Deadly Silence: Rwanda’s Never Again Is Once Again?

The following article from a Rwandan genocide Survivor was originally published in the Huffington Post. The international community continues to remain quiet while the region and especially Rwanda continues its downward spiral. This time, the international community cannot claim ignorance.

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People often say, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” As a Rwandan Genocide survivor, I would not be alive if not for good people who stood up, advocated for, and protected me, facilitating my ultimate survival amidst the deafening silence of the international community. I was nine-years-old when I found myself caught in a maelstrom of violence that threatened to destroy everything I knew and held dear. And in many ways, all of those things, including family, friends, neighbors, home, and communities were destroyed.

I remember having a group of men wrap me in a blanket and smuggling me to a safe house in a different neighborhood. Petrified, I watched as these men accosted and negotiated with my would-be killers on a daily basis to save my life. I watched in horror and helplessness as my mother and brother were taken from my sister, young cousin and I to be killed. My mother and brother were told they had reached the end of their lives, and were then given tools to dig their own graves. Through the intervention of old friends, strangers, and new allies, my mother and brother’s lives were spared, and our family was reunited.

I cannot imagine how my life would have been different had these individuals not intervened. They placed themselves and their families in danger by advocating for us. In our darkest moments I witnessed the zenith of human compassion. I saw the beauty and potential of the human spirit when good people unite for a good cause. Farmers, street kids, courageous women with children raised their voices against a group of evil doers. Through their acts of solidarity, lives were spared. My faith in humanity was reassured even in the midst of so much violence, death, and destruction. Sadly though, the international community remained silent about what was taking place in my country.

As I watch today the increasingly disturbing downward spiral in my country of birth, I am once again reminded of the international community’s complicity and silence in the destruction of an entire nation. In recent times, when the first woman ever to run for president in my country was attacked by a mob, there was silence. While local newspapers were shut down, their writers exiled, and others incarcerated, I witnessed nothing but shrugs from the international community. When Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International reported on the growing repression and jailing of an increasing number of people based on vague laws applied to political opponents of the ruling regime, I saw nothing but rationalization from the international community.

Recently, Peter Erlinder, an American lawyer and professor who is representing a hopeful presidential candidate, was jailed in Rwanda. His arrest and subsequent charges were based on his work as a defense lawyer at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania. He stands accused of genocide ideology and negationism, the same crimes of which his client is also accused. As a genocide survivor, I take genocide crimes very seriously and strongly believe that each and every perpetrator of these crimes should be brought to justice and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I also believe that each accused deserves and must be accorded a fair trial. The right to a fair trial and due process is a highly valued universal principle. Therefore I am perplexed by the silence around the professor’s arrest, and the length of time it took the international community to intervene.

Due to Rwanda’s economic progress, some of which is unfortunately derived from Congolese minerals and “supply side economics,” human rights abuses are mere inconveniences to those strictly focused on economic growth. While Rwanda has become one of the most praised and progressive economies in Africa, the international community has watched it ravage neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo with impunity. An estimated six million Congolese lives have been claimed, and tragically, half of those deaths are children under the age of five.

The Rwandan Genocide was catastrophic. I know… I was there. And I survived. However, it should not be used as a pretext for repressing freedom of others and destroying innocent lives. Although the international community still remains silent in the face of all these grotesque abuses and human rights violations within and outside of Rwanda, the potential positive impact the international community could have on the situation should not be underestimated.

I witnessed first hand the power of good people who cared for a frightened 9 year old girl and her family. Everyday people opened their mouths and raised their voices. My family, especially my mother and brother, was spared because of ordinary people’s courageous acts of generosity. I am eternally grateful to have lived to share my story. With all that is taking place in Rwanda today, especially the present-day eerie similarities to the pre-1994 genocide period, will the international community intervene now? One can only imagine the millions of lives that could be saved.

