January 20, 2021

Belgium Foreign Minister Appears in Parliament Over Paul Rusesabagina


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Paul Rusesabagina appearing in Kigali court during one of the bail hearings

The Belgian government has told Parliament there that it is “closely monitoring” the case of Paul Rusesabagina, currently in pretrial detention in Rwanda.

Rusesabagina, the man portrayed in the Hollywood movie Hotel Rwanda, has been in custody in a Rwandan jail since late last year. He has been charged along with 18 other former commanders of the FLN rebel group operating from DR Congo. Government here says they are culpable for the terror acts committed by FLN in southern Rwanda at different times.

Rusebagina’s family and team of international lawyers say he was kidnapped and brought to Rwanda. They have petitioned the Belgian government because he is a Belgian citizen, and also filed case in the United States because he is a permanent resident there.

Appearing before the parliamentary commission of the Belgian Parliament on Tuesday, the foreign affairs minister Sophie Wilmès, didn’t give away much, instead choosing her words very carefully.

“We continue to ensure that Mr. Rusesabagina is detained in dignified conditions, that he is able to access adequate medical monitoring, that his right to legal defense is respected and that he can benefit from a fair trial”, said Wilmès, according to broadcaster RTBF.

Belgium was Rwanda’s colonial master, and Brussels maintains close links to Rwanda. Brussels also has a secret military pact, some of whose details became public in 2019.

The former immediate prime minister Charles Michel, currently the President of the European Council, had a very close personal relationship with Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame. Michel’s father, Louis Michel, himself a powerful figure for decades, has particular attachment to Kagame.

It is very clear the Belgian state sees the current Rwandan government as a very necessary key ally in this region, especially that Brussels needs to maintain influence over DR Congo and its wealth. Actually, for decades until independence, DRC was personal property of Belgium’s King.

Faced with tough questioning from the parliamentary commission, foreign minister noted that there not much the executive can do. The MPs were calling for more action, since Rusesabagina is a Belgian, though born in Rwanda and only moved there in 1994.

Particularly, the critical Belgian lawmakers were demanding that government condemn the manner in which Rusesabagina is reported to have ended up in Rwanda. Unconfirmed reporting has been that he boarded a private jet headed to Burundi, but ended up in Rwanda.

“The circumstances of [Rusesabagina’s] arrest must be the subject of a judicial investigation. The ministry and the embassy are not competent in this matter,” noted the foreign minister Wilmès.

While the Belgian executive has kept a public cordial engagement with the Rwandan government, some politicians in Parliament have often made comments and taken actions deemed hostile in Rwanda. The lawmakers are the reason the defense and intelligence pact leaked.

In October last year, Dr Augustin Iyamuremye, the President of Rwanda’s Senate accused the President of the Belgian Parliament Éliane Tillieux of having a “colonial mindset”.

ALSO READ: Rwanda Senate President Complains of “Colonial Disrespect” from Speaker of Belgian Parliament

It was after she had ignored replying to his letter denouncing the appointment of a Rwandan exile as expert for a Parliamentary commission charged with investigating Belgium’s colonial legacy.

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