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Jailed American lawyer Erlinder appears in Rwanda court

Peter Erlinder in court and his Kenyan lawyer, Kennedy Ogetto.

Peter Erlinder in court and his Kenyan lawyer, Kennedy Ogetto.

Kigali – The American lawyer Peter Erlinder, appeared in court for the preliminary hearing late Friday. He was charged with denying and minimizing the 1994 Rwandan Genocide and publishing articles that threaten the country’s security. He pleaded not guilty to all charges levelled against him during the five-hour court hearing.

Erlinder had come in the country to represent Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza in her case which also involves genocide denial. Ingabire was also in court Friday to attend Erlinder’s hearing.

Draped in a long overcoat, Prof. Erlinder was flanked by a team of 9 legal representatives: his own four lawyers (an American, two Kenyans and a Rwandan) and five lawyers appointed by the Rwandan Bar Association.

The Prosecutor argued that Erlinder’s case is a serious one and there is strong evidence to back up the accusations ranging from his publications and utterances where he continuously and explicitly minimises and denies the Genocide. The accused also refers to President Paul Kagame as a genocidaire who downed the plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana, thereby triggering the Genocide. He added that Erlinder intentionally preaches that the Genocide was not planned.

Prof Erlinder told the court that he was not aware that his publications back in America could be tantamount to Genocide denial.
“It is the first time I have come to know that my obscure publications back in America were that bad and could amount to genocide denial,” Erlinder told the court.
He said that it may be a case of misinterpretation or misunderstanding.

He said President Kagame’s party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, might dispute his writings, but “not all Rwandans.”

Prof. Erlinder said he had ignored warnings from his tribunal colleagues not to travel to Rwanda, where he had spent several days helping opposition leader Victoire Ingabire in her presidential election challenge before his May 28 arrest. He told the court that by travelling to Rwanda he was not aware that his past publications and speeches would get him into trouble with the Rwandan government.
“I believed the country has grown democratically, but if I am detained and prosecuted, my case will be confirm what is being said out there,” Erlinder said.

Appearing weak in court, Erlinder said that he has trust in the country’s institutions but his worry was his ill health. He said he was too old and too weak to stay in jail. He pleaded with Judge Maurice Mbishibishi to conditionally release him and allow him to travel back to the United States for appropriate treatment as his health is deteriorating. He promised to comply with any conditions the court sets and insisted he would cooperate with the court to interpret his writings, but would do so out of jail.

The prosecution insisted Erlinder should be provisionally detained as investigations into his case continue. “As prosecution, we have strong reasons to ask for his provisional detention because we see it as the only means to protect the accused as investigations into his case continue,” said Prosecutor Richard Muhumuza. “This way, he can always be available when prosecution needs him, and it is also to ensure that the accused doesn’t escape,” he said.

But Erlinder and his defence team argued that the accused is ready to cooperate and play by the rules the court will set, as long as he is allowed to access treatment.

He said he has not been mistreated during his time in jail and confirmed that doctors were there for him all the time, but also had not had contact with anyone while in Rwandan custody.
He added that he could not stay in jail anymore.
“I haven’t talked to anyone in my family, I haven’t listened to the radio or watched TV since I was arrested. I haven’t talked to my doctor,” he said.

As the focus shifted to the health of Erlinder, Prosecutor Richard Muhumuza, who is also handling the Ingabire case, argued against release on bail, but agreed not to object if a medical examination determined Erlinder needed treatment in the United States.

Prof. Erlinder who is undergoing an emotional and psychological breakdown, was upset and almost decided not to leave the courtroom when the judge Maurice Mbishibishi, who is also handling Ingabire case, pronounced that bail would be decided on Monday, meaning that he still has to spend at least another weekend in custody.

If convicted, Prof. Erlinder faces up to 25 years in prison.

The hearing continues on Monday.

Rwanda will not bow to pressure to release American lawyer Peter Erlinder

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June 5, 2010   2 Comments

Rwanda will not bow to pressure to release American lawyer Peter Erlinder

Justice will not be compromised-Mushikiwabo
Kigali – Rwanda will not short-circuit legal procedures to release American lawyer, Prof. Peter Erlinder, despite a request by the United States State Department to release him on compassionate and humanitarian grounds.

Erlinder is charged with denying the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and minimising it. He further says that the genocide was not planned and executed and prefers putting the word genocide in inverted commas or prefers to call what happened in Rwanda as “terrible massacres”, “horrific events”, “massive civilian killings”, “civilian-civilian massacres”.

Addressing a press conference on Thursday on the arrest of the law professor, Government Spokesperson and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Louise Mushikiwabo, said that the country will have to take Erlinder through the legal procedures to answer charges levelled against him, but at the same time, consider his health concerns.

