Kate Gibson on Erlinder’s Arrest in Rwanda

by Kevin Jon Heller

Two commenters on my previous post on Kagame’s increasing authoritarianism questioned whether Rwanda arrested Peter Erlinder because of his representation of defendants at the ICTR.  Fortuitously, Kate Gibson — my colleague on the Karadzic case and a defense attorney at the ICTR — has just published an ASIL Insight on the arrest that supports my claim.  Here is a taste (citations omitted):

On May 31, 2010, the ICTR sent a Note Verbale to the Rwandan authorities seeking clarification of whether Erlinder’s arrest was related to his mandate as an ICTR defense counsel.  Secondly, the ICTR spokesman announced that because Erlinder was not on an official mission in Rwanda as lead counsel for Major Ntabakuze, the ICTR did not have the “power or the vocation for giving lawyers any immunity in cases that are not related to the ICTR’s mandate.” Following this announcement, the Rwandan Prosecutor-General responded to the ICTR Note Verbale, predictably stating that Erlinder’s arrest was in no way connected to his assignment at the ICTR, thus clearing the way for his prosecution.

The ICTR’s hands-off approach became more difficult when, contrary to earlier public statements, the Rwandan authorities continued to link Erlinder’s arrest to his work as a defense counsel at the ICTR. On June 7, 2010, the High Court of Gasabo rendered a decision denying Erlinder’s request for provisional release. This decision focused on Erlinder’s academic writing, parts of which are critical of and impute criminal responsibility to members of the current regime in Rwanda for crimes committed in 1994. However, in summarizing the Prosecution’s submissions, the High Court referred on three occasions to statements made by the Rwandan prosecutors regarding the link between the alleged genocide denial and Erlinder’s pleadings as a defense counsel in the Military I case. For example, according to one statement, “during the Military I Trial at the ICTR, Carl Peter Erlinder denied and downplayed genocide. He managed to prove that genocide had not been planned nor executed by the military officials he was representing.” The Court itself concluded that Erlinder should “answer for his acts at the ICTR.”

To be clear, although it is unconscionable to persecute a defense attorney for representing a client, I think it would be equally offensive to arrest anyone for offering an account of the events of 1994 that differs from the Rwandan government’s official — and highly selective — narrative.  I’m sure there are true genocide deniers out there (there always are), but most of the counter-narratives that I’ve seen (including Erlinder’s academic writing) acknowledge the genocide but insist, rightly, that the RPF were themselves responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity during the conflict.  Denying that Kagame is a saint is not the same as denying that genocide occurred.

P.S. With regard to Turyio’s point that laws criminalizing Holocaust denial are “generally accepted” — that may be true, but I don’t accept them.  I am completely opposed to such laws, which I believe turn pathetic figures like David Irving into martyrs and do far more harm than good.

P.P.S. Kathleen Doty has an excellent post on Kagame at IntLawGrrls.

http://opiniojuris.org/2010/08/12/kate-gibson-on-erlinders-arrest-in-rwanda/

7 Responses

  1. Captured German war records prove that millions of innocent Jews (and tens of thousands of others) were systematically exterminated by Nazi Germany – mostly in gas chambers. These facts have been proven repeatedly through countless thesis and dissertation research papers. Virtually every PhD in the world will stake their career on these known Holocaust FACTS. Despite this knowledge, Holocaust deniers ply their mendacious poison everywhere, especially with young people on the Internet. The deniers have only one agenda – to distort the truth in a way that promotes antagonism against the object of their hatred (Jews), or to deny the culpability of their ancestors and heroes.
    Museums and mandatory public education are appropriate tools to dispel bigotry, especially racial and ethnic hatred. Books and films can also establish the veracity of genocides, such as recent Holocaust films. They help to tell the true story of the perpetrators of genocide; and they reveal the abject terror, humiliation and degradation resulting from such blind loathing and prejudice. We must disclose the cruelty and horror of genocide to combat the deniers’ virulent and inaccurate historical revision. By doing this, we protect vulnerable future generations from making the same mistakes.
    Perhaps if your family had lost two generations, murdered for being Jewish, you would feel differently.  Maybe, if you witnessed the massive genocide of Europe’s Jews, you would have more compassion.  No genocide compares to the Shoah (Holocaust) in the extent of the murder of millions of innocent men, women and children – only because of their religion.  Can you comprehend this?  What if it had been your religion?

