Why the condemnation by EU of Rwanda’s judgement on Rusesabagina is questionable

By Marc Hoogsteyns
On 13 October 2021 at 07:57

A couple of days ago; the European parliament voted a resolution to condemn Rwanda for the arrest and the judgement of Paul Rusesabagina, the Hotel Rwanda hero, who was also leading a rebel group in Rwanda to destabilize the country. This group, ’the Forces de Liberation National’ (FLN) killed several innocent civilians when they infiltrated and was composed of a rag tag of other groups of which the FDLR of Wilson Irategeka delivered the most elements. Rusesabagina had also send money in the past to that group and the organization was operating out of Burundi.

Rusesabagina had also appeared in a couple of Youtube videos in which he claimed that he was leading the FLN and that a war against the regime in place was the only option to ‘liberate’ the country. The FLN was never able to gain ground in Rwanda; the locals didn’t trust them and the RDF was able to push back every incursion they made.

Finally Rusesabagina himself could be arrested after having been lured into a private jet in Dubai that was supposed to bring him to Burundi where he had planned to meet his followers. But the free ride on that plane was a trap and Rusesabagina woke op when the plane was landing at Kigali International Airport where he was promptly arrested by the Rwandan police.

The evidence against the man was clear and a couple of weeks ago, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison by a Rwandan court. But the outside world and the international community could not accept his faith: they accused the Rwandan government to have kidnapped him and they claimed that he didn’t get a fair trial in Rwanda. His adoptive daughter played a big role in this campaign. Her tears and her actions got much more attention than the victims.

The climax of all this came a couple of days ago: Rusesabagina’s supporters managed to convince a couple of Belgian politicians to introduce a resolution in the European parliament that would accuse Rwanda of not having respected the rights of the defendant and to release him on humanitarian grounds (the claimed that he was sick!).

I met Rusesabagina several times in the past and I have been following up on this case in Rwanda and in the DRC. What struck me hard when I learned that nearly all the European parliamentarians had voted in favor of the resolution to condemn Rwanda was the fact that most of the arguments that were put forward were biased and not correct and that in none of the statements that were made the rights of the victims of Rusesabagina’s actions were mentioned. In this article I’ll sum up the most important ones. The photo that accompanies it was taken in Nyabimata: the former sector executive secretary explains us how Rusesabagina’s infiltrators burned his car and shot him 3 bullets in his head after that. The guy survived, other villagers were less lucky!

 Rusesebagina was indeed lured into a private jet by a collaborator of the NISS (Rwandan intelligence) and flown to Kigali where he was arrested. He had accepted the free ride out of his own will when he boarded. Rusesabagina also had a double nationality: Belgian and Rwandan. He was on his way to Burundi to meet leading members of the FDLR, an international recognized terrorist organization, that was given shelter in that country by a Hutu power regime that has a very murky reputation when it comes to human rights. So was he kidnapped? Yes and no!

He boarded the plane out of his free will. No violence was used! In fact he had become a victim of his own stupidity. Other countries had used similar tricks to lure criminals to their countries; Belgium had tricked a Somali pirate to Brussels who thought that he was going to negotiate a lucrative film contract there, the Israeli’s had done this with German Nazi’s and Palestinian terrorists, etc. But those actions were always considered to be normal by the international community. But Rusesabagina had the label of a hero glued on his back. The anti-Kigali lobby in Brussels started shouting very hard that the man was a Belgian national and that Rwanda should send him back immediately to Europe. But that was not going to happen.

For the Rwandan authorities Rusesabagina was an enemy whose rebel group had killed several innocent people in the south of the country. The NISS monitors very closely the movements of the anti-Kigali lobby and knows very well what they are planning. The Belgians were congratulated for tricking that Somali pirate to Brussels but most of the international media were shouting alarm now that and intentionally recognized hero such as Rusesabagina was arrested for terrorism. The American special forces were applauded for flying into Pakistan to kill Osama Bin Laden. And they probably were right to do so. But Rusesabagina was collaborating with a group of extremists that killed more than a million of innocent people during the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi.

