12 Aug Kate Gibson on Erlinder’s Arrest in Rwanda
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.