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Prof. Erlinder interview: “Both Hutus and Tutsis should accept responsibility for the Rwandan genocide”

Here is Peter Erlinder’s interview as reported by Ndze Ntuv Evaristus Tunka of the African News Journal.

Professor Peter Erlinder is no stranger to the international community. He is a distinguished Criminal Defense professor at William Mitchell College of Law, and a lead Defense Council for the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda based in Tanzania. He was recently arrested by the Rwandan government on allegations of ‘genocide denial’ while defending Victoire Ingabire – a Hutu politician and current presidential candidate who is charged with ‘propagating genocide ideology’ as well. Prof. Erlinder sat down with The African News Journal’s Ndze Ntuv Evaristus Tunka to talk about his ordeal in Rwanda.

ANJ: Thank you for talking with The African News Journal today. Most people might consider you a rogue lawyer, especially from your defense of such personalities as Mohammed Warsame, Sami Al-Arian, and now Victoire Ingabire….
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Erlinder: First I do not consider myself a rogue lawyer. I stand for the legal process and for justice. I think it is very important that we allow justice to take its course in any legal issue.

ANJ: So what made you decide to defend Victoire Ingabire?

Erlinder: Well, Victoire Ingabire has argued that both Hutus and Tutsis were responsible for the genocide in Rwanda, and that it was unjust to blame only one side for the genocide. I share this idea, as my research and findings from UN documents, US government documents, and trial documents at the ICTR on what happened in Rwanda show that both the Hutus and the rebel led FDR were responsible for mass killings in Rwanda. I think that all those who were responsible, be they Hutus or Tutsis should face justice.

ANJ: When you were arrested on May 28th, what was going through your mind? What were you thinking?

Erlinder: Well this is something that in order to talk about, I might probably have to spend some time thinking about it, and I’ll probably write about it at some point; but I wasn’t expecting to be arrested. However once I was arrested, my main concern was not to disappear and my view is that; had I not taken the initiative to force my captives to allow me to talk to the US Embassy, I’m not sure anybody would have known what had happened to me.

ANJ: How were you treated in the Rwandan jail and what were the conditions like?
Erlinder: What I’ve said to everybody that I have talked to, is that the people in Rwanda treated me quite well. The individuals that were charged with taking care of me treated me well under the circumstances. The conditions in the detention facility I was in were quite difficult per standards; that is no toilets, no beds, no blankets, and no food but this was quite normal to Rwandans, although most Rwandans in jail had family members who would bring them food, and what they needed to survive, but because I didn’t have that, and because the US Embassy was not so reliable, my situation was particularly difficult in that situation, but not because I was mistreated, but because I didn’t have the support that other detainees had. They kept me in a separate cell and the guards would go out and buy me food on the street so that I could have something to eat and some water to drink and no one beat me or mistreated me. But I saw other people being treated not so well, which made it more difficult for me psychologically, because I was really at the mercy of young kids with AK-47s.

ANJ: There were rumors of reports by Rwandan Prison Officials, stating that you tried to overdose on your medications, while you were behind bars. What is your reaction to these rumors?

Erlinder: Well I don’t have any comments on it in detail, but I do have medical problems that if I had been born and raised in Rwanda, I would have probably been dead by forty; but my problems are currently and I’m undergoing treatment, and as long as I get that treatment, then I’ll be ok. But being kept indefinitely in detention facilities with that kind of wasn’t really possible. That’s kind of what the danger was.

ANJ: After your release, the Rwandan government put out an official statement, stating that you were released on medical grounds, and they didn’t and have not dropped the charges against you…have you been formally charged by the Rwandan government?

Erlinder: The actual fact is that in the Rwandan system, it’s not necessary to be charged to be a suspect. Although I haven’t been formally charged, I’m still a formal suspect and the investigation I understand is continuing.

ANJ: Some Rwandans especially the Tutsis, who saw a huge population of their tribesmen murdered during the Rwandan genocide look at you, and might wonder why you are defending opposition leader Victoire Ingabire, who the Kagame regime has charged with alleged genocide denial and promoting genocide ideology. What would you say to them?