 Rusesabagina was fighting the regime in Kigali as a Rwandan and not as a Belgian, he had two passports. He was the leader of a group of infiltrators who wanted to overthrow the Rwandan government and the killings and the raping they committed were in Rwanda. And their victims were also Rwandans. For people who have two passports, the rule is that if they commit a crime in one of the two countries they will be charged and judged by the local courts. The request of his supporters, family members or the members of the European parliament to send him back to Belgium is therefore baseless. Belgium has never extradited Rwandan criminals and/or genocidaires to Rwanda but other European countries such as Denmark and Holland did this already.

A couple of days ago, another Genocide fugitive arrived from the US. Those countries apparently have more confidence in the professionalism and the neutrality of the Rwandan court system. The claim that the rights of the defendant had been violated and that he did not got a fair trial is questionable as well. Did Rwanda had to put up with the show of that Belgian lawyer who travelled to Kigali, put on a toga and started talking to the judge ? Belgium and Rwanda didn’t sign any agreements previously to make this possible and the lawyer in question was way out of his league. Rusesabagina was allowed to choose his own lawyer here in Rwanda. And he was treated well in prison just like the other prisoners.

There were always doctors at hand to treat him when he got sick. Which arguments European journalists and politicians can use to prove that the Rwandan justice system is not fair? In the case of Rusesabagina, it was the man himself who talked in jail because he had posted video’s on Youtube that he was leading a rebellion. It was also the Belgian police who handed over the evidence that Rusesabagina had sent money to the FDLR in the past. And the FDLR is a terrorist organization.

The argument that the man should be released on humanitarian grounds does not make sense either: when he’s sick he can be treated in local hospitals. And his cronies never got the permission from the villagers in the south over the country to kill them. You can also ask yourself if Rusesabagina would ever have been brought to court if he would have stayed in Belgium and if the Rwandans would not have tricked him. By sending him to jail in Rwanda many Rwandans feel that justice has been done. Belgian had no legal rights to ask for Rusesabagina’s extradition.

 What the members of the European parliament also failed to understand is the fact that Paul Rusesabagina was just a tool in the hands of other lobbies and groups and may be also countries to damage the reputation of Rwanda. For this anti-Rwanda lobby, he might be of a bigger value in a Rwandan jail than outside. Rusesabagina became known after the film Hotel Rwanda was shot. He was portrayed in that movie as a man who saved hundreds of lives. Hollywood parachuted him to stardom. Despite the fact that the producers of that film got it wrong: it was not Rusesabagina who saved most of the lives in the Mille Collines Hotel. The desk staff did that! He had even refused several refugees who could not pay cash and had sent them back on the street where they were killed by the Interahamwe, the Hutu killers.

And at the end of the genocide, most of the refugees were saved because the RPF had made a deal with the Hutu army to exchange them for POW’s. I met Rusesabagina for the first time in 1992 when he was managing Hotel Diplomat in Kigali, another Sabena hotel. I also met him briefly during the genocide and right after the genocide. He was a boneless character! And suddenly he received a medal from Georges Bush and he was called upon to give well paid lectures in several universities. So he was picked up by the growing anti-Kigali lobby, a group of ex-genocidaires and drop out RDF officers who had fell into conflict with president Kagame.

As these people were all linked to genocide crimes, they were looking for a cleaner front man, a guy they could steer and mold. At that time the relationship between Rwanda and Burundi and Uganda also worsened; Burundi was turning into a quasi Hutu power dictatorship and Uganda was gliding into chaos as well. Both of these countries started funding the anti Kigali forces. It was their intention to draw Rwanda into a bigger war so that the international community could intervene and condemn the Kagame regime. But Kigali outplayed them and never took the bait: Rusesabagina’s midget rebel force was dealt with easily and is now finished. As the frontman of this group Rusesabagina made a target of himself, he became an enemy of the regime in place! Now that he has been sentenced, his opposition value can be used as he can be used as a kind of a martyr. And this is exactly what is happening now!

