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Lawyers urge Rwanda to release detained U.S.
Tue Jun 8, 2010 12:58pm EDT
KAMPALA (Reuters) - International lawyers condemned on Tuesday the
extended detention in Rwanda of a U.S. lawyer accused of denying genocide
and said it was disrupting the work of the country's tribunal into the killings.
Peter Erlinder, the first foreigner accused under Rwanda's 2008 genocide
ideology law, was arrested in May and pleaded not guilty at a hearing last
week. Facing a minimum sentence of 10 years imprisonment, he was denied
bail on Monday.
"Lawyers must be assured that they can carry out their work without fear of
interference, influence and imprisonment," said Allison Turner, a council
member of the International Criminal Bar (ICB).
Speaking at a review conference of the International Criminal Court in
Kampala, Turner told reporters Erlinder's arrest has "galvanized the
international legal community" and several lawyer associations had
condemned the actions of Rwandan authorities.
Turner, also a member of the defense counsel association of the International
Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), said Erlinder's arrest was disrupting the
tribunal's operations, with five defense teams filing motions saying it was too
dangerous to represent an accused.
The ICTR, based in Tanzania, was set up in 1994 by the U.N. Security Council
to try those responsible for the Rwandan genocide. So far it has tried 50 people
and convicted 41.
Erlinder went to Rwanda to defend outspoken presidential candidate Victoire
Ingabire, head of the United Democratic Forces movement. Ingabire was
arrested on suspicion of genocide denial and belonging to a terrorist group in
April and released on bail.
Erlinder is a law professor in the United States and has acted as lead defense
counsel for top genocide suspects at the ICTR.
Rwanda's genocide laws have been criticized for being vague and used by the
government to silence dissent, but Rwanda denied on Monday its genocide
laws were political or symbolic.
Turner said the International Criminal Bar was now seeking talks with the
United Nations and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon about Erlinder's
arrest and has informed the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi
Turner stressed an agreement between the United Nations and Tanzania
granted immunity to ICTR defense lawyers and the U.N. Convention on Rights
and Privileges bound Rwanda to respect this functional immunity.
Last week, the United States called for Erlinder's release on compassionate
grounds because he had complained of panic attacks and heart problems that
required treatment at home.
(Reporting by Aaron Gray-Block)
The arrest in Rwanda of United States lawyer Professor Peter
Erlinder has drawn the wrath of international human rights
lawyers at the International Criminal Court review conference in
by David Rupiny in Kampala
The International Criminal Defence Attorneys Association (ICDAA) has
strongly condemned and protested Erlinder’s arrest as “an attack on the right
to counsel and the independence of counsel”.
ADAD’s AllisonTurner told reporters at the conference that Erlinder’s arrest is
also an attack on the independence of the International Criminal Tribunal for
“Professor Erlinder’s arrest is an attack on the freedom of speech and a
politically motivated attempt to further frustrate the democratic process in
Rwanda,” said Turner.
Erlinder, a professor at William Mitchell College of Law in Minnesota, was
arrested on May 28th in Kigali, Rwanda, on charges of genocide negation. He
is the defence counsel for Major Aloys Ntabakuze, one of the four accused
persons in the Military I trial, and whose ICTR conviction is now before the
Erlinder had gone to Rwanda because he has been retained by Rwandan
opposition leader, Victoire Ingabire, the leader of the United Democratic
Forces, who has been attempting to register her party and is under house
arrest for allegedly denying the 1994 genocide.
Reports suggest Erlinder is being detained at the notorious Kicukiro detention
centre in Kigali where he was interrogated for over three hours after which he
fell ill, suffering from hypertension.
Allison Turner of ICDAA says they have got reports that Erlinder is in dire
“He is being held in terrible conditions; every time he leaves his little cell he is
handcuffed including [during] visits to the wash room,” said Turner at the
sidelines of the Kampala ICC conference.
She added: “Professor Erlinder’s health is not good; his US doctors had
advised him to undergo a heart procedure in a few months”.
After the Rwanda police announced that it had formally concluded their
investigation with sufficient evidence and handed over the matter to the Office
of the General Prosecutor, the prosecution commenced additional
This time round, the prosecution is questioning Erlinder on the charges of
“threatening the national security of Rwanda by spreading malicious rumours”
and “denying the genocide against the Tutsis and advancing a “genocide
Erlinder’s lawyers’ requests for bail have been denied with the prosecution
saying they are “premature.”