Alice Gatebuke is a Rwandan Genocide and war survivor, Cornell University graduate, and a human rights activist. She can be reached at gatebuke.alice@gmail.com.

A Great Loss to the World

Floribert Chebeya Bahizire of the Voix des Sans Voix (Voice of the Voiceless) was a great human rights activist based in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Abused, Jailed, and tortured by the subsequent governments over the last two decades but he persevered. To say that he will be missed in a major understatement. He was one of the people in the world that lived to ensure the well being of his fellow human beings.

Chebeya was found dead on June 2 in Kinshasa (DR Congo), in his car after he had been summoned for a meeting with Police Chief General John Numbi. Activists who saw Chebeya in the morgue say that he had blood in his face and was bruised.  General Numbi, well known for his human rights abuses, murder and for his association with Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Rwandan General James Kabarebe was suspended from his duties with the Congolese police. It is unclear whether there will be an independent investigation into this, but the involvement of Numbi in his death would not be surprising given the general’s past and the multiple threats received by Chebeye from police and authorities over the years.

The Joseph Kabila clique in power cannot be trusted to carry out an impartial investigations as they are close to General Numbi. The government in Kinshasa will require enourmous amount of pressure to come close to carrying out a meaningful investigation. Surprisingly, there have been no demonstrations in Kinshasa demanding such investigation. Are Congolese people that terrified in Kinshasa. If this was in Eastern Congo where militias, and foreign governments troops and their proxy rebels continue to abuse the population, kill and rape women on a daily basis, it would be understandable. However, the lack of action from the masses in Kinshasa is surprising.

The human rights activist community and the world community at large has lost an excellent advocate at a young age of 47. In the activist community, there is hope that the perpetrators will be brought to justice. However, Chebeye cannot be replaced by any procedure. This crime was indeed a crime against the world.

The US State Department Negligent in Peter Erlinder’s Case

When president Obama was running for president, he repeatedly said that “Washington is broken”. Today, Washington is still broken in spite of a year and a half of Obama’s administration. In fact, you may argue that it may be more broken than it was during the previous administration.

Consider the case of Professor Peter Erlinder, a William Mitchell College of Law professor who went to Rwanda as a hired attorney for presidential hopeful Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza.  After a week in the country, Erlinder was arrested and accused of the same crimes as his client. Mind you, Erlinder’s alleged crimes were committed outside of Rwanda. Due to the conditions of the prison in Rwanda, Erlinder has  gotten ill and the Rwandan government may be cooking up a plan to assassinate him. That seems the only way out with a small victory for the Rwandan government as the charges against Erlinder are weak at best.

The US State Department and the US Embassy in Rwanda have been negligent at best. Below is the State Department’s response to Erlinder’s case in a press briefing yesterday:

“QUESTION: Do you have any update on the status of this American lawyer who was arrested in Rwanda? There are some reports that he tried to kill himself in prison this morning.

MR. CROWLEY: I can’t say.

QUESTION: And apparently, his wife or his family is trying to – is seeking a meeting here at the State Department.

MR. CROWLEY: All I can tell you is that we have visited and spoken with Peter Erlinder. He was taken to the hospital this morning and remained there overnight for observation. His U.S. and Rwandan attorneys have had access to him and we expect that due process will be accorded by the Rwandans in a timely and transparent way.

QUESTION: Do you know why he was taken to the hospital?

MR. CROWLEY: I do not.”

The State Department and the embassy are happy to allow Rwanda to jail an American citizen without charges, and the US representatives in Rwanda are hugging the jailers and doing nothing to secure the release of their constituent. The Obama administration and espicially the State Department must step up their game and demand the release of professor Erlinder or else explain how hundreds of millions of dollars of American taxpayers spent on Kagame’s dictatorial regime, the North Korea of Africa, are being used to imprison and possibly kill American citizens.

