American Lawyer Denied Bail in Rwanda
By JOSH KRON
Published: June 7, 2010
KAMPALA, Uganda — Peter Erlinder, the American lawyer charged in Rwanda for denying the country’s genocide and threatening its security through his writings, was refused bail Monday, despite health concerns and pressure from the American government.
In a bail hearing in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, Mr. Erlinder’s request to return to the United States to seek treatment for a heart condition was turned down, and he will spend the next 30 days in jail until his trial begins. While the defense will have five days to appeal, the court decision seems to be frightening other lawyers working for the United Nations on Rwanda.
Mr. Erlinder, 62, is a lawyer at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania, and in the past he has advocated in defense of Native American tribes in Minnesota and a Canadian terrorism suspect. He came to Rwanda last month to represent Victoire Ingabire, a presidential candidate also accused of genocide denial and working with a rebel group.
Former ambassadors and some of Rwanda’s opposition parties have condemned the arrest of Mr. Erlinder, calling it the latest sign of increased government repression ahead of elections this August.
The United States, one of Rwanda’s closest military allies and largest financial donors, at first hesitated to comment openly. But after Mr. Erlinder was hospitalized and Rwanda authorities claimed he had “faked” a suicide attempt, the American government publicly called for his “immediate release.”
Mr. Erlinder was charged last week with denying the country’s genocide and threatening national security, after alleging in documents and at the tribunal that members of Rwanda’s current government shot down a presidential plane in 1994, setting off the genocide.
President Paul Kagame claims that the plane was shot down by extremists in the former Hutu government who committed the genocide, a cornerstone of the governing party’s narrative and political legitimacy. Under Rwanda’s anti-genocide laws, claiming otherwise can lead to decades in prison.
The arrest has strained already icy relations between Rwanda and the United Nations’ special courts.
“The Rwandan Government takes no pleasure from Mr. Erlinder’s plight," Louise Mushikiwabo, a government spokeswoman, said in a statement after the hearing. "But this needs to be understood: Flagrant and orchestrated breaches of our genocide ideology laws will be met with the full force of the law.”
Lawyers at the tribunal in Arusha following the case say the hearings in Kigali have already had a chilling effect, and they are threatening to leave the courts.
“I have moved to withdraw,” said Peter Robinson, a lawyer from California who defends a genocide suspect at the tribunal. “I cannot defend my client under these conditions.”
Mr. Robinson said in a telephone interview that he now feared being arrested himself and that Rwanda’s refusal to grant Mr. Erlinder bail could affect the work of up to 25 lawyers at the tribunal.
“As long as defense lawyers are subject to prosecution, we can’t continue to participate in cases here.”
Africa Great Lakes Democracy Watch
Welcome to Africa Great Lakes Democracy Watch Blog. Our objective is to promote the institutions of democracy,social justice,Human Rights,Peace, Freedom of Expression, and Respect to humanity in Rwanda,Uganda,DR Congo, Burundi,Sudan, Tanzania, Kenya,Ethiopia, and Somalia. We strongly believe that Africa will develop if only our presidents stop being rulers of men and become leaders of citizens. We support Breaking the Silence Campaign for DR Congo since we believe the democracy in Rwanda means peace in DRC. Follow this link to learn more about the origin of the war in both Rwanda and DR Congo:http://www.rwandadocumentsproject.net/gsdl/cgi-bin/library