Erlinder: The best evidence produced by the Rwandan government/UN prosecutor during 7-years of trial resulted in the Tribunal finding that there was no conspiracy to commit genocide or ethnic killings at the level of the military or government leadership. The Rwandan government is in a difficult position because the majority of the population has a different ethnic and historical background because the leaders in Rwanda now are English speaking Rwandans who actually were raised and even born in Uganda. So that among people who had lived in Rwanda during the time they spoke French rather than English as a European language, the situation is difficult politically. I’m interested in seeing a peaceful democratic development in Rwanda, and I hope that, that happens.

ANJ: With regards to a democratic Rwanda, President Kagame has insisted that since his rise to power, Rwandans have been given the opportunity to participate democratically in the country’s politics; that he has encouraged decentralization has ensured a fair representation of women in government; and has secured economic growth for Rwanda. What is your assessment of this assertion?

Erlinder: I think my arrest is a pretty good indication about the range of discussion and debate that is possible in Rwanda. And I do think that the Rwandan government has many accomplishments. Kigali is a beautiful city and far away more developed than it was in 2004, which is the last time I was there. But on the question of opposition parties, there are none that are meaningful, and any significant disagreement with the current government is dangerous and under those circumstances, I think that the Rwandan people are going to have some difficulty in having a meaningful debate. What got Victoire Ingabire arrested was that on the day that she arrived in Rwanda, she went to the genocide memorial and she made note that the Rwandan government says that the umm….I’m using the word ‘Rwandan genocide’ because its common, not because I understand it the way every one does. She asked the question whether, because the government said it was genocide of Tutsis and moderate Hutus, which would mean that Hutus who defended Tutsis–and there were many; the question was “where is the memorial to the dead Hutus?” The Rwandan government insists that ONLY Tutsi were victims, but describes 1994 as: “a genocide of Tutsi and moderate Hutus” Ingabire got in trouble for pointing out that there are no memorials to Hutu victims, whether “moderate” or not. There are none in the country, and anyone who suggests that Hutus were also victims during that period has the same faith as Victoire Ingabire and-me. And suggesting that both sides committed crimes is a crime, according to the Rwandan government. That’s what my arrest shows.

ANJ: Some Rwandans and even some member states of the African Union have questioned why the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) is based in Tanzania; arguing that it would best address crime and issues of the Rwandan genocide if it was housed in Rwanda. What is your reaction to this?

Erlinder: When you’ve had a civil war, and one side has won the civil war, how can you set up a neutral tribunal of the sort in the country? I don’t think that would be possible in any country. And to suggest that it is possible in Africa, I think it’s unlikely. Also I want to make it clear, that I have never said that large numbers of Tutsis were not killed. However the most recent evidence, not by me, but by Allan Stam at the University of Michigan and Christian Davenport of Notre Dame. They analyzed all the reports that all the NGOs had, and all the reports that the Rwandan government had, and they came to the conclusion that there were twice as many Hutus killed as Tutsis. We have to think through what really happened. But I can say that from the experience of other countries, if there is a civil war and one side wins the war, it’s unlikely that they’re going to give the side they defeated the benefit of doubt, and that happened in the US civil war as well. The US controlled the South militarily for twenty years or more and for a long time, it wasn’t even possible for us to discuss the idea that the Confederate states had a significant that could be defended, and they were also blamed for everything. When there’s a civil war, that’s what happens, different sides tell different stories.

ANJ: Are you still the Defense Council for Victoire Ingabire?

Erlinder: No, I was never given the opportunity to defend her. I had applied for accreditation from the Rwandan Bar, and it was never granted, and even when I got to Rwanda to represent her, I was arrested and sent to jail. She does have a different Defense Council, however, I have kept in touch with her every now and then…and would be willing to give her my advice if she requests it.

ANJ: Thank you again for meeting and talking with The African News Journal, and also thank you for your commitment with the ICTR, your stand for justice, and for your continuous defense of the suppressed.