“The US Government from the beginning knew that this man had been imprisoned, they have been following the fate of Erlinder. “They have been in contact with us, asking us to consider on a compassionate humanitarian basis, given the looks of him being probably mentally ill, that we consider those conditions and release him.”

“Our government’s response is that we are sensitive to medical and health conditions, whether it’s for American citizens or others, but we cannot short-circuit the legal process. So we stand advised by mental health professionals on what needs to happen,” Mushikiwabo said.

She said that a joint medical evaluation is being considered by the country’s doctors and any doctor of Erlinder’s choice who will advise the prosecution accordingly before any decisions concerning his release or continue with the trial.

Mushikiwabo who jointly addressed the Press Conference with the Prosecutor General, Martin Ngoga, said that authorities are well aware of his hospitalisation, but his case of Genocide denial is a serious offence punished by law and cannot be rushed through.

“We as a government, are not doctors to know his mental status. We will wait for those responsible for medical processes to confirm this, but the legal processes will continue.

Genocide denial is a serious crime in this country,” Mushikiwabo said.

She added that the country will not bow to pressure from anyone to free the American whose Genocide denial charges compromises laws of the land, adding that it will be a lesson to whoever undermines the country’s laws and minimises the Genocide.

On his side, Ngoga said that Erlinder could be from a country where the law against Genocide denial is not applicable, but by stepping on Rwandan soil, he presented himself and automatically risked facing the law.

“They have talked a lot about this law which is similar to the law on Holocaust denial, but we say we have this law and we attach much value to it. So it is up to them to go and prove their doubts in court,” Ngoga said.

He accused Erlinder of intentionally travelling to Rwanda after faking a court date for Victoire Ingabire’s appearance in court, and was aware of his impending arrest, but he wanted to test the government. “Now he will have to redeem himself in court”.

Ngoga said that Erlinder’s plans to represent Ingabire and his arrest should not be connected, as his is a stand-alone case.

He noted the American is aware that he breached the country’s laws but said that due processes will be followed for a transparent legal procedure.

Among other things, Ngoga said, Erlinder has been accorded the right to choose his legal team, had been given medical attention when needed, and US Consular officials have been allowed to closely follow the events.

Ngoga said that Erlinder has continued to display theatrics that have received coverage in the press, including a faked suicide attempt and threatening to undress before prosecutors in a mental fit. He further said that doctors will continue to follow his condition, but that will not deter legal procedures. He also revealed that all his rights are being observed during detention, dispelling reports that he is detained in squalid conditions.

[New Times]

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June 5, 2010   1 Comment

“Peter Erlinder must face trial”, says the Rwandan prosecutor general

The Rwandan Prosecutor General’s office communicated on Friday that, no matter what, Prof. Peter Erlinder must face trial .
During a press conference, the Rwandan Prosecutor General, Martin Ngoga, confirmed that the trial of that Americal lawyer will take place , even if the US authorities requested that he be pardonned . “His trial will serve as a warning to other foreigners, and they are many, who deny the genocide that took place in Rwanda.”

The US lawyer, Peter Erlinder, was arrested last month in Rwanda , on charges of minimizing the Rwandan genocide. He was in the country to defend Victoire Ingabire.
The Rwandan prosecutor accuses him to be the leader of a group of intellectuals that is working hard to rewrite the history of the genocide that took place in Rwanda.

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June 5, 2010   No Comments

Rwandan law on “genocide ideology” impossibly vague

by Robin Phillips
Last week, as most Minnesotans set out to enjoy the long Memorial Day weekend, one Minnesotan embarked on a journey of a different sort. On Friday, St. Paul law professor Peter Erlinder was arrested by Rwandan police on charges under that country’s “genocide ideology” law.

Erlinder went to Rwanda as part of the legal defense team of opposition political candidate Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, who faces charges under the genocide ideology law.

Throughout the past several years, Erlinder has represented people accused of genocide before the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda. In the course of this work, he has developed an argument that questions whether the violence in Rwanda was, technically speaking, genocide. Erlinder hasn’t been shy about putting forth his theory; he helped organize and presented a paper at an international criminal defense conference on the subject in Brussels just days before entering Rwanda.

International law recognizes that genocide — the killing, causing of serious bodily or mental harm, deliberate infliction of conditions calculated to bring about the physical destruction, imposition of measures intended to prevent births, or forcible transfer of children to another group, with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group — is among the most serious of crimes.

Is what happened in Rwanda “genocide?” Most international human rights experts think so. And if any country has an interest in ensuring that public safety is balanced against the right to free speech, arguably it’s Rwanda. Radio broadcasts deliberately inciting ethnic violence fueled much of the brutality that killed upwards of 800,000 people in just 100 days in 1994.