The Rwandan Government May be Planning an Assassination of Peter Erlinder

This morning, reports from the Rwandan government mouthpieces claimed conflicting stories about professor Peter Erlinder’s health. Peter Erlinder is the American Law professor held in a Rwandan jail since May 28 under the accusation of Genocide Ideology; an ill defined law applicable to anyone who disagrees with the Rwandan government.  The police spokesman Mr. Eric Kayiranga claimed that Erlinder had attempted suicide by swallowing 45 to 50 prescription pills. The  New Times editor Edmond Kagire reported that Erlinder was faking his illness.

The Rwandan government under Paul Kagame has a history of assassinating opponents, dissidents, as well as regular Rwandan citizens using poison. Some prisoners have been fed broken glass causing them to die of illness resulting from consuming such. Former government officials such as Seth Sendashonga and Theoneste Lizinde have been killed by death squads outside of Rwanda. Consider that Rwanda’s general prosecutor Martin Ngoga refuted the reports of  suicide.  Martin Ngoga is not alone as Erlinder’s family, colleagues, and friends have all rejected the notion that he would commit suicide. They have all testified to his strength of character and mental toughness. Many Rwandan nationals especially on social networking sites such as facebook have raised the suspicion that the reports this morning are a prelude to an assassination by the Rwandan government. Notorious for various killing methods, Paul Kagame’s government is responsible for the death of 5 million innocent Congolese citizens who have been killed since Rwanda’s invasion of Congo in 1996.

It appears the US embassy as well as the larger US government have left Erlinder to the lions in Rwanda hungry for his blood. Silence on the part of the US State Department has been deadly. It seems as though the US government is happy to sit by and allow their citizen to rot in a prison where no developed country has ever extradited an individuals, including those suspected of genocide. The UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, England, France as well as other countries have all declined to extradite anyone to Rwanda, citing an unfair judicial system. Yet, no word has been heard from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or anyone in the Obama administration.

Erlinder traveled to Rwanda on May 23 to represent opposition leader Mrs. Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza who has been accused of Genocide Ideology as well.  Mrs. Ingabire Umuhoza plans to run in the upcoming Rwandan Presidential election, provided the Rwandan government finally allows her to run.  However, her efforts as well as other government opponents’ effors to register for election have been blocked at every turn by the Rwandan government. Dictator Paul Kagame is guaranteed to win an uncontested election this August.

Peter Erlinder Jailed by One of the Major Genocidaires of Our Era

Article from: http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2010/hp290510.html

The May 28 arrest of the U.S. attorney Peter Erlinder by the Paul Kagame dictatorship in Rwanda reveals much about this regime that is routinely sanitized in establishment U.S. and Western intellectual life and media coverage.  But if we use Erlinder’s arrest to call attention to some less well-known facts, a much grimmer scenario about Kagame than as a “man of the hour in modern Africa,” who “offers such encouraging hope for the continent’s future” (Stephen Kinzer),2 comes to light.

For one thing, Kagame does not like free elections, and he has avoided or emasculated them assiduously.  Erlinder arrived in Kigali on May 23 to take up the legal representation of Victoire Ingabire, a Hutu expatriate who had spent the past 16 years in the Netherlands, but who immediately upon her return to Rwanda in January was regarded as the leading opposition figure, though her United Democratic Forces hadn’t been able to register as an official party.  The Kagame regime arrested her on April 21, and charged her with “association with a terrorist group; propagating genocide ideology; negationism and ethnic divisionism.”3  As 2010 is an election year in Rwanda (now scheduled for August 9), this should help Kagame once again to avoid any meaningful electoral contest.

In 2003, Rwanda’s last election year, opposition parties, candidates, and media not only weren’t welcomed, they wound up harassed, shut-down, arrested, exiled, and disappeared.  In 2002, Kagame’s main rival at the time, a Hutu and former President Pasteur Bizimungu, was arrested and charged with “divisionism,” a kind of Kagame-speak that means to provide political choices other than the one-party Kagame dictatorship.  In 2003, the Hutu former Prime Minister Faustin Twagiramungu was permitted onto the presidential ballot but prevented from campaigning, and his Democratic Republic Movement (MDR) banned altogether; he and his MDR were also accused of “divisionism.”