Erlinder: Thank you too, and it was marvelous that the ICTR stood behind me in my time of need. My opinion is that the support I got from around world was significant in my release; and of course, you know that there have been assassinations and the lawyer who replaced me as Ingabire’s defense attorney was arrested and tortured, so I consider myself lucky.

[Twin City Daily Planet]

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August 17, 2010   2 Comments

Critics intensify campaign against Rwanda rigged elections


“Whoever does not like the Rwanda way of democracy should go and hang”
Paul Kagame.

Kigali – Hours after President Kagame firing at his fierce foreign critics telling them to “go hung” (see Defiant Kagame tells critics: You “can go hung”), they are countering with a drive to put Rwanda in the spotlight – less than seven days to the presidential poll on Monday next week.

In Washington, several campaign groups, individuals and American politicians have organised a conference on Tuesday to protest against the August 09 election they say is a foregone conclusion.

The American attorney Prof. Peter Erlinder jailed for three weeks here on charges of Genocide denial will be also be there at the Washington event. Erlinder said he would have never come to Rwanda if he had known what the political climate was like.

“I thought with the election coming up and with the many nice things that the United States government has said about the Rwandan government recently and the progress that it has made … Unfortunately what is happening now raises serious questions about whether that progress was real or whether we really do have a military dictatorship that is being supported by our government. It raises a lot of very difficult questions,” Erlinder said.

Fear, nervousness… no freedoms

Following the arrest of Erlinder, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at the time she understood the anxiety of Rwanda’s leadership over what they view as genocide denial, but she urged Rwanda not to undermine its remarkable progress by beginning to move away from positive actions.

Analyst Steve McDonald, with the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, recently returned from Rwanda and was also said disturbed by what he experienced.

“The fear is palpable, the nervousness, the feeling that there is no freedom of speech and association and gathering in the society and I think this could be disastrous,” he said.

He says he believes President Kagame is refusing post-genocide reconciliation as a means to exert his authority. But McDonald is not surprised he has received praise and many awards in the United States, including the Clinton Global Citizen Award last year, from former President Bill Clinton.

“Kagame is an extremely energetic, extremely intelligent man who has fully taken advantage of many of the hot buttons that he knows the West cares about, that is economic progress, that is environmental concern, that is furthering information technology,” McDonald said.

“He is taking the lead on the international stage that originally put him among these new African leaders during the Clinton administration, including Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia, and [Yoweri] Museveni in Uganda.”

“Just election hype”

McDonald says since then he believes these leaders have failed their countries in terms of democracy and human rights.

President Kagame himself has denied his government has been behind any of the killings, and has accused the western critics of making up a crisis in his country which does not exist.

“Why would government be that stupid? I never knew I would be in a government that would be seen as that stupid, that would kill journalists, opposition leaders, one after another, you kill and you kill, as if there is anything to gain from it,” Kagame said at a press conference July 20, just hours before he launched his campaign drive.

In a policy statement to a US Congress committee of lawmakers in May, top U.S. diplomat for Africa, Johnnie Carson, said the political environment in Rwanda was in his words “riddled by a series of worrying actions.”

In response, Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo shot back in an email message to RNA saying that was “an out-of-Rwanda reading of the situation in Rwanda, with added election hype.”

Election will be “free and fair”

Africa advocacy groups holding a protest conference Tuesday in Washington say foreign election observers in Rwanda will be a waste of money.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) says in a new crisis assessment that Rwanda there is increasing “political violence and a shrinking of the democratic space” ahead of the polls.

“Although the government denies any involvement, this month’s events should be seen as part of an alarming trend towards repression and intimidation, which could have serious security implications come next month’s elections,” said ICG in the assessment released August 01.

The donor community meanwhile seems to have given a clean-bill to the elections, indicating that the polls will be “free and fair”.

The European Union said last week that the introduction of a revised electoral code should ensure a peaceful and technically sound ballot, following the European Union’s recommendations after the 2008 legislative elections where they found procedural irregularities in over half the polling stations.

