American Lawyer Peter Erlinder Barred From Rwanda Tribunal Work
Peter Erlinder, the American lawyer who was arrested in May last year in Rwanda has been barred by the United Nations from working at an international tribunal for Rwanda after refusing to appear in court.
Judges at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, based in Tanzania, removed Peter Erlinder, a law professor at William Mitchell College of Law in Minnesota, as the defense counsel for a major Rwandan genocide suspect, because he had failed to travel to the court.
Mr. Erlinder said he did not appear because he feared his life would be in danger from the Rwandan government even in Tanzania. He was removed from the tribunal last week, with a spokesman for the court calling Mr. Erlinder’s claims an “excuse” and his conduct “unprofessional.” “He is no longer a counselor in the tribunal here,” said the spokesman, Roland Amoussouga. “He has no standing.”
Mr. Erlinder was arrested in May 2010 in Rwanda for genocide denial after traveling there to defend key opposition politician Ms Victoire Ingabire. He was held for three weeks and was released on bail on health grounds.
Since he left Rwanda, Mr. Erlinder has gone on a speaking tour promoting a new collection of evidence on the 1994 genocide. He says that he is a target of the Rwandan government and has even received threats while on tour in the United States.
Defense lawyers at the tribunal protested Mr. Erlinder’s arrest last year, saying that he was being prosecuted specifically for his work in trial at the court, which focused on the downing of the President Habyarimana’s presidential jet in April 1994. Mr. Erlinder says the evidence he presented in court suggests that members of the current, Tutsi-led Rwandan government — not Hutu extremists — shot down the plane, challenging the conventional narrative of the event that set off the genocide.
Rwandan boldness scares Mr Erlinder so much and he still fears for his life. “I would not be at my best in Arusha,” said Mr Erlinder.
The United Nations showed support for Mr. Erlinder during his arrest in Rwanda, urging his release, but the tribunal says now that Mr. Erlinder’s current security fears were unwarranted. “The appeals chamber did not buy any of the argument that he gave,” said the tribunal spokesman, Mr. Amoussouga.
While Mr. Erlinder tried to take part in a trial by video-conference, judges insisted he be physically present in court, the tribunal said, and warned him twice that failure to show could result in sanctions. “Counsel’s conduct amounts to a failure to act diligently and in good faith and does not demonstrate the highest standards of professional conduct,” judges at the tribunal said in the ruling.