The official August 25 presidential vote that year reported 94% for Kagame.  In a country whose population then, as now, as at the start of 1994, was majority Hutu by roughly a 6-to-1 margin over the Tutsi, only Kagame’s intimidation and repression of Rwanda’s civil society, and his election-rigging, could have produced a result like this.  Thus when Peter Erlinder spoke in late April about the arrest of Victoire Ingabire as a “carbon-copy of Kagame’s tactics in 2003, when all serious political challengers were jailed or driven from the country,” and when he likened the charges against her (and now against himself as well) to “trumped-up political thought-crimes . . . arising from the ‘crime’ of publicly objecting to the Kagame military dictatorship and Kagame’s version of Rwandan civil war history,”4 this was what he meant.

The Arusha Accords of August 1993 had stipulated that national elections be held in Rwanda by no later than 1995, but this was precluded by the military takeover of Rwanda by Kagame and his Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) in April-July 1994, which allowed the minority Tutsi faction (less than 15 percent) to seize power by force.

The allegation of “genocide denial” has been an important instrument of Kagame’s rule, with potentially rival politicians, or in fact any Kagame target, so accused and pushed out of the way.  According to news accounts during the first 24 hours after his arrest, Erlinder, a lead defense counsel before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and a former president of the National Lawyers Guild in New York, “is being charged with denying the Rwandan genocide and was being interrogated . . . at police headquarters in the capital, Kigali. . . .  A police spokesman, Eric Kayingare, said that Mr. Erlinder was accused of ‘denying the genocide’ and ‘negationism’ from statements he had made at the tribunal in Arusha, as well as ‘in his books, in publications’.”5  Martin Ngoga, the Prosecutor General of the Kagame regime, told Agence France Presse that Erlinder “denies the genocide in his writings and his speeches.  Worse than that, he has become an organizer of genocide deniers.  If negating [the Tutsi genocide] is not punished in [the United States,] it is punished in Rwanda.  And when he came here he knew that.”6

Under Rwanda’s 2003 Constitution,7 the “State of Rwanda commits itself to conform to the following fundamental principles and to promote and enforce the respect thereof,” foremost of which is “fighting the ideology of genocide and all its manifestations” (Article 9).  “Revisionism, negationism and trivialisation of genocide are punishable by the law” (Article 13).  The Rwandan State is so conscious of the political usefulness of “genocide” that its Constitution even creates a National Commission For the Fight Against Genocide (Article 179).

Of course, this is straight out of Kafka, as a compelling case can be made that Kagame and his RPF were the major genocidaires in Rwanda and, in alliance with Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni dictatorship, both under U.S. and U.K. protection, have extended and enlarged their genocidal operations to the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.  Peter Erlinder has never denied the fact that mass-atrocity crimes and even genocide were committed in Rwanda, much less that a large number of Tutsi were slaughtered.  But he has shown, with carefully gathered documentary evidence, that an even larger number of Hutu were also slaughtered there, and that Kagame and the RPF were the initiators and main perpetrators of these mass killings.  This, ultimately, is what the charge of “denying the genocide” really means: Like a growing body of researchers, Erlinder rejects the version of the “Rwandan genocide” long since institutionalized within U.S.-, Western-, and RPF-establishment circles.