 Who is behind the anti-Kigali lobby and what are their intentions? To understand well what is going on we have to plunge back into the violent history of the country. And you have to understand well the dynamics of local geopolitics. But the mix of all these facts and events became so difficult to understand for many outsiders that some of them lost interest and others prefer to stick to some of the cliches that characterize the Rwandan issue on the social media. In fact the whole discussion about Rwanda has become so polarized that many observers, researchers and journalist prefer to stay clear of it to prevent being classified as being pro Kigali or pro Interahamwe. On the social media extremist views prevail and the international press lost its interest in this part of Africa.

The anti-Kigali lobby was formed right after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in an attempt to cover up the crimes that where committed by its founders. They had been committed so openly by the Interahamwe (extremist Hutu militia) and the FAR (Hutu army of Habyarimana) that the MRND, the political organization that was steering those groups, had lost all its credibility. They were now licking their wounds in refugee camps in Congo. In a first attempt to put sand in the eyes of the international community they came up with a new new for their group: the RDR or the ‘Retour des Refugiés’. Victoire Ingabire, one of the most prominent opposition members of the Rwandan government, was one of the founding members. The Interahamwe militia was re-baptised as the FDLR (Forces Democratiques pour la Liberation du Rwanda) and started operating out of the DRC.

This all happened under the watchful eyes of the international community: the UN and several dozens of international NGO’s were providing shelter and food to the Hutu refugees in Congo and they knew very well what was going on. In 1995 when the FDLR and the ex-FAR had set up a base at Iwawa island to infiltrate Rwanda, it became clear that they were becoming a treat for the new regime in Kigali. When the Rwandan army over ran the island and killed and chased most of the extremists they discovered stacks of new weapons, landmines and communication gear. At the same time, the Hutu extremists were pillaging and looting the Congolese Tutsi communities in Rutshuru and in Masisi. To flee the violence, these communities had to pass through the refugee camps where many of them were killed. And again nothing was done to stop this.

So, a new war seemed inevitable. The UN had done nothing to stop or to prevent the Genocide against Tutsi in Rwanda so why should the Patriotic Front trust the international community this time to clean up the mess? Congo was still being led by President Mobutu at that time and the old guy was at the end of his wits. So, the first plans were forged in Kigali to put an end to all this by invading Congo. When they received news that the ex-FAR and the Interahamwe were also making plans to neutralize the Banyamulenge community in South-Kivu the pan was put in motion.

The leaders of the extremist Hutu lobby had fled to Europe where they received shelter in several countries: a lot of them ended up in Belgium, others in France, in Holland or in other countries. From there they started to reorganize their political counter attack. They send their kids to European universities, they were able to maintain contact with the European political parties that had supported their cause before the genocide and they set up a network to collect funds for the armed struggle in Congo and in Rwanda.

As their reputation was still very bad, they had to keep a low profile in the beginning. In Belgium f.i. many of these extremists preferred living in quite Flemish villages and little towns, far away from cities such as Brussels and Liege where their presence could be noticed. They all behaved like model refugees and most of them didn’t have any trouble at all to be recognized as such of to receive the Belgian citizenship after that. Nearly nobody paid notice either to the few Hutu lobby voices who were still making noise on the social media and in the local and in the intentional press: apart from a couple of frustrated journalists and researchers in Europe that had put all their hopes in them before the genocide, conservative Catholics that still had problems to admit that the hundreds of God loving villagers and followers in Rwanda had turned in to genuine devils during the genocide the international community soon lost its interest in the Rwandan problem.

But that changed with the new war in Congo: it became clear that president Mobutu had become so weak and had made such as mess of his country that the decision was taken to chase him from power and to install a new regime in Kinshasa.

