The Court of Appeal on Thursday reopened the appeal hearing of the case involving 21 members of the Rwanda Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD)/National Liberation Front (FLN), including Paul Rusesabagina, who were convicted on terror-related charges.
The appeal trial reopened with Rusesabagina not in court, following a decision on Tuesday by the same court, to proceed with on with trial after it was confirmed that Rusesabagina was legally informed of the date of the reopening but did not respond.
Twenty of the other suspects were all in court as Prosecutors appealed to court to consider revisiting some of the charges on which the defendants, including Rusesabagina, were acquitted on, despite the Prosecution providing sufficient proof that the crimes in question were committed.
The appeal hearing, which was set to begin on January 17, 2022, could not begin due to procedural issues, including Rusesabagina’s absence, but eventually reopened with Prosecution and 13 others who appealed, including convicts and civil parties, taking a stand.
The panel of judges, made up of Justices François Regis Rukundakuvuga, the president of the Appeals Court, Justin Gakwaya and Emmanuel Kamere, opened the proceedings by giving Prosecution the floor to elaborate further why they appealed.
Several civil parties in the case who felt the High Court Chamber for International and Cross-border Crimes did not accord them befitting reparations are also seeking to present more evidence in the Court of Appeal.
Lawyers of the civil parties informed the court that they will present more witnesses to testify further about the attacks carried out by FLN militia in the south western part of Rwanda between 2018 and 2019, killing at least 9 people, injuring many and damaging property worth millions.
To speed up the trial, Justice Rukudakuvuga said that the court will not review the entire file given its sheer size, but said the proceedings would focus on five instances appealed against.
Prosecution contends that the September 20, 2021 ruling disregarded some of the provisions in the law on qualifying charges, particularly on complicity in terrorism, which in part led to the acquittal of some of the suspects, including Rusesabagina, on the said charges.
Prosecution, led by the Deputy Prosecutor General Angelique Habyalimana, presented articles in the law and precedents which the court should base on to revisit the charges and consider more time for the defendants, including Rusesabagina.
However, some of the 20 suspects, including the former FLN Spokesperson Callixte Nsabimana, want the Appeals Court to revisit some of the charges, which they believe they were wrongfully convicted on.
Nsabimana said that in view that he cooperated with the court, pleaded guilty to the charges and showed remorse, he should have been given a lighter sentence, considering that he pleaded for leniency.
“I believe the court should have put into consideration the fact that I did not engage in acts of terror on Rwandan soil. I was just a Spokesperson based in another country when the attacks happened,”
“I am appealing to court to revisit this issue because much as Prosecution insists that I committed this crime, I am convinced that my involvement was indirect,”
“Having cooperated with the court, I would say I don’t understand why me, who wasn’t even on the ground, should serve 20 years, while one Col. Joseph Gatabazi, who was directly involved in military activities, underwent demobilisation and reintegration into normal life,” Nsabimana told court.
The former FLN Spokesperson said that he was speaking from Comoros but was never directly involved in the attacks. As such, he argues that he should be cleared of the charge and a lighter sentence considered.
Prosecutor Bonaventure Ruberwa said that based on the revised Anti-Terrorism law, new precedents available and international conventions against terrorism, the court had enough grounds to hand out the sentences to the individuals, whether they committed the crimes directly on Rwandan soil or outside.
Prosecution argued that the actions of individuals such as Nsabimana and Col. Marc Nizeyimana, who insist that they should not be charged as though they were directly involved in the attacks, are what determine whether they committed the crime or not, their location at the time notwithstanding.
The Prosecutors further said that acts of terror can be commanded from a location different from where the attacks happened, and in this case, it is the involvement of the suspect that is assessed, rather than just looking at the fact that they were not on the ground.
Deliberations also focused on the naming of some of the charges, with some of the appellants insisting that they should be downgraded but Prosecution maintained that both perpetrators and accomplices face similar charges.
This means that even those who were not directly involved in the attacks in Nyaruguru, Nyamagabe, Nyamasheke and Rusizi districts but played a key role, like Nsabimana, Rusesabagina and Nzeyimana, would still face the same charges.
The defendants also don’t want to be held accountable for the property or damages sustained during the FLN attacks since they were not directly involved. This would also mean that they are not liable to paying reparations to victims.
Ruberwa however dismissed the claim, saying that what is looked at is the creation of a terror group, incitement to join, funding, recruitment and other aspects, to determine the level of involvement and in this case, the convicted individuals met all conditions to be qualified as facilitators of terror.
Nsabimana and his lawyer, Jean Rugeyo, maintained that he should not receive a similar sentence to people who directly participated in the attacks.
Prosecution also contends that the High Court relied on wrong precedents (Deo Mushayidi and Victoire Umuhoza Ingabire), which were not relevant to the FLN case.
Prosecutor Claudine Dushimimana said that the High Court in acquitting the suspects on the said charges did not explain well how the two precedents applied.
“We urge the court to reconsider its position on this issue and give the suspects befitting sentences based on the arguments raised,” Dushimimana said, insisting that there is enough proof to show that the said individuals created the militia groups and commanded the attacks from the front, despite not being on the ground.