One of Erlinder’s notable documentary discoveries is an internal memorandum drafted in September 1994 for the eyes of then-U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, in which it was reported that a UN team on the ground in Rwanda “concluded that a pattern of killing had emerged” there, the “[RPF] and Tutsi civilian surrogates [killing] 10,000 or more Hutu civilians per month, with the [RPF] accounting for 95% of the killing.”  This memorandum added that the UN team “speculated that the purpose of the killing was a campaign of ethnic cleansing intended to clear certain areas in the south of Rwanda for Tutsi habitation.  The killings also served to reduce the population of Hutu males and discouraged refugees from returning to claim their lands.”8

We may recall that the reported (but contested9) massacre of 8,000 military-aged men at Srebrenica in July 1995 led to genocide charges, imprisonment of many Serb officials and military personnel, and huge indignation in the West.  Yet, here is an internal U.S. document alleging “10,000 or more Hutu civilians” butchered per month by Kagame’s forces to cleanse the ground for Tutsi resettlement — and not only is the leading butcher not imprisoned, but his regime continues to bathe in Western support and adulation, and can get away with charging the man who helped expose his crimes with “genocide denial”!

Consider also the five following material facts:

1. The “triggering event” in the mass killings known as the “Rwandan genocide” was the shooting down of the Falcon-50 jet carrying then-Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana, then-Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira, and ten others on its approach to the Kanombe International Airport in Kigali on the evening of April 6, 1994.  It is now conclusively established that these political assassinations were carried out by Kagame’s forces.  When ICTR investigator Michael Hourigan had assembled compelling evidence showing this, then-ICTR Chief Prosecutor Louise Arbour quashed his investigation on orders from U.S. officials.  This official line of inquiry has been suppressed ever since, though it was amplified and confirmed by the French magistrate Jean-Louis Bruguière, whose own inquiry concluded in late 2006 that Kagame and the RPF, fully aware that they would lose the elections scheduled by the Arusha Accords due to the overwhelming majority enjoyed by the Hutu in the country, opted for the “physical elimination” of Habyarimana and reopening their assault on the Rwandan government to achieve their goal of an RPF-takeover of the country.10  Although three consecutive U.S. presidential administrations (Clinton’s, Bush’s, and Obama’s) and the establishment U.S. media have been wonderfully cooperative in keeping crucial evidence such as this on the “genocide” out of public sight, the work of Peter Erlinder and his colleagues has been important in the struggle to counter the Western party-line.

2. The important U.S. analysts Christian Davenport and Allan Stam also concluded that more Hutu than Tutsi were killed during the period of the “Rwandan genocide” (April-July, 1994), and that killings on the ground in Rwanda actually “surged” in each area attacked by Kagame’s RPF.11

3. Allan Stam, a former Special Forces soldier as well as an academician, has pointed out that the Kagame-RFP military offensive following the “triggering event” of the “Rwandan genocide” (i.e., the shootdown of the Falcon-50 jet) were closely modeled on the U.S. ground invasion of Iraq during the first Gulf War, and that Kagame’s forces went into mass action within one hour of this event.12  (Kagame actually studied at Fort Leavenworth in the United States, and was apparently a quick learner.)

4. Both before and during the “Rwandan genocide,” the United States pressed for the reduction of UN troops in Rwanda.  The Rwandan government urged more UN troops,13 but the presence of a larger contingent of UN troops on the ground clearly would have interfered with Kagame’s well-planned and executed military operations.  This points up the likelihood that any pre-planned, organized mass killings were dominated by Kagame’s RPF, and that the U.S. government supported it.

5. Kagame’s forces established control of Rwanda within one hundred days of the triggering event.  This is not consistent with the notion that his was an unplanned defensive reaction and that his ethnic group, the minority Tutsi, was the main victim.

Paul Kagame has used the excuse of pursuing “genocidaires” to justify his regular invasions of the Congo.  The casualties in these operations, coordinated with fellow dictator Yoweri Museveni, have run into the millions.  We believe that Kagame has far outstripped Idi Amin as a mass killer (Amin’s killings are estimated at 100,000-300,000, whereas Kagame’s surely run well over a million civilians).  But Kagame is servicing establishment U.S. and Western interests, and for the past 20 years has therefore received a free pass to rob and kill.

And all the while, Kagame has ridden the