Rwanda just wanted to neutralize the Hutu power treat in Congo and bring most of the refugees who were kept hostage in the camps back to Rwanda. But when they discovered that Mobutu’s army was not more than a bunch of ragtag soldiers with corrupt officers they decided to install a new regime. They managed to do this in record period of 3 months. It all happened so fast that they were surprised by it themselves; they had to improvise on the spot to proceed. No time was spend to look for new leaders; a bunch of Mobutu dissidents and Congolese fortune hunters jumped on the occasion to make a new name for themselves. The best example of this was Laurent Kabila, a guy who had worked with Che Guevara in the jungles of eastern Congo in the past and of which Che himself had written that he could not be trusted.

The Rwandan military train drove them right into the heart of the Congolese political scene. A new Congolese army was formed that consisted mainly of ex militia members that had knew nothing else but looting and killing. Upon arrival in Kinshasa this bunch was reinforced by dozens of ex Mobutu collaborators who were able to convince the Rwandans of their good intentions but had nothing else in mind than to continue their corrupt practices. And those Congolese politicians where masters in the art of political dribbling. The Rwandans had cleared the path for them to regain power but this kind hypochondriac and hypocrite behaviour was new to them.

It all went well for a couple of years but when the Rwandan presence in Kinshasa became a hindrance for the new regime in place things turned ugly again. A second Congo war broke out again: their ex protegees in Kinshasa started to accuse them of all the the bad things that happened in the first Congo war and often used their free imagination to do so. It is a fact that the Rwandan army had made some mistakes during that first war but many of these accusations were exaggerated. They were accused of crimes that their accusers often had committed themselves. The international community that had (again) done nothing to stop the first Congolese war and that was indirectly responsible for it, found an ideal opportunity to polish up its shields.

Kabila, who still didn’t have a decent army to fight the Rwandan Defence Forces (RDF ) recuperated hundreds of Interahamwe in the Congolese jungles and in other countries such as Congo-Brazaville and flew them back to the east of Congo to fight the Rwandan army. This all caused the second Congo war and the following rebellions of Laurent Nkunda and General Makenga. I had witnessed all that first hand, on the spot. Rwanda was suddenly being blamed for more than 6 million deaths in Congo, for the fact that the country was a big mess. For the Rwandan opposition in Europe this was honey and bread to set up a big anti-Kigali propaganda campaign that was later joined by a couple of international human rights groups and Congolese politicians who were trying to camouflage their own corrupt practices.

The UN published a report that put the blame for the disaster in the DRC largely on the Rwandan government. The arguments and the so called facts they were using were often biased and pulled out of their original context. Very limited attention was given f.i. to the fact that the Interahamwe had forced many of the refugees with them into the deep jungles of the DRC and that they had used them often as human shields. Those who refused were killed on the spot. No attention at all was being paid that the UN itself had done nothing to stop or to prevent this disaster. And nothing was mentioned about the fact that Congo was already in such a bad shape before the war that most people probably died because of that. Rwanda pulled out of the DRC and nowadays it has relatively good relations with the new government in Kinshasa. But the wars in Congo provided extra elements to the propaganda machine of the Hutu power lobby.

In the meanwhile, Rwanda was developing very fast: it became one of the safest countries of Africa, its economy was growing and the government also developed the Rwandan interior. Roads were being build, new hospitals and schools and the tourism industry was booming. The Rwandan model has now become an example for other African countries. President Kagame had made it clear that he would not accept any foreign interference in that process, he ran the country as a very strict general manager who only accepted criticism if that would be constructive. Pure European style democracy was not a tool that this government would use. But the system worked out well. In the meanwhile neighbouring countries such as Burundi and Uganda were sliding away into chaos. The Rwandan model clearly made the other countries jealous. When Uganda and Burundi started to help groups of Rwandan infiltrators, things even became more problematic. Paul Rusesabagina’s group, the FLN, was one of them. They were used as tools to provoke Rwanda.

In the meanwhile, the anti-Kigali lobby was reinforced by regime drop outs such as David Himbara. A couple of years before that President Kagame had also seen his close collaborators including General Kayumba Nyamwasa and Col Patrick Karegeya flee to South-Africa. The latter was murdered in a hotel and Kayumba escaped several attempts to kill him.