    Whenever we stand up to those who deny or minimize genocide we send a critical message to the world. As we continue to live in an age of genocide and ethnic cleansing, we must repel the broken ethics of our ancestors, or risk a dreadful repeat of past transgressions. A world that continues to allow genocide requires ethical remediation. We must show the world that religious, racial, ethnic and gender persecution is wrong; and that tolerance is our progeny’s only hope. Only through such efforts can we reveal the true horror of genocide and promote the triumphant spirit of humankind.
    Charles Weinblatt
    Author, Jacob’s Courage
    http://jacobscourage.wordpress.com/

  2. Just to be clear I am not arguing that Kagame is a saint and I am not disputing that RPF has commited war crimes. However I think this focus on Kagame as a ruthless authoritarian completely neglects a lot of other elements. In many ways, he is more of  compromiser than most give him credit for- releasing more than 10,000 convicted prisoners, abolishing the death penalty, arresting laurent Nkunda…he has to deal with extremists and reformists in his government and his party and I think he has done a good job of getting some kind of middle ground. Even the relentless focus on the two suspended newspapers ignores the fact that these publications-both virulently anti-Government- had been allowed to operate for years previous to the suspension and will be back on the streets once the suspension has run out. Not the kind of context people dwell on when discussing Rwanda
    Also I think the Rwandan governments’ genocide narrative-while obviously not unanimously accepted- is by and large embraced in most academic circles and is supported by much of the literature in Rwanda. You make it sound like its some kind of loony fringe argument that everyone else sneers at.

  3. I think the Rwandan governments’ genocide narrative-while obviously not unanimously accepted- is by and large embraced in most academic circles and is supported by much of the literature in Rwanda. You make it sound like its some kind of loony fringe argument that everyone else sneers at.

    Nothing in my post or comment (or in anything I’ve ever written, for that matter) suggests that I believe the idea that genocide occurred in Rwanda is “some kind of loony fringe argument.”  I was simply — and obviously — criticizing the Rwandan government’s insistence on persecuting anyone who dares suggest that the RPF committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during its armed conflict with the Hutu government.

    Even the relentless focus on the two suspended newspapers ignores the fact that these publications-both virulently anti-Government – had been allowed to operate for years previous to the suspension and will be back on the streets once the suspension has run out. Not the kind of context people dwell on when discussing Rwanda.

    It’s good to know that Rwanda limits its censorship to newspapers that are “virulently anti-government.”  We can’t have them censoring the ones that are pro-government!  What an interesting understanding of freedom of the press.

    You might also have noted that the suspension was conveniently timed to coincide with the election.  Lack of context indeed…

  4. Perhaps if your family had lost two generations, murdered for being Jewish, you would feel differently.  Maybe, if you witnessed the massive genocide of Europe’s Jews, you would have more compassion.  No genocide compares to the Shoah (Holocaust) in the extent of the murder of millions of innocent men, women and children – only because of their religion.  Can you comprehend this?  What if it had been your religion?

    I am Jewish — my mother’s family is from the Ukraine; my father’s family is from Poland.  And although we didn’t lose two generations in the Holocaust, we lost many members of our family.  So go to Hell.

  5. I dont understand your response to my newspapers comment. We are discussing the anti-government newspapers and Im arguing no one ever mentions the fact that the government has allowed quite a few critical local publications to run for years. Im not sure how your response bringing in pro-governemnt papers is a rebuttal of my point.

  6. Turiyo,

    I think my point is clear: if you shut down “virulently anti-government” newspapers just in time for an election, leaving the pro-government newspapers alone, you are not a democrat.  And that is true even if, prior to the election, you permitted them to operate.

  7. Okay I see what you mean. On that point you might find this interesting- an analysis of the charges against the papers and whether it all stacks up.

    http://mynameisnotmuzungu.blogspot.com/2010/05/umuseso-and-umuvugizi-charge-sheet.html

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