UN Tribunal ICTR urges Rwanda not to summon U.S. lawyer Peter Erlinder
Kigali – The Tanzania-based international tribunal hearing the cases of Rwandan genocide suspects urged the central African nation on Friday not to prosecute a U.S. lawyer over a charge of genocide denial. Rwanda’s chief prosecutor Martin Ngoga on Wednesday said American lawyer Peter Erlinder could be summoned within two weeks. Denying the 1994 genocide, during which about 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were butchered to death, is a crime in Rwanda.
Roland Amoussouga, spokesman for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), said Rwanda would have to respect Erlinder’s court immunity if the charges related to his work at the tribunal.
“Rwanda has the right to go ahead and prosecute Erlinder. However, they have also committed to respect the functional immunity he has at the tribunal,” Amoussouga told Reuters by telephone from the court’s base in Arusha.
“Prosecution can only go on if it is in relation to his private work and not with work related to the ICTR,” Amoussouga said.
Rwanda arrested Erlinder on charges of genocide denial in May when he flew to the country to defend opposition leader Victoire Ingabire, who had been arrested over accusations of belonging to a terrorist group and promoting genocide ideology.
Erlinder was released on bail on health grounds a month later although the charges remained. Ngoga said at the time the charges related remarks made in earlier statements and publications but did not cite specific comments.
Ngoga said Rwanda would turn to Interpol if Erlinder failed to respond to an eventual summons.
“He is a lawyer and he knows the consequences of jumping bail,” the chief prosecutor told an ICTR news conference on Wednesday.
Under a 2003 law, persons condemned for denying or grossly minimising genocide, attempting to justify genocide or destroy evidence related to it are liable to a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of 20 in prison.
Rwanda last week re-arrested Ingabire who was barred from standing in August’s presidential election which Kagame won by a landslide.
Members of her unregistered United Democratic Forces (UDF) party fear for her health and said she had been visited by a paramedic on Friday. “We call again for a medical parole without any further delay,” UDF said in a statement.