The BBC documentary ‘The untold story’, a culmination of all the critics mentioned in this paper, painted a very negative picture of the regime in place in Kigali. But the BBC film only allowed the opposition to express its views and not the political leaders in Rwanda. Some of the testimonies in that film were also incorrect. You can ask yourself why an institution like the BBC that once had the reputation of bringing only balanced journalism could fall that low to only highlight the narratives of the opposition.

In the meanwhile social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook were bombarded daily with messages that Rwanda was a dictatorship where people were arrested at random or disappeared on every street corner. People who live and wirk here know better. Some of the authors of these messages had committed crimes of genocide in 1994, others were related to renown genocidaires. The Canadian journalist Judi Rever published a book about Rwanda that can best be described as a summary of all the accusations of these radicals. And most of its content was not proven. Belgian universities even offered her a forum to come and express her views in public.

Hutu power think tanks such as Jambo SPRL in Brussels, a group of youngsters who’s parents committed crimes during the genocide, who were still judged to be marginal ten years ago had now gained influence in the ongoing discussion about Rwanda. Related Youtube channels and other social media tools are now providing platforms to genocide deniers. The RDR was formed in the DRC, just after the genocide, with the task to change the opinion of the international audience that the Hutu extremists were not the only criminals who were responsible for the genocide but that the Tutsi community was also to blame for that.

Some of these social media platforms were even set up by people who were involved in the activities of hate radio’s such as ‘Radio et Television des Milles Collines (RTLM) during the genocide. They have learned now to hide behind the European principles of democracy and freedom of press to spit out biased information that can only fuel new conflicts.

The anti-Kigali lobby became very strong: it is a well oiled machine that has contacts in the highest political circles in the US and in Europe. Their narrative has become main stream thinking when Rwanda has to be judged. Michela Wrong’s latest book about the country is a very good example of that: she only followed the narratives of the Rwandan opposition in Europe, combined that with the findings of institutions such as Human Rights Watch and she used the story of one of Rwanda’s biggest opponents, Patrick Karegeya, as a ‘fil rouge’ to combine all these elements. But the book lacked one important thing: the reply of the government in Kigali on all these accusations. Karegeya was killed in South-Africa and the Rwandan government was accused of this crime. So far, no solid evidence has been given to back that up. So Wrong’s book becomes another cliche example of how Rwanda is being treated by the international media. Most Rwandans will never accept that this Hutu power group will take over the country again.

 During Rusesabagina’s trial, the foreign media mainly paid attention to the story of the guy himself. Only a couple of foreign journalists went to talk to the victims of his actions in the south of the country. His Hotel Rwanda hero status made him practically untouchable for American media and in Europe he could fall back on the moral support of the traditional anti-Rwanda lobby. The fact that he was standing trial with 20 of his followers who had all admitted that Rusesabagina was their leader didn’t get any play either. The evidence that he was responsible for what he was accused of was clear: he had admitted that himself in a Youtube post.

Rusesabagina was also a Rwandan national who had committed his crimes on Rwandan soil. In normal circumstances, there would be no discussion about all this. But his case became a new and an ideal stick for the Rwandan opposition abroad to beat up Rwanda’s reputation. Belgian politicians declared openly that they had big doubts about Rwanda’s justice system and that in Rusesabagina’s case, the rights of the defendant were not respected. The European parliament repeated that later on as well. It is a fact that the Belgian government as well as the European parliament do not have the power nor the authority to tell a country such as Rwanda how to organize its justice system. Would the European community allow Rwanda and/or other African countries to judge European rules and laws that allow refugees from Syria or Libya to be locked up in camps on Samos?

 Most of the aid that international institutions give to Rwanda is well spent and is used to develop the country and to create equal chances for the whole of the Rwandan population. But the Rwandan model does not correspond to the picture of typical African democratic countries such as Uganda, Congo or Kenya that allow the European or American donors to think that these countries are being ruled by the same democratic values they believe in or hang on themselves. Even if these values allow men like Donald Trump of Hungarian fascists to become president.