Frans Makken, Dutch ambassador and co-chair of the EU fund for the NEC, said results will be published outside polling stations and ballot boxes numbered to aid transparency.

“The electoral law has been adjusted for the better, thousands of volunteers have received training, instructions have been adjusted in line with EU observations. We trust that the conduct of the elections will be free and fair,” Makken told Reuters Friday.

With additional reporting from VOA and agencies

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August 3, 2010   2 Comments

Kagame warns foreign countries on supporting Rwandan opposition

Kigali – President Kagame said Tuesday that it was not his responsibility to create an opposition – but also lashed out at foreign forces that he accused of trying to establish opposition parties in Rwanda, RNA reports.

“Let me tell you this. Some people think it is their job to create the oppositions in Rwanda – and that is the biggest mistake they are making,” Kagame told journalists before he headed to the National Stadium to launch his election campaign.

“You may create an opposition, but who manages it: will you create it from outside and keep managing it from inside? It will be difficult for you and those you have created,” said Kagame.

“First of all, as an outsider, you have no business creating anything political in another country.”

The President was responding to questions by a Kenyan and Ugandan journalist who had asked whether the parties which are taking part in the presidential polls were the “legitimate opposition”. Critics have branded the three parties competing against the RPF in the polls which started Tuesday, as stooges of the ruling party.

In raised tone, and gesturing in seeming irritation, the President dismissed the use of the description “legitimate opposition” to refer to groups such as the FDU-Inkingi and its leader Victoire Ingabire.

“A legitimate opposition is that which develops by itself through the conditions that exist. Not the opposition you create in your mind or practically…then that is not a legitimate opposition,” said the President, who at some point seemed to be enjoying the questions the foreign journalists were putting to him.

Rights organizations and international media say by charging Ingabire and Bernard Ntaganda of PS Imberakuri, government is silencing the real opposition.

The President instead accused Europe and other countries he did not name of being the ones which are delaying the speedy trail of Ingabire, against who, he said government had overwhelming evidence.

The firry politician is facing some three counts including links to the FDLR rebels and Genocide ideology, but the Prosecutor General Martin Ngoga said in June that countries holding crucial evidence were not coming forth despite formal requests.

Ngoga named Holland, United States, Belgium, Switzerland, DR Congo and Burundi – as the countries where Ingabire networked with the FDLR militias.


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July 20, 2010   No Comments

Rwandan Journalist Arrested for Comparing President Kagame to Hitler

Rwandan President Paul Kagame compared to Hitler

Rwandan President Paul Kagame compared to Hitler

Kigali – Rwandan police have arrested an independent journalist for comparing President Paul Kagame with the Nazi German leader Adolf Hitler, police said, but an official denied her detention was linked to upcoming elections.

Saidati Mukakibibi, a journalist who works for independent newspaper Umurabyo, was arrested for defamation, inciting public disorder and ethnic “divisionism”, police spokesman Eric Kayiranga said on Monday.

“She wrote articles through the paper comparing President Kagame to Hitler. Behind his picture they put insignia of the Nazis,” Kayiranga said. “The articles were causing public disorder in terms of causing divisionism and spreading rumours that can cause insecurity.”

Here is the article written by Saidati Mukakibibi in UMURABYO Nr 29:

Kagame azaba uwande mu bihe biri imbere?

Kagame’s administration says free speech must be tempered by concerns about stoking ethnic enmity which led to the 1994 genocide in which 800,000 Rwandans were killed.

Police also detained Umurabyo’s editor last week. But authorities deny charges by rights groups that the government is clamping down on critical opposition and journalists before presidential elections in August.

Rwanda’s Media High Council (MHC) said Mukakibibi’s arrest was not linked to the upcoming ballot, which Kagame is expected to win by a large majority.

“What worries us most is that she has written things that are criminal in nature. Should law enforcement organs keep quiet because of elections?” MHC executive director Patrice Murama told Reuters.

Police arrested the paper’s editor and owner Agnes Uwimana on charges of genocide denial and stirring ethnic hatred. Uwimana has previously served a one year jail term for inciting ethnic divisions and defamation.

