Peter Erlinder’s statement in response to the news that Rwanda’s prosecutor demands his return
On Oct. 21, Rwandan Chief Prosecutor Martin Ngoga announced that he wants U.S. law professor and U.N. Rwanda Tribunal lead defense counsel, Peter Erlinder, back in court to stand trial for “genocide denial” based on articles written in the U.S. and published on the internet.
Here is the statement made by Prof. Erlinder:
St. Paul, Oct. 21 – Following my release for medical reasons, the well-publicized myth that the Kagame dictatorship had changed, that misled both me and my former client, Madame Ingabire, has been exposed.
After my release, the banning of all serious political opposition, the beheading of the vice-president of the Green Party, Madame Ingabire’s arrest, the assassination of journalists, the attempted assassination of Mr. Kagame’s former chief of staff who defected to South Africa, the assassination of another ICTR defense counsel and Kagame’s “election” with 93 percent of the vote caused the Obama White House to question the state of democracy in Rwanda on Aug. 13:
“(A) series of disturbing events prior to the election includ(es) the suspension of two newspapers, the expulsion of a human rights activist, the barring of two opposition parties from taking part in the election, and the arrest of journalists … (S)tability and prosperity will be difficult to sustain without broad political debate and open political participation … Democracy is about more than holding elections.”
On Aug. 28, Le Monde and the New York Times leaked a 600-page report from the files of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights detailing crimes of Kagame’s troops in the Congo between 1993-2003, including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. These are the same sort of crimes Chief ICTR Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte’s 2009 English language memoir says were committed by Kagame’s troops in Rwanda in 1994, but her honesty cost her job in 2003 when she refused to follow U.S. orders NOT to prosecute Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) at the ICTR.
These U.N. documents also confirm the evidence I put in the ICTR record that acquitted my client of “conspiracy and planning to commit genocide” in a February 2009 judgment, for which I have been accused of “genocide denial” and “spreading rumors.” Observing that the ICTR judgment runs counter to the victor’s description on the internet of the how the war developed makes me a “genocide denier” in Rwanda. My “crime” has been to say that, if there was no long-term planning and conspiracy, the victor’s story of the “Rwandan genocide” must be re-examined.Professor Peter Erlinder
But my prosecution has larger implications as well. If U.N. immunity does not apply to any prosecution of defense counsel by the Kagame government, then all defense counsel and defendants have reason to fear that meaningful representation at the U.N. Tribunal will be impossible, especially since the former chief U.N. prosecutor has confirmed that Kagame and the RPF should be in the dock themselves.
Professor Peter Erlinder is the director of the International Humanitarian Law Institute at the William Mitchell College of Law, 875 Summit Av., St. Paul, Minn.