ICTR says Peter Erlinder’s immunity does not apply to Rwanda cases
Kigali: Detained American Peter Erlinder has immunity from prosecution as a defense lawyer at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda but that applies only when he is in Rwanda on work related to the tribunal, the Arusha (Tanzania) based court said Wednesday.
ICTR spokesman Roland Amoussouga said the court was trying to find out if the Rwandan judicial authorities “intend to use Erlinder’s work at the ICTR as evidence for the prosecution”.
“Erlinder was not in Rwanda for reasons linked to his activities at the ICTR. This doesn’t mean the ICTR will not take an interest in his fate, but rather that the formulation of the ICTR’s reaction will depend on what elements the prosecution decides to use against the accused,” Amoussouga told Agence France Presse (AFP).
He said the court does not claim to have the power or the mandate to obtain immunity for its lawyers in cases that are not directly linked to their work at the ICTR.
“There are two situations where we can claim immunity for our lawyers: when they are on a trip for the ICTR and when the actions they are accused of committing were carried out in the framework of a case they are defending at the ICTR,” he said.
The arrest of Erlinder “and the questions he is being asked do not seem to be linked to his activities at the tribunal”, Amoussouga said.
The court was reacting Wednesday to fierce criticism from its defense attorneys over charges it has failed to take action after the arrest in Rwanda Prof Peter Erlinder for allegedly denying the 1994 Genocide.
Two French lawyers at the tribunal, Arthur Vercken and Anta Guisse, on Tuesday slammed what they said was the ICTR’s silence over Erlinder’s arrest.
“To date it seems the ICTR has not raised the slightest protest against this arrest or demanded the immediate freedom of this lawyer who is on its list and who represents an accused person,” Vercken and Guisse said in a statement.
The two, who are defending a former senior official in Rwanda’s interior ministry, Callixte Kalimanzira, charged with genocide, said they fear Erlinder’s pleas at the ICTR may be used as evidence against him in Rwanda.
“The ICTR acted swiftly, by communicating as early as Monday with the Rwandan authorities,” the court’s spokesman Amoussouga said, emphasizing that the ICTR is “in contact with the relevant Rwandan authorities and with Peter Erlinder’s legal team”.
Meanwhile back here in Rwanda, following the reported suicide of Mr. Erlinder, Prosecutor General Martin Ngoga says the intense interrogations will he halted as he recovers in hospital.
On Tuesday, Prof. Erlinder’s file was transferred from police to prosecution – marking a possible court appearance soon. He was interrogated by investigating prosecutors till late evening and it was decided the process would continue Wednesday, says prosecution.
However, police detectives transporting Erlinder found him unconscious on Wednesday morning as they prepared to transport him to the prosecution office which is located within the same Kacyiru area as the police headquarters.
“Investigations will be halted until doctors rule [Erlinder] fit to continue with the interrogations,” Ngoga told a press conference.
Peter Erlinder, who heads the association of defence lawyers at the ICTR, was arrested on Friday last week in Kigali where he came to defend opposition politician Victoire Ingabire, who is also accused of denying the genocide.