Interview: Professor Peter Erlinder Talks About International Criminal Tribunal For Rwanda
Judges at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha Tanzania have removed Peter Erlinder, law professor at William Mitchell College of Law in Minnesota, and defense counsel for a major Rwandan genocide suspect, Maj. Aloys Ntabakuze. Mr. Erlinder was removed because he refused to continue the case. Mr. Erlinder said he did not appear because he feared his life would be in danger from the Rwandan government. Tribunal spokesman, Roland Amoussouga, called Mr. Erlinder’s claims an “excuse” and his conduct “unprofessional.” “He is no longer a counselor in the tribunal here,” and that “He has no standing.”
AfrobeatRadio’s Wuyi Jacobs spoke to Peter Erlinder:
AR/Wuyi Jacobs: How would you responds to the ICTR sanctions on you for not returning to Arusha, Tanzania?
Peter Erlinder: Well, I believe that returning to Arusha puts my life in danger or my liberty at danger and I asked for security, and assurances from the Rwanda government that my safety will be protected through the United Nations, and, they weren’t able to provide me with that. But even if I had been provided with that, I continue to suffer psychological reactions to my detention in Rwanda, and I am not sure I could’ve functioned well as lawyer for my client.
I requested that the tribunal allow me to appear for the four hours, this is only four hours after eight years of this trial, keep in mind, to allow me make my final argument by video. The tribunal has allowed many witnesses to appear by video. It’s a very common thing. Or to allow me to make the arguement in the Hague, which is where the Appeals chamber is based. They denied that, insisted that I appear in person, which is, I think putting my life at risk.
They also denied postponing the hearing until June, which is when my co-counsel, who doesn’t face the same threats that I do, could have been able to make the arguement. He had been ill, and had actually been in an accident. Or to allow me to replace him with another lawyer who would also not be under threat. So it’s not just a question of my not appearing there, it’s the court not being willing to accept any of the other alternatives that will not require me to place my life at risk.
I also have to add, that my client waived my appearance at the hearing and was willing to go forward himself because he’s been found not guilty of fully ninety-five percent of the charges against him, and there are four rather small incidents remaining in the case. We’ve had them fully briefed. He shouldn’t have been convicted of them because they’re incidents that were not charged in the indictment. And he waived my presence at the hearing and was prepared to go forward himself, but the chamber will not permit him to do so.
AR: What is the impact of this sanction on the case?
Peter Erlinder: The impact on the case is likely not to be very much at all. It’s, as I mention, a four hour oral argument and for relatively minor issues after eight years of trial.
AR: Can you give us a brief summary of what’s going on here?
Peter Erlinder: Well, the Rwanda tribunal is the only tribunal in history that’s been given the mandate of prosecuting all of the crimes that occurred during the war and has prosecuted only the side that lost the war. That means that either this is the only war in history in which only one side committed crimes or, like the Nuremberg and the Tokyo tribunals, it’s a tribunal that’s being manipulated in order to shift all of the blame to one side.
My client and his other co-defendants were found not guilty of conspiracy to commit Genocide because I found evidence in UN files, to which I am the only lawyer that had access, that show that the side that won the war, the current government, actually is responsible for many of the crimes that were committed during the Rwanda Genocide, and actually was responsible for triggering the Rwanda Genocide, and they had the military capability to stop the mass killings and refused to do so because they were winning the war.
That isn’t my conclusion. That’s what the conclusions were in the UN documents. I put those into evidence. My client was acquitted of conspiracy to commit Genocide, as were the other military officers. I put that evidence before the trial chamber. They were acquitted, and in the course of explaining to the Appeals chamber why it was that I thought I was under threat in returning to Arusha. I explained that Paul Kagame had issued a wanted dead or alive order for me, that we were able to confirm that my arrest in Rwanda was based, in reality, upon the fact that I had the evidence showing that Kagame had assassinated the previous two presidents, and the RPF was actually responsible for many of the crimes during the Genocide, which was confirmed by the former prosecutor for the ICTR, Carla Del Ponte, and was then later confirmed by the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights and the Mapping Report in October 2010. And it was actually because I put that evidence before the court that implicated the RPF as the guilty party.
That was what in my opinion caused them to take the action that they did. Not because I commited some professional misconduct, because, no lawyer’s required to put their life at risk for their professional work.
AR: What impact will this have on your career back here in the US?
Peter Erlinder: Well, outside of the ICTR, which is a world to itself, there isn’t an institution in the United States that would expect that. When the full record is put before any rational bar association or court in the United States, and the court or the bar association sees the medical report that was submitted to the ICTR showing that I was having severe medical difficulties that prevented me from being able to function on behalf of my client if I were to go to Arusha; that I had documented numerous threats to my life and safety over many months to the tribunal; that I had requested numerous alternatives to my personal appearance before the tribunal; that I have requested replacement of co-counsel; that I had requested video appearance; that I have done everything I possibly could to have some alternative other than the alternative that I couldn’t possibly fulfill for medical reasons even if I were to go to Arusha.
And, after my client waived my appearance, saying that he didn’t want me to be there, he wanted to go forward on his own, and then afterwards, for my co-counsel to say he could go forward in June, and or, for me to say I could go forward either at the Hague or by video link. I think any entity outside the ICTR will find it incomprehinsible as to why it was I would be sanctioned. In the world outside the ICTR bubble, it would appear completely bizarre.
AR: So, you do thing that you are being unfairly targeted?
Peter Erlinder: For the fifteen years, the ICTR has not prosecuted one member of the RPF, although, the investigative teams recommended to Louise Arbour, in 1997, that Kagame should be prosecuted for the assasination of Habyarimana and Ntaryamira, and that investigative team was fired. In 2003, Carla Del Ponte announced that she had the evidence to prosecute Kagame and she had the evidence to prosecute RPF for massive crimes, and they should be in the dock. She was fired within two months.
Her deputy wrote a book explaining all of these in 2007, she was prosecuted criminally in the ICTY. When Carla Del Ponte’s book came out. she was told, on pains of losing her diplomatic status with Switzerland, that she was not allowed to speak about her book.
This is the first time that any lawyer has been succesful in putting into the trial court record, and into the Appeals record the evidence that Carla Del Ponte talked about that got her fired. It seems to me that the reality is obvious.
AR: Finally, the evidence that you talked about just now, are they the same as in the book that you recently published?
Peter Erlinder: Part of the evidence is in the book but not all of it. There’s more of the evidence in the record. There’s the military 1 case. More of the evidence is on the website, rwandadocumentsproject.net, and more of it is in my possession, and will be in a much larger book that I am in the process of writing. But, the point is what caused me to be arrested last summer was that Kagame understands that I have that evidence, and because I put that evidence before the Appeal chamber, that is the reason that the Appeal chamber prefer that I not continue before the chamber, because it is enormous embarrasment to the Appeals chamber because it shows that the whole tribunal is a fraud.
AR: Thank you very much for talking to AfrobeatRadio on this very important subject.
Peter Erlinder: My pleasure.