Looking at Africa and judging it true, only European glasses is very wrong: it allows African leaders to be corrupt and channel big chunks of that aid budget to their accounts in Switzerland. The corruption tolerance level in Rwanda is zero and the country is advancing at fast pace. It is a fact that the regime in place has no tolerance towards opposition people who can be linked to the criminals who organized the genocide. Rusesabagina was working with these people. Others, such as Victoire Ingabire, were once part of that lot. Both Rusesabagina and Ingabire have no popular base to receive support from the local population. As long as the Rwandan opposition is unable to shake of its links to that violent past and come up with fake theories that the genocide was the fault of the current regime, they will and cannot be accepted by the majority of the population as a credible alternative.

And as I already wrote, the Rwandan model has become an example for other African countries. The leaders who refuse to bend over when they receive foreign aid inspires other African leaders. Rwanda is putting this one step further now: as the international community and the UN show themselves unwilling to assist other African countries in need to find back their balance: Rwanda sent extra troops to the Central African Republic and to Mozambique to solve problems and to protect the local population. Kagame’s soldiers are saving thousands of lives over there.

Rwanda is confronting those big defenders of democracy to look into the mirror. Because they would never accept themselves to go and help defenseless villagers in the forgotten bush of Cabo del Gado and to accept to take casualties in the process to restore order. This also is becoming a thorn in the eyes of many European countries. Kagame is teaching other African nations that they can do without some of the European and the American support. And the less dependent they become the lesser they will serve the needs of their former colonial masters.

The Belgian public should also wake up when it comes to Rwanda. Belgium lost its touch with the African continent many years ago and the ‘good old days’ of the colonies are long gone. The resolution to vote against Rwanda in the European parliament was introduced by Belgian politicians. Possibly because Rusesabagina also had the Belgian nationality. But there can be more behind this: by manipulating the facts and hereby boosting the arguments of the Hutu power opposition this move can be seen as an attempt to weaken the current power structure in Kigali.

The fact that those politicians are paying more attention to Rusesabagina’s rights instead of those of the victims is worrisome and shows clearly their position. Rwanda has always shown respect for Belgium in the past but this was not mutual. They had even warned Belgium for a possible jihadi attack on targets in Brussels but the Belgian intelligence services had not paid any attention to that. A couple of months later the airport of Zaventem and a tube station in Brussels were attacked.

Nothing is done in Belgium to curb the activities of genocide deniers. And they are the ones who are stimulating a lot of problems in this region. It is therefore not more than normal that Rwanda is monitoring closely these people. Belgium has a new ambassador in Kigali who seems brighter and more open for discussion than his predecessor. But some of the Belgian junior diplomats here in Kigali recently made terrible mistakes that costed Belgium a lot of prestige. The Belgian press is also to blame for all this: Belgian newspapers and television stations probably lack the funds and the will to make regular trips to Rwanda to check facts in the field but this does not mean that they should fall back on info they collect in a grocery shop or a coffee bar on a street corner in Brussels where they only talk to anti-Kigali lobbyists.

For all these reasons I strongly believe that the resolution that was voted against Rwanda in the European parliament is questionable. European journalists and parliamentarians should look deeper into the subject to get a more balanced view of the reality on the ground.

Unbalanced views can fuel more violence. Nobody owns the truth. And all the parties involved should be listened to! Certainly also Paul Rusesabagina’s victims. They would never have seen justice if Rusesabagina would have been handed over to Belgium. Belgian and European politicians should also allow Africans to develop their countries themselves. Human rights have to be respected in this process, of course! But the same politicians should know better than to listen only to people who manipulate the truth.

The photo was taken in Nyabimata where FLN rebel group supported by Rusesabagina plotted attacks that claimed residents' lives. The former sector executive secretary was explaining how Rusesabagina’s infiltrators burned his car and shot him 3 bullets.