Kenneth Gallant, law professor at William H. Bowen School of Law at the
University of Arkansas, said ICDAA wants the Assembly of State Parties to
include in its final acts of the review a statement committing the Court to
respect functional immunity for all states to respect this immunity in their
“There is a need to bar the use of words spoken or written or acts posed in the
performance of one’s professional duties as the basis of criminal or civil
charges,” said Professor Gallant.
He added that since “functional immunity is recognised in the ICC’s host
agreement and the Agreement on the Privileges and Immunities … it must also
be recognised by the states on whose territory the crimes occurred”.
Gallant reasoned that this must extend to all independent counsel of the
accused or the victims, and their respective team members in order, as he put
it, “to guarantee a safe working environment and independence, free from
political or other interference”.
He concluded: “Pending universal recognition of functional immunity for
defence and victims teams, and in light of Rwanda’s recent arrest of ICTR
Defence Counsel Peter Erlinder, the ICB (International Criminal Bar) urges the
review conference [should] adopt a resolution calling on member states to bar
the use of in-court statements by counsel appearing before the ICC or any
international tribunal as the basis for criminal prosecutions.”
Interestingly, the ICTR has not responded to calls for it to invoke the
functional immunity of Erlinder.
“This inaction is in marked contrast to the reaction of the ICTR Registrar in
November 2006 when ICTR Defence Counsel Callixte Gakwaya was arrested
and detained in Rwanda based on an international arrest warrant issued by
Rwanda,” said Turner.
Attempts to talk to both the Rwanda delegation and ICTR have not bore fruits
Turner also raised the issue of a DR Congo lawyer, Firmin Yangambi, who also
participated in the ICC Counsel Seminar in The Hague in 2009, now on death
row handed down by a military court.
“He is not a military lawyer but was arrested and imprisoned in Kinshasa
following military proceedings and convicted of an insurrectional plot against
the president,” said Turner.
Yangambi’s lawyer has since appealed the
judgement and death sentence.
Rwanda genocide tribunal lawyers fear for their
safety after colleague's arrest
Denial of Peter Erlinder's bail prompts more than 30 defence lawyers to issue joint
statement to UN court
• Tweet this (12)
• Afua Hirsch, legal affairs correspondent
• guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 8 June 2010 20.07 BST
• Article history
lawyer Peter Erlinder was denied bail in Rwanda yesterday, two weeks after his
arrest on charges of denying genocide. Photograph: AP/Marc Hofer
Lawyers defending suspects at the international criminal tribunal for Rwanda say they
fear for their safety, after a high profile defence lawyer remained in police custody.
Peter Erlinder, a US lawyer leading the defence case of top genocide suspects,
was denied bail today by the Rwanda authorities, two weeks after his arrest on
charges of denying genocide.
The arrest has prompted other defence lawyers at the UN tribunal, which sits in
Arusha, Tanzania, to refuse to participate in proceedings. In a joint statement to the
court and the UN security council, seen by the Guardian, more than 30 defence
lawyers have said they fear for their own safety and have demanded Erlinder's
"We hereby resolve to postpone all activities, other than those which strictly
conserve the interests of our mandates, until such time as the minimum
conditions or the normal exercise of our missions have been restored by the
removal of threats," the statement says. "[We are] aware of the dangers which
immediately and directly threaten most of our number."
The Guardian has learned that the tribunal launched contempt proceedings against
another American defence lawyer, Peter Robinson, after he stated his intention to
withdraw from the case due to Erlinder's continued detention.
The treatment of defence lawyers has prompted widespread international
condemnation, with the US government calling for Erlinder's release.
The case is also likely to place pressure on the UK authorities, including the
Crown Prosecution Service, which has been providing assistance to Rwanda
prosecutors to facilitate the extradition of genocide suspects currently residing
in the UK.
Experts say the incident undermines negotiations surrounding the
international criminal court, under way in Kampala. "How can international
criminal courts operate effectively if defence lawyers are at risk of being
arrested for what they say on behalf of their clients?" said Amanda Pinto QC,
Bar Council representative at the International Criminal Bar. "This affects all
defence lawyers at the ICTR, but the issues are potentially the same for defence
counsel anywhere in the international forum."
The case also comes amid increasing concern about freedom of information in
Rwanda, after two main opposition newspapers – Umuvugizi and Umuseso –
were targeted with a number of libel and privacy cases, and prohibited from
publishing until after the coming elections.
The Rwandan government has continued to defend its decision to detain Erlinder. "It
is an act of justice," foreign affairs minister Louise Mushikiwabo said in a statement.
"Flagrant and orchestrated breaches of our genocide ideology laws will be met with
the full force of the law."
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