International human rights law recognizes freedom of expression as a fundamental human right. That right is not without limits. Governments can and must limit dangerous speech. But those limits must themselves be narrowly tailored and carefully applied.

The Rwandan genocide ideology law falls far short of what international human rights law requires. It has been characterized by one human rights organization as “a very broad, imprecise and even confusing array of activities and expression” which includes “terms which are widely open for abusive interpretation — such as ‘marginalising,’ ‘laughing,’ ‘mocking,’ ‘boasting,’ and ‘creating confusion aiming at negating the genocide which occurred’ and ‘stirring up ill feelings’ — or which very obviously have no place in any law — such as ‘propounding wickedness.'”

The evidence suggests that potential abuses of this vaguely worded crime have come to pass. Human rights organizations and the U.S. government alike have denounced the law for having been used to silence those who oppose the government. Erlinder himself went to Rwanda to defend a political opposition leader accused of genocide ideology. Amnesty International reports that at last count there were 912 people in prison, either awaiting trial or serving sentences, on genocide ideology charges.

The government of Rwanda today is under the control of Paul Kagame and his Rwandan Patriotic Front. Exploiting the tragedy of the genocide for political purposes is apparently just one part of Kagame’s strategy to continue to hold power. A glance through the U.S. State Department’s most recent assessment of human rights in Rwanda reveals that its record of ensuring freedom of speech, assembly, association, and the right of citizens to change their government is abysmal.

In addition to politically motivated use of the genocide ideology law to keep government opponents quiet, Amnesty International reports substantial restriction of press freedom, active restriction of opposition political parties, and widespread impunity for members of the Rwandan Patriotic Army and Rwandan Patriotic Front.

Erlinder’s arrest gives us a glimpse of what Rwandans and millions of others living under repressive governments around the world face every day. In the United States, Memorial Day is an opportunity to remember those who gave their lives to protect our freedoms. This incident serves as a poignant reminder of what those human rights really mean.

Robin Phillips is executive director of The Advocates for Human Rights, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting and protecting human rights.

Source: Minnesota Public Radio

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June 5, 2010   No Comments

Rwanda: Green Party defends RPA soldiers over alleged war crimes

Frank Habineza - Chair of Democratic Green Party of Rwanda

Frank Habineza - Chair of Democratic Green Party of Rwanda

Kigali: Amid registration uncertainty, the Green Party has again distanced itself from the coalition partners with a spirited defense of the ruling RPF party against accusations that some of its members committed war crimes during the conflict which culminated into the Tutsi Genocide.

Separating itself from the FDU-Inkingi and PS Imberakuri which have stood by claims that RPF rebels killed “Hutus”, the troubled Green Party says: “It was not RPF policy to kill HUTUS”.

“The [Rwanda Patriotic Army] soldiers who killed people were severely punished and some evidences are available,” says Green Party chief Frank Habineza, in a new party policy statement.

The statement comes amid attacks from some sections accusing the Greens of aligning with the two opposition parties which are said to be in complete contempt of the role played by the RPF soldiers in ending the 1994 Tutsi mass slaughter.

Ingabire Victoire, of the FDU-Inkingi, is under fire for suggesting that even if there was Tutsi Genocide, the rebels also killed civilians on the other side of the social divide.

A splinter faction of PS Imberakuri led by Bernard Ntaganda – which remains in the opposition coalition, has been in the firing line for claiming war crimes were committed, and that the perpetrators must be brought to book.

For the Green Party, “It may be possible that not all [suspected RPA criminals] were punished”.

“Investigations can be made and those who committed crimes against humanity be brought to book,” says Habineza.

With registration still hanging in balance, the Greens seem to want to position themselves with the image that even if they are collaborating with the other two controversial parties, they do not condone some of their positions.

The Greens say they will set up a “Truth and Justice Commission” to “bring about genuine reconciliation”, and also establish “National Rwandan Dialogue, which will bring all people from different walks of life both in the country and Diaspora to help in setting a sustainable Rwanda, where Rwandans will have justice, peace and tranquility”.

In the same policy statement, the Greens condemn the accusations against Ingabire, who is facing several serious charges, and detained American attorney Peter Erilnder.

On the split in PS Imberakuri, the Green Party claims the authorities are causing the rifts which have led to its break-up, which government has previously dismissed.


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June 5, 2010   No Comments

Victory for Rwandan Genocide Survivors in Chicago court

by Keith Harmon Snow.

A Small Victory For Freedom, A Great Loss To The World

Two pieces of news today to share with my brothers and sisters who are working for peace and reconciliation and truth and equality and love and dignity and hope and healing.

