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March 31, 2023

Update: Paul Rusesabagina Released from Prison

On March 24, 2023, Rwandan activist and former hotelier Paul Rusesabagina, who inspired the movie “Hotel Rwanda,” was released from a prison in Rwanda. Rusesabagina, a U.S. permanent resident, returned to the United States on March 28, 2023. He had been convicted of terrorism charges and sentenced to 25 years in prison in September 2021.

The American Bar Association Center for Human Rights has been monitoring criminal proceedings against Paul Rusesabagina in Rwanda since September 2020 as part of the Clooney Foundation for Justice’s TrialWatch program. Throughout the monitoring, the ABA Center for Human Rights observed severe violations of Rusesabagina’s rights before and during the trial, including his right to confidential communication with counsel, his right to adequate facilities to prepare a defense, and his right to the presumption of innocence. The ABA Center for Human Rights declared the guilty verdict issued on September 20, 2021 as “unfair.”

A TrialWatch report released by the Clooney Foundation in April 2022 concluded that Rusesabagina’s trial was “seriously flawed” and that “his conviction lack[ed] the necessary guarantees of fairness.” TrialWatch expert Geoffrey Robertson QC, who co-authored two reports on the trial, found that “the Court fully accepted, and promoted, the government’s case against Paul Rusesabagina, without question or challenge.” Among other issues, the court failed to adequately investigate whether Rusesabagina’s transfer to Rwanda was forcible or illegal and also failed to evaluate whether evidence admitted at trial was obtained under coercion or duress. The report reinforced earlier findings by the ABA CHR’s preliminary report, and also found that the proceedings against Rusesabagina violated his right not to be compelled to testify against himself, his right to a reasoned judgment, and his right to an independent and impartial trial. Mr. Robertson concluded that “this was a show trial, rather than a fair judicial inquiry.”

Shortly after, in May 2022, the US Dept of State designated Rusesabagina as a “wrongfully detained” person, stating that their “determination took into account the totality of the circumstances, notably the lack of fair trial guarantees during his trial.”

The ABA Center for Human Rights background briefing can be read here.

The ABA Center for Human Rights preliminary TrialWatch report can be read here.

The final TrialWatch report can be read here.