Africa Great Lakes Democracy Watch

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Sunday, August 8, 2010

U.S. shielded Kagame from genocide prosecution

By Norman S. Miwambo
Prof. Peter Erlinder, the defence counsel recently arrested, detained and charged with genocide denial by Rwandan government, now says the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) has not been prosecuted for genocide charges because of its political arrangement with the United States government.

In an exclusive telephone interview with this reporter over the weekend, Prof. Erlinder, counsel at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), said:

"Carla Del Ponte, in her book, her public statement…made it quite clear that the policies of the ICTR are determined by the United States and the UK." 

Prof. Erlinder's comments were in reference to a former ICTR prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte's memoir, The Hunt: Me and My War Criminals, which details her years as Chief Prosecutor at the Arusha-based court which tries genocide suspects. According to Erlinder, the former ICTR prosecutor Del Ponte publicly discredited the court and pronounced its presence to be for political reasons.

"That is Carla Del Ponte not me. And she said that the reasons why the RPF has not been prosecuted is because the political arrangement between the RPF and the United States Government," said Erlinder, adding that: "What we now know is that the original documents that explain [the] day by day of what happened in Rwanda that were in the UN and US files were not used by the prosecution."

The RPF, established by former Rwandan refugees mainly those grew up in Uganda, launched the guerrilla war which saw President Paul Kagame seize power in 1994 after the 100 days killing that claimed nearly a million people.

"They [documents] were used by only the defense side. And I was responsible for getting those documents and putting them into evidence," said Erlinder. He argues that if the documents were to be used, President Kagame would have been prosecuted.
Rwandan authorities in May this year arrested, charged and detained Erlinder on charges of genocide ideology and being a threat to the security of the country. 

Mr Erlinder, a professor at the William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota in the United States, had gone to the country to support the legal team of Victoire Ingabire, leader of the United Democratic Forces (UDF) Inkingi political party who is under house arrest for allegedly denying the 1994 genocide.

He was then released in June after the worldwide condemnation of the Rwandan actions and the pressure from International Human Rights organisations including the intervention of US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

He says that he doesn't want to talk about the reasons for his detention: "I think that my detention was heavily publicised, but the reasons for my detention are more much more interesting." 

"In 2003, I responded to call from the ICTR, asking me to take on an appointment in a case," recalls Prof. Erlinder, the first time when he was called on to take-up an appointment that led him to get involved in the Rwandan issues.

"At that time Carla Del Ponte made a public announcement that she was intending to prosecute the RPF for the crimes they had committed," said Erlinder, adding that: "But she was removed from the office within 60 days. That is how it begun."

"I started my representation in the summer of 2003, which is the time when Del Ponte announced that she was going to prosecute the RPF. Of course didn't happen until today," he explains.

"First of all the ICTR is a product of Security Council and so is a product of the political relationships and the Security Council," says Prof Erlinder, stressing that: "It's not a UN body, it is a Security Council body and now it is quite clear that it has prosecuted only one side in the Rwandan Civil war".

Prof. Erlinder says: "And that means either the Rwandan civil war, is the only one in the history in which only one side committed crimes or the truth of the war has not been developed full by the ICTR. And that consistence was also Del Ponte and other prosecutors announced that they were intending to prosecute the RPF," the professor added, in reference to the findings by other investigator such as: Michael Hourigan who accused former prosecutor, Lauise Arbour of having ordered him in 1997 to stop investigating and inquiry into the downing of Juvenal Habyarimana's presidential jet on April 6, 1994.

"But Del Ponte at least was removed from the office before she could do so," says Prof. Erlinder. He added: "She also wrote a book in which she explained exactly the circumstances in which she was removed from the office. She was removed centrally by the State Department because they had a political agreement with the RPF according to her."

The professor also argues that: "If there were two sides involved in committing crimes, and only one side has been prosecuted, obviously the story of the war hasn't been inaccurately told."

In response to the fairness of the ICTR, Prof. Erlinder says: "So, if the evidence is repelled and the story is told in a way that cannot be complete, it is very difficult to imagine a fair trial resulting from there."

"Of course each individual case may differ but it is very difficult to even tell who is responsible for which crime," says the professor.

He expresses concern saying that: "If both sides committed crimes and then only one side been prosecuted, it makes difficult to sort-out what really happened."

Referring to other report, he said that: "According to Carla Del Ponte, said that both sides committed crimes. And there were many massacres sites that the RPF were responsible for that she had investigated."

In recent months, President Kagame and his RPF government have come under increasing criticism from the western media and human rights groups and governments over the deteriorating situation in Rwanda.

Rwanda holds a general election on Aug. 9.


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