A debate has been raging as to whether Rwandan authorities acted properly when they deported a Belgian lawyer Vincent Lurquin who showed up in the court session of “Hotel Rwanda” movie figure Paul Rusesabagina.
Subsequent explanations by government and the Rwanda Bar Association, was that Lurquin had entered Rwanda on a visitor visa. This didn’t grant him clearance to appear in any Rwandan court like he did, dressed up in the lawyers’ gown.
While different analysts have condemned Lurquin’s actions, others giving generalized comments that no other country would accept what he did, there has not been any substantial data provided. He has been branded on social media as a ‘racist’ who came with ‘white entitlement’.
Here, we attempt to give a comparative review of different legal systems to determine how the controversial Belgian lawyer would have been treated elsewhere.
According to Rwanda’s Directorate General of Immigration and Emigration (DGIE), Lurquin entered on August 16, allowed entry into the country on the basis of his declared purpose of visit. He was given a 30-day V1 type of visa, which is given to visitors.
On August 20, Lurquin appeared inside the High Court Chamber for International and Cross-border Crimes located in Nyanza district, southern Rwanda. He was seated next to Rusesabagina’s attorney Gatera Gashabana.
That same day, Lurquin was taken in by Rwandan security and immigration officials as guest of the state. The following day, he was put on flight back home.
How would Lurquin have been treated in another jurisdiction other than Rwanda?
Take for example in Belgium, from where Lurquin hails. Its capital Brussels is the European capital – making it a center of everything. It has two legal fraternity groupings; the Dutch-speaking Brussels Bar and the French-speaking Brussels Bar.
The rules governing legal practice in Belgium are clear. Foreign lawyers, or what are referred to as ‘Third-country lawyers’, cannot represent their clients in Belgian courts.
What they are allowed to do is:
– represent clients in arbitration, conciliation or mediation
– appear with their clients before administrative bodies
– or attend the relevant courts on their clients matters but they must be accompanied by a registered, qualified and practising Belgian/EU lawyer.
However, for the foreign lawyer to be granted the above, you must have an address in Belgium and also obtain a work permit.
To have a more related comparison, lets bring it closer to Rwanda. Kenya is considered a giant in legal matters on the African continent. Legal publication The Law Society Gazette describes the legal system as “one of the most sophisticated” legal sectors in Africa, on a par with Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa.
While other jurisdictions are lenient, Kenya’s legal market is extremely hostile to foreign lawyers. Nationality requirements ban foreign entry: only advocates, who must be Kenyan nationals, can practise and advise on Kenyan law.
Despite government pressure and push by international law firms that want to set up shop in Kenya to take advantage of its strategic regional economic status to enter Kenya’s neighborhood, the legal fraternity has refused to budge. Kenyan lawyers are satisfied they have the capacity to deal with anything, and don’t need foreigners.
Another legal system that could provide context as to how foreign lawyers are handled is India, considered the world’s biggest democracy.
For decades up until 2018, India’s judiciary grappled with what to do with foreign lawyers showing up in its courts. The existing system stipulated that foreign lawyers should not be allowed to practice in India without reciprocity of their home countries.
That year 2018, the Indian Supreme Court issued a landmark decision on how foreign lawyers were to be treated going forward.
The Supreme Court noted that foreign law firms/companies or foreign lawyers do not have an absolute right to practice law in India and they will be governed by the code of conduct applicable to the legal profession in India.
The Supreme Court made it clear that advocates enrolled with the Bar Council alone are entitled to practice law, except as otherwise provided in any other law.
All other lawyers can appear only with the permission of the court, authority or person before whom the proceedings are pending.
What the above legal systems help in this issue, though cannot be taken as representation of the whole world, is that they give some sort of idea of how Vincent Lurquin would have been treated.
In India, he wouldn’t even have space because of the crowded Indian Bar. For Kenya, Lurquin would be told by local Kenyan lawyers not to bother flying into Nairobi because they have the capacity to deal with any legal issue.
For Lurquin’s home country Belgium, lets assume he was Rwandan. The rules are simply too stringent he wouldn’t have wasted his time flying to Brussels.
In the days following his deportation, Lurquin has been on a media offensive – saying he was not in court to speak in any form. He says he was in the courtroom to just watch proceedings. Either way, Lurquin would have required to obtain a work visa as well as clearance from the Rwandan lawyers’ body to be able to appear in the courtroom, as par the regulations.
Rusesabagina, the client Lurquin had come to represent is charged with with 9 counts, including forming an illegal armed group, financing terror activities, murder as an act of terror, kidnap as an act of terror, arson as an act of terror, among others.
As founding president of MRCD, Rusesabagina would allegedly craft and finance the establishment of the FLN rebel force which attacked southwestern Rwanda several times killing and injuring many.
The verdict for Rusesabagina and his 20 co-accused is due on September 20.