Two Thoughts on Peter Erlinder’s Arrest in Rwanda

by Kevin Jon Heller

Julian beat me to the punch regarding the news that Peter Erlinder, the William Mitchell law professor who is one of the leading defense attorneys at the ICTR, has been arrested in Rwanda for “genocide denial” — code for “criticizing the Kagame government.”  There is no need to waste time criticizing the arrest; anyone who follows Rwanda knows that Kagame is a petty dictator.  But two larger points are worth emphasizing.

First, this latest turn of events should be the death knell of the Office of the Prosecutor’s efforts to transfer the remaining ICTR cases to domestic Rwandan courts.  As I have noted before, the Trial and Appeals Chambers have shown great courage in refusing transfer requests, correctly recognizing that the the likelihood that ICTR defendants will receive a fair trial from Kagame’s government is essentially zero.  The OTP is likely to redouble its efforts to transfer cases as the ICTR’s completion date draws near, but it is difficult to see how the Chambers could change its position given Erlinder’s arrest.  If Rwanda is willing to arrest a defense attorney for doing his job, can anyone maintain with a straight face that transferred defendants would be tried fairly?

Second, and relatedly, the ICTR has uttered nary a word in protest of Erlinder’s arrest.  That’s absolutely shameful — and is indicative of the Tribunal’s general contempt for defense attorneys.  The very first post I ever wrote for Opinio Juris, way back in February 2006, focused on the second-class status of defense attorneys at the international tribunals.  Unfortunately, it seems clear that nothing has changed in the past four years.

http://opiniojuris.org/2010/06/02/two-thoughts-on-peter-erlinders-arrest-in-rwanda/

3 Responses

  1. Kevin,

    Well-said.  When defense attorneys are “second class” and/or where there exists an over representation of former prosecutors as judges defendants are in essence guilty until proven innocent.

  2. As an addition to message posted by Kevin, The arrest of Peter Erlinder proves that people inside Rwanda Prisons have never had fair trial and no lawyer could represent them fairly. If conditions change in Rwanda they should be allowed to revise all cases of peoples sentenced under Kagame regime.
    The same shows that no country should be allowed to deport any Rwandan nationals to Rwanda as there is no independent justice in Rwanda.
    The condition in which people live in North Korea or Burma is better than the conditions in which people inside Rwanda live. The whole country is a prison, you can enter but you cannot go out.
     

  3. Last week when Prof. Erlinder was first arrested, the Rwandan police and the prosecutor had claimed that he would appear in court within 72 hours, apparently according to Rwandan Law, I mean Kagame’s Law because we Rwandans know there is no national law in Rwanda but only Kagame’s law.

    It has since been more than 170 hours and they are now inventing ridiculous stories of “attempted suicide.”

    General Kagame thinks that this assault on Erlinder will scare everyone and the truth about the millions of people Kagame’s extremist forces have killed will never come out. This is incorrect. If anything, the persecution of Prof. Erlinder will speed up the truth coming out about all the crimes that General Kagame’s forces have committed. In Rwanda, we have had enough of extremist Hutus and we have had enough of Kagame’s extremist Tutsis.  The US needs to stop supporting this mass murderer and allow non-violent civilian democratic politicians in Rwanda a chance to truly rebuild the nation.

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