Two other critical newspapers were suspended in April on similar charges but international media rights groups described the move as a veiled attempt at censorship.

In June, Rwandan journalist Rugambage was shot dead outside his home in Kigali after writing a report linking Rwandan security services to the alleged assassination attempt on dissident general Kayumba Nyamwasa in exile in South Africa.

The government denies being behind either shooting.


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July 13, 2010   2 Comments

Rwanda: Newspaper editor skips media council summon, given last chance

Kigali: A troubled female publisher of the Kinyarwanda tabloid UMURABYO Agnes Uwimana on Friday refused to attend a scheduled hearing of her case by the Media High Council which has threatened to close the paper.

The media council summoned her Friday to renew the demand that she apologises to the country and all those she has allegedly offended in her part.

The Council had ruled on May 27, after summoning Uwimana that she makes corrections to several stories which negate the Tutsi Genocide, undermine government programs and threaten national security.

The content in Issues 21 and 23 reportedly defame President Kagame and several other government officials. In Issue 21, the paper describes the President as somebody who does not listen to any advice from anybody, according to Council documents.

The paper is also accused of running content which promotes the double Genocide theory. The Media Council says in Issue 23, UMURABYO apparently writes that: “All Rwandans slaughtered each other during the Genocide.”

Though Uwimana did not attend the Friday media council summon, she admitted to journalists in attendance after the May summon that her paper had serious errors which would be corrected. But more copies have been published every Monday, and there have been no retractions.

The Council said Friday that the paper has a last chance to publish the apologies or the law will take its course – including a lengthy suspension. The paper also faces possible complete ban from the streets, says the council.

Uwimana was jailed about two years ago and the paper suspended for articles in the same paper deemed to have been promoting ethnic divisionism.

It returned to the streets early this year, but rose to fame with the ongoing suspension of the two controversial tabloids UMUSESO and UMUVUGIZI.


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June 26, 2010   1 Comment

California Lawyers Demand Immediate Release of American Attorney Peter Erlinder Imprisoned in Rwanda

Erlinder with his lawyer on his way back to the Kigali Central PrisonErlinder with his lawyer on his way back to the Kigali Central Prison.

Attorneys Call On California House Members to Support Resolution For Peter Erlinder.

California lawyers and activists are joining others from around the world calling for the release of Minnesota attorney and law professor Peter Erlinder from the central prison in Kigali, Rwanda.
Erlinder was arrested late last month shortly after arriving in Rwanda to join the defense team of Rwandan presidential candidate Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza.
Professor Erlinder is a well known human rights lawyer and professor of law at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul Minnesota. He has also served as president of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) and remains active on the organization’s international committee.

NLG chapters in Los Angeles and San Francisco are calling on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and other California members of the U.S. House and Senate to publicly support House Resolution 1426 urging the Government of the Republic of Rwanda and President Paul Kagame to immediately release Erlinder from jail and allow him to return to the United States.

“Erlinder’s imprisonment and charges are purely political,” said Carlos Villarreal, Executive Director of the San Francisco Bay Area NLG. “This is an attack on lawyers and the rights of individuals to vigorous representation when they are charged with a crime.”

Support for Erlinder is widespread. Paul Rusesabagina, the man who inspired the film Hotel Rwanda, released a statement on his website saying, “Professor Peter Erlinder was doing his job as a lawyer. In a civil society that is not grounds for arrest. If President Kagame considers Rwanda a democracy, he must release Professor Erlinder immediately.”

Both the U.S. State Department and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda have called on the Rwandan government to release Erlinder. More pressure is needed, however, as Professor Erlinder will remain in prison during the Rwandan Governments “investigation,” which has no mandated deadline for completion.

