might be well aware, the mapping report has been extremely controversial, in actual fact, highly disputed by people in Congo and in the neighboring countries. It was highly politicized. Mukwege becomes just a symbol or a tool of these forces you don’t get to see, and he is made a Nobel Laureate, and therefore is told what to say. And by the way there are also other reports that dispute and say completely the opposite
AB: The opposite, that there were no crimes committed?
PK – That there were no crimes, yes.
AB: In the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo?
PK – Absolutely. And not by either the individuals or countries talked about. It is the theory of double genocide playing out here.
MP: In the east of congo the security situation continues to be very bad, some say continues to deteriorate. The Congolese government has decreed a state of siege into areas of Ituri and North Kivu, for thirty days, may be longer; is this a good move, do you agree with it?
PK – The state of emergency for me was like saying there is a big problem here, lets take measures that give us a good start to deal with it. This is why I am saying it is one thing to establish a state of emergency, even me I would do that. But I would follow it up also with a well thought out planned actions to actually deal with it in concrete terms, not to come and run over things again and after five years you still have the same or even a much bigger problem. But we have also had the UN forces, and the UN from outside, for now 24 years. There are still these responsibilities for the world that are kept, you know, silent about or put under… and nobody says, yeah, but what have you been there for all these 24 years? You went there to solve a problem – what happened?
MP: It is a failure?
PK – I think it is a big-big failure. It is an understatement, to say it is a failure.
AB: Now talking about doing more, your country and Congo seem to have better relationship since Tshekedi was elected. You both agreed to reinforce security at the borders between the two countries to tackle the rebel groups that are operating in that region. How far are you in these talks? Are you talking about joint military operations for instance?
PK – We are still having a good discussion. But the most important thing here is, at least there is that environment where we can talk to each other, which was lacking before. And then, always people working together will find a solution.
AB: But joint military operations could be envisaged?
PK – I guess that would not be out of the question. But it always depends on the situation at hand and what people see, always the two sides will talk and see if that is going to work, what are the costs, what are the benefits, and the decision can be made. I think here people need to be flexible.
AB: Because you know UN experts are saying that Rwandan troops are already intervening in the DRC and already conducting operations.
PK – Yeah, but I wish they could go beyond that, and ask themselves, meaning the UN: Why would Rwanda have to go to Congo at all, when they are the ones responsible for the situation?
MP: So, but does that mean that you are acknowledging that Rwandan troops are in the DRC?
PK – No, I am acknowledging that the UN making that report is actually a failure in the Congo. That is what I am trying to say.
AB: They are failure?
PK: Yeah, total failure.
MP: So, are the Rwandan troops in the DRC as we speak?
PK – No if we were there we would not be failing. I assure you we would not fail to deal with the problem.
AB: So, coming back to Rwanda and your internal problems as you mentioned them, Paul Rusesabagina is currently on trial in Kigali, and he is charged on nine accounts, including terrorism for his alleged support to armed groups. He claims that he never condoned violence.
PK – One, he is not alone by the way in the trial. There are over 20 people who are being tried together with him. They were together committing these crimes against Rwanda and Rwandans. They are all appearing in court, and in fact some of them are giving overwhelming evidence against him. So, I do not see why people make a lot of noise. He is in court of law. He is not just being, you know, hidden somewhere under arrest. He is in a court of law, like many others.
AB: You are saying why do people make a lot of noise, also I think probably because of the way he was arrested. He says he was tricked into coming to Rwanda.
PK – What is wrong with tricking a criminal you are looking for? When you get him, where do you put him? If it is in a court of law, I think that is okay.
Marc Parelman: But the US, EU and others have expressed their concern about him getting a fair trial. When they say this, they suspect that this is actually not the case because of the way he was tricked, and because they don’t think he will get a fair trial. You have to be concerned when you hear this.
PK – Sure, I am calling for fair trial myself. So, it is not UK, US, or the European Union. No. I want to see a fair trial myself. Why do you think being fair belongs to Europe, or US or anybody else and not to us – why? This is how people, you see, end up being caught up in some of these useless things, and they end up being racist. It is like the only thing to be fair in Rwanda or in Africa, has to be supervised by Europe or US or some other place. No. Absolutely not.
AB: Or may be the concern is because several think tanks or organizations have accused your regime of suppressing all types of descent. I will give you another example of the arrest of the gospel singer, Kizito Mihigo, who became a critic of your regime. He was accused of inciting hatred, and he died in police custody. The official version is suicide, but human rights organizations are doubting that.
PK – The concerns will be there, but who tells you I do not have those concerns myself? But everything will be cleared by investigation and through the court of law.
AB: So, would you accept a probe? They are calling for an independent investigation?
PK – Independent what? You mean we should always be having independent investigation for things that happen here in Paris or in France?
AB: Mr. President you have been Head of State for 21 years. Next presidential elections are in three years. Will you be running?
PK – You know above all, I wish God continues to give me good health, that is at a personal level. The rest about politics, Rwandans will decide, and maybe I can also decide. I can decide even when Rwandans say, no we still want you. That is something important. But I can say you know what, I feel I need to go and do something else.
Alexandra Brangeon: Mr. President thank you very much for agreeing to this interview. And thank you to our listeners and viewers of France 24 and rfi – Radio France International.
President Kagame – Thank you
Transcribed by Kabagambe R. Ignatius – on 18/05/2021. The interview was jointly conducted by Marc Parelman of FRANCE 24, together with Alexandra Brangeon of Radio France International – rfi.
Kabagambe Rwiyemaho Ignatius is the Head of Corporate Communications, University of Rwanda