An umbrella body for international criminal lawyers has warned that the continued detention of an opposition leader’s lawyer in Rwanda could deal a major blow to the operations of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).
Addressing a Press conference in Kampala at the ongoing International Criminal Court Review Conference, lawyers attached to the International Criminal Bar (ICB) condemned the continued detention of their American colleague, Prof Peter Erlinder, who is defending Ms Victoire Ingabire, an opposition leader and candidate for presidency in Rwanda.
Ms Ingabire, is the leader of the United Democratic Forces (UDF), a political party that has up to date been denied opportunity to be registered to participate in the presidential poll due this August.
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She is under house arrest and her aide put in custody for over a month now.
“Arrest of Erlinder violates fundamental human rights and the allegations against him pertain to the work he is doing at the ICTR. This is an attack on the independence of counsel and lawyers are afraid for their own security,” said Ms Allison Turner, ICB council member, said in Munyonyo on Tuesday.
Ms Turner said that in another case before the ICTR, a defence lawyer told the court that under the circumstances where he was at risk, he could not in good conscience continue representing his client.”
A Kigali court on Monday ordered that Professor Erlinder be detained, without having been charged with any crime. Prof Erlinder has been in been in detention since May 28.
The incident has prompted other defence lawyers at the UN tribunal, which sits in Arusha, Tanzania, to refuse to participate in proceedings.
"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 has 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 statement reads.
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.
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.
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