Professor Erlinder was charged with the crime of “genocide ideology” – essentially a thought crime widely abused by Rwanda to punish opponents of the current government. According to a 2009 Human Rights Watch report: “Largely aimed at the Hutu population, [genocide ideology] offenses permit, among other measures, the government to send away children of any age to rehabilitation centers for up to one year—including for the teasing of classmates—and for parents and teachers to face sentences of 15 to 25 years for the child’s conduct. The government has repeatedly accused the Voice of America, the British Broadcasting Corporation and other media outlets, as well as Human Rights Watch, of promoting genocide ideology; accusations these organizations deny.

The National Lawyers Guild is taking a stand on behalf of our friend and member Peter Erlinder. We welcome the introduction of House Resolution 1426 and urge our California Congressional Delegation to support the measure and publicly reiterate the State Department’s call for the release of Peter Erlinder.

[The National Lawyers Guild] – June 16.
CONTACT: National Lawyers Guild
Carlos Villarreal 415.377.6961 (San Francisco) or
James Lafferty 323.653.4510 (Los Angeles)

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June 17, 2010   1 Comment

Former UN investigator and prosecutor defends Peter Erlinder and pleads for truth disclosure about Rwanda genocide

Here is the “ill-informed” article written in the Guardian by Andrew Wallis, an unconditional admirer of Paul Kagame:

Genocide law on trial

Peter Erlinder, the US defence lawyer at the international court for Rwanda (ICTR), was arrested for breaking the law on genocide denial in Rwanda. This is not a matter of “repression” of freedom of expression by the government in Kigali (Rwanda genocide tribunal under threat after US lawyer’s detention, 9 June). Mr Erlinder has made clear in speeches defending key genocide perpetrators at the ICTR, and at conference events such as that held in Belgium two weeks ago which welcomed wanted Rwandan genocide suspects alongside him as speakers, that he believes there was no organised genocide in 1994.

Would Germany, with its strict Holocaust denial laws, be expected to allow genocide deniers to work and promulgate their views in its society and open court? Yet again it seems there is one law for the west and one for Africa when it comes to genocide. The western media would do better to focus on the dozens of Rwandan suspects living in Europe with the apparent complicity – or at least judicial and political apathy – of governments here.

Dr Andrew Wallis

University of Cambridge
in The Guardian, Monday 14 June 2010.

[About holocaust versus Rwanda genocide, read Rwanda Circa 1994 is No Nazi Germany by Aimable.]

To the Editor
Guardian Newspaper
15 June 2010

Dear Sir/Madam: I was stunned by the recent ill informed remarks of Dr. Andrew Wallis, University of Cambridge in your newspaper on 14 June 2010 regarding Rwanda’s arrest and prosecution of American lawyer Peter Erlinder for alledgedly denying the Rwandan genocide contrary to Rwanda’s domestic criminal code.

I am a former Investigations Team Leader with the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (‘ICTR’) from 1996-1997. I and my colleagues were charged with investigating and arresting those persons involved in the widespread slaughter of countless thousands of civilians in Rwanda between January-December 1994. I was also charged with investigating those persons responsible for the fatal rocket attack on the Rwandan Presidential aircraft.

I feel qualified to speak in defence of Dr. Erlinder.

He is a UN defence lawyer. I am a former UN investigator and prosecutor. We effectively sit on opposite sides of the bar table before the international community. But we are one in our search for the truth about the real causes of, and culprits responsible for, the Rwandan Genocide.

I join the many lawyers and human rights advocates from around the world who now come to his defence.

I can tell you from personal experience that the ICTR has totally failed to investigate fully and impartially the real causes of the Rwandan genocide. It has failed to hold accountable all those responsible for the slaughter of an estimated 1,000,000 men, women and children in Rwanda in 1994. It has prosecuted only the losers of the genocide. It has buckled to international pressure to keep secret the involvement of foreign powers in the events which led up the to slaughter.
There is overwhelming credible evidence suggesting prima facie that Paul Kagame and his armed forces were involved the in slaughter of many thousands of civilians in Rwanda in 1994 and 1995.
There is significant credible evidence on the public record linking President Kagame with the shooting down of the Rwandan presidential aircraft in 1994 killing the Presidents of Rwanda and Burundi and all others on board.