First, we won our court case today in Chicago — in which I was an expert witness testifying for the defense — and the Rwandan asylum seekers (2 adults and 3 minors) were awarded asylum status after more than 5 years in the immigration hearings process.

These (adults) are Rwanda genocide survivors, and they are Hutu people, and they also survived the RPF perpetrated genocide against Hutu people in Zaire.

The lawyer did an amazing job, and the defendants showed incredible graciousness in the face of huge injustices.

If Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame knew how to eat humble pie, today would be the day. Sadly, he’s one of the worst examples of a human being ever created, only outdone, perhaps, by those governments and people who support him.

Second, one of the world’s greatest human rights champions, was assassinated this week in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). I and other human rights defenders are calling for a thorough independent investigation into the assassination of Floribert Chebeya Bahizire, executive director of Voix des Sans Voix (VSV) (i.e. Voice of the Voiceless), one of Congo’s largest human rights groups (whom I believe I met and interviewed in 2006).

So, very happy news and very sad news.

Today, it was very interesting to see how the Judge and U.S. Government prosecutor handled me and my testimony, which pretty much contradicted everything the U.S. Government prosecutor had submitted as evidence, and according to the prosecutor’s cross-examination, based on his reviewing my resume on my web site, I am not entitled to be a substitute school teacher (1996?) or be caretaker of a place called EARTHLANDS (1995), and still call myself a journalist and human rights investigator, which I did at the same time.

Most outrageous are all the distortions, mischaracterizations and outright lies submitted in the annual U.S. Department of State Human Rights Country Reports, and all the documents that support these, and all the documents that rely on them to make their own shoddy or vested-interest arguments, and the many media articles that all say the same thing, in platitudes, and cover up the state of criminality and terror in Rwanda (and Rwanda’s involvement in Congo) at present.

Clinton Kagame

Clinton-Kagame: Birds of a fetaher flock together. When Clinton said we should have done more to stop genocide in Rwanda in 1994 he was obfuscating reality: we were militarily involved at the deepest levels.

I’ve looked very closely at these state department HUMAN RIGHTS COUNTRY REPORTS on Rwanda, beginning with 1993, and they are really a scandal of omissions, falsehoods, decontextualized facts, and standard establishment mythology — and what is even more outrageous are the way they laud and applaud the dictator Paul Kagame, the U.S. wonder boy of mass murder in Africa, and cover up his crimes, and this is more greatly appreciated in contradistiction to how the State Department reports characterize other countries and the leaders that stand up to the U.S., including Omar Bashir (Sudan), Raul Castro (Cuba), or Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe).

I’ve looked in detail at these State Department Human Rights Country Reports, and they are all a scandal. I suppose I will publish my analyses if i can find the energy and surmount the absence of financial support.

It was hugely satisfying to find that amongst the submissions of evidence the attorney for the respondents seeking asylum submitted was a recent article by San Francisco journalist Ann Garrison, who has been following the events in Rwanda closely and publishing furiously in independent print and radio, and works independently herself and deserves people’s financial support.

Ann has done amazing work to understand and communicate the truth, with little support as well.

Alas, it’s very pathetic to see the extent to which popular understanding of what happened in Rwanda or Congo or Sudan is so completely determined by the indoctrination of the mass media, and — as the U.S. Government prosecutor today attempted to characterize me — how anyone who doesn’t work for the New York Times or Newsweek or Time must be a conspiracy theorist, a crackpot or a social degenerate.
The possibility that working for these institutions means unacceptable moral compromise does not enter into people’s arrogant frames of mind, so twisted is the western addiction to our one indoctrination, under God, indivisible, with oil barons, and corruption, unto all.

The U.S. Government was watching this case, it was considered a very high profile case, all the way in Washington, and the legal community was watching it closely in Chicago.

In any case, the judge found in favor of the Rwandans for asylum. The U.S. Government prosecutor indicated to the defense attorney that he will appeal. If he does, the process will go on for a few more months, and by then more of the truth will be known, as the current regime in Rwanda fights tooth and nail to keep the lid on their own coffin, one they have built of the blood of the Congolese, Ugandan and Rwanda people, and with the help of the U.S. State Department, Britain, Canada and Israel.

When it comes to Central Africa, people have no idea how little they really understand, how much we all in the US, Canada and Europe are personally implicated and involved, and how much our help is needed.

Of course, the lawyer works pro bono on this case, as I did. Much thanks to the people who support my work in little and big ways. Much appreciation for expansiveness of mind of today’s judge, too.


keith harmon snow
Chicago, 3 June 2010

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June 5, 2010   3 Comments