Rusesabagina’s Rwanda Imprisonment Violates UN’s Mandela Rules, Int’l Human Rights Standards

May 11, 2021 – Paul Rusesabagina has been in a prison in Rwanda for more than 250 days since his kidnapping from the United States in August, 2020 and the conditions of his illegal confinement continue to be a violation of his human rights under international law. Rusesabagina’s prison conditions constitute clear violations of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for Prisoners, also called the “Nelson Mandela Rules,” and other international human rights standards on imprisonment, and there is no reason to believe that the Rwandan government will modify his treatment in a positive direction. This is simply another example of the complete lack of fair legal processes in this case. The world needs to call for his immediate release from prison in Rwanda.

“Paul’s kidnapping also violates U.S. law,” concludes Peter Choharis, one of his international lawyers.  “And the government’s own statements demonstrate that Rwandan officials at the highest levels conspired to kidnap Paul instead of using U.S. deportation procedures,” he added. 

Rwanda regularly ranks among the worst prison systems in the world, with ongoing violations of the rights of all prisoners noted annually by human rights groups and government reports. As a very high profile political prisoner, Paul Rusesabagina’s case highlights everything wrong with that system. 

Paul’s treatment is not just a matter of his health and well-being but is also one of the many places in which he has no chance of receiving a fair trial in Rwanda. Kate Gibson, one of the members of Paul’s international legal team, argues that “A fair trial also means that the accused are detained in conditions that meet internationally recognised standards of detention.” 

Paul was held in an unknown location for three days while he endured torture and was coerced to provide incriminating statements that he has since revoked in court. He then was moved to a police station, and then transferred to Mageragere prison, where he has been held since September, 2020.

Since that time, he has been held in solitary confinement, in a windowless cell for 22.5 hours a  day. Gibson notes that “the United Nations has set minimum standards of detention, called the “Nelson Mandela Rules”, which prohibit solitary confinement of more than 15 consecutive days. Prolonged solitary confinement is considered by the UN as a form of torture, because of the severe psychological distress and physical toll that it has on a detainee.” Paul has been held in solitary confinement not for 15 days, but for 250. Rwanda is clearly in violation of the Mandela Rules, which apply directly to this type of situation.

He is given five minutes per week to speak with his family, in calls that are monitored by his jailors. The prescription medication that he needs to regulate his heart condition were given to the prison by the Belgian Embassy in September last year, and still hasn’t been given to Mr. Rusesabagina, so he is suffering unnecessarily from high blood pressure, headaches and dizziness.

The Rwandan government has also gone to extraordinary efforts to keep Rusesabagina from having access to legal counsel of his choosing, first barring all lawyers, then allowing in two Rwandan lawyers but preventing any external counsel. 

“Evidence from the government’s own witnesses cast reasonable doubt that Paul is guilty of any of the charges against him.  But even after he was kidnapped and tortured, and after the evidence of his innocence, he is still being held in solitary confinement with dwindling access to any legal counsel,” adds Choharis.  “Given the clear danger he is facing, the U.S. and Belgian governments should demand his immediate release,” he said. 

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