Paul Kagame and his regime in Rwanda has for many years now successfully denied these allegations in the press accusing any and all who touches on them as ‘genocide deniers’. What Kagame and his administration are saying, in effect, is that anyone who points the finger at Kagame and his RPF regime alleging their complicity in the violation of international law (no matter how credible the evidence) is a ‘genocide denier’. The net effect is, a ‘genocide denier’ under Rwanda law, is someone who challenges the carefully crafted victor’s history in Rwanda that only one side slaughtered civilians and assassinated political opposition.

I am stunned at the way the West now embraces Kagame and how universities flock to award him for his leadership in Rwanda. Quite apart from the serious allegations leveled at Kagame and his troops for their involvement in war crimes in 1994, many respected human rights advocates have for years complained of his repressive regime and its intolerance of policitcal opposition. One need only look at the recent events concerning the arrest of prosecution of Rwandan opposition leader, Victoire Ingabire, the leader of the United Democratic Forces, who had been attempting to register her party and is now under house arrest for allegedly denying the 1994 genocide.

Kagame’s fingerprints are all over so much suffering in Rwanda and the Great Lakes Region and Dr. Wallis had the real opportunity to join the international struggle to properly document what really happened in Rwanda in 1994, as well as, call for a full independent international inquiry into Kagame’s involvement in the murders of Rwandan President Habyarimana, his counterpart Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira, and the many countless others who have perished in Rwanda.

If to speak of these topics is to be a genocide denier then I am one too.

Michael Hourigan


June 16, 2010   11 Comments

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 prosecutor says Erlinder’s american lawyer Kurt Kerns could be expelled

Kigali – Government is demanding that Mr. Kurt Kerns publicly appologise to the Rwanda National Police or the three lawyers to embattled Prof. Peter Erlinder are forced out of the country, Prosecutor General Martin Ngoga said.

Mr. Kerns is currently leading the three-man defense team of detained Erlinder. The others are Kenyan attorneys Kennedy Ogetto and Gershom Otachi – who have acquired accreditation for the defense of the embattled Erlinder.

Kurt Kerns is one of the three lawyers with Prof. Erlinder who have filed last month a lawsuit in US State of Oklahoma against President Kagame for the alleged assassination of the Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana and his Burundian counterpart Cyprien Ntaryamira.
More about the Oklahoma court case:
- Oklahoma Lawsuit Alleges Rwandan President Paul Kagame Triggered Rwanda Genocide
- Lawsuit in Oklahoma (US) district court against Rwandan President Paul Kagame et al. – full document

Prosecutor General Ngoga told an impromptu press conference in the morning that Mr. Kerns was propagating information in the American media that Rwandan Police are “killers” who could even poison the detainee Erlinder.

Mr. Kerns must extend a public apology to the National Police or he could be barred from staying in the country along with his co-attorneys, according to Ngoga, at the press briefing in which no questions were allowed.

In one of the American newspapers, Mr. Kerns said Monday: “It’s a Rwandan jail, there are mosquitoes, not enough blankets, overcrowded conditions.”

He was commenting on the hospitalization of his client Mr. Erlinder. Mr. Kerns also described the case against his client as “ridiculously weak” and “pathetic”, to a US radio station.

Mr. Kurt Kerns is not new to trouble. He is one of the three lawyers with Prof. Erlinder who have filed a suit in US State of Oklahoma against President Kagame for the alleged assassination of the ex- Rwandan and Burundian presidents. Mr. Kerns is also the defense attorney of 83-year-old Genocide suspect Lazare Kobagaya, currently on trail on the state of Kansas.

RNA has not been able to secure comment from the defense team, but the BBC Kinyarwanda service reported Wednesday evening that Kennedy Ogetto – one of the Kenyan defense attorneys was shocked to be informed that Prof. Erlinder had been hospitalized over alleged suicide.

Police had told reporters at around mid-day that Mr. Erlinder had swallowed 50 tablets of three medications including Sertraline for depression, Metoprolol for hypertension and simvastatin for high blood pressure.

Assistant Commissioner of Police Dr. Daniel Nyamaswa, who also heads the newly built high-end Police hospital, said after the suicide attempt, the medication was removed from Erlinder and he will be taking the drugs from the doctors at King Faisal Hospital.

“I do not want to stay in prison anymore, I prefer to die,” said Erlinder to doctors, after making him vomit all the medications and recovering from the traumatic experience, according to ACP Dr. Nyamaswa.

However, attorney Ogetto told the BBC Kinyarwanda service that he had not been able to see their client by 1900hours. Apparently, when he met Erlinder in the morning, he was in normal health, and that doctors had requested he be allowed to rest for another 24hours to recover from the Monday hospitalization.

Meanwhile, the Prosecutor General Ngoga told the press that Erlinder is “retracting everything” that he has said about the Tutsi Genocide. “Part of what Erlinder is saying in our statements now is that he is retracting everything he has said with respect to the Genocide,” said Ngoga.

The country’s top prosecutor revealed that Erlinder had committed to leave the country immediately if he is released, and will never return except with an invitation from the authorities.

Ngoga said all these statements had been made in the presence of his lawyer, but it was not clear which of the three attorneys.

However, attorney Ogetto reportedly expressed shock at information he was getting from media reports such as RNA suggesting Erlinder was giving-in.

By press time, it was not clear if the defense had managed to meet Erlinder.


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June 3, 2010   No Comments

Prof. Peter Erlinder’s arbitrary arrest by Rwandan authorities is a shame

We are saddened to witness powerlessly the arrest and arbitrary detention of Professor Peter Erlinder, the lead council of Ms. Victoire Ingabire, in Kigali on 28th May 2010. He was arrested by Rwandan authorities while he was working on the case of the Chair of FDU-Inkingi who is accused of genocide ideology and collaboration with a Rwandan terrorist group. He is accused of genocide ideology as well.

It is our highest duty to raise the serious concern about the impossibility of fair trial as the cases of Ms. Victoire Ingabire and Professor Peter Erlinder are concerned.

The arrest of the lead defence council of an opposition leader and a presidential candidate deepens the political crisis as the August 2010 presidential elections loom. This happens only a few days after an abusive statement of President Kagame boasting his upper hand on the Rwandan judiciary, and echoing his chief Prosecutor’s public statements that there is overwhelming evidence that Ms. Victoire is guilty. Curiously, they don’t transfer their final charges to a Court of law.

“The fact that this disinformation campaign originates from the highest levels of the Rwandan government was confirmed by President Kagame’s lengthy comments to the Monitor on May 23, 2010 in which he personally inserted himself directly in the legal case against the opposition leader, despite the fact that the case had been initiated by the Kagame administration’s Chief Prosecutor Ngoga, and which will be heard by courts that are dependent upon the Kagame administration for their appointment and tenure”.

A fair trial is being violated because international lawyers would fear that their motions will lead to indictments being issued against them for ideology of genocide.

In the eyes of this controversial Rwandan law on ideology of genocide, the defence or testimony to show the truth about the killings in Rwanda before, during and after the genocide would be taken as a proof of negation of the genocide. Then, the lawyers, experts’ witnesses and factual witnesses would fear the intimidation and threats to be arrested because of their positions to portray different views from Kagame’s regime.

These threats to be arrested raise the concerns of possibility of fair trial since the lawyers and experts would fear to give evidences about the truth expressed by Ms. Victoire Ingabire when she arrived in Rwanda mentioning that the Rwandan nation has to pay homage to all the victims of the tragedy without considering their ethnic backgrounds.

The arrest of Professor Peter Erlinder is not consistent with the freedom of fair trial and juridical representation since it tends to be extended to any lawyer who will come to defend the case.

Considering the whole dimension of this biased legal environment, threats, intimidation and frequent presidential interferences, I have informed the Prosecutor during today’s criminal interrogation that I will recourse, with immediate effect, to my right to remain silent until proper court hearings start.

Ms. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza

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June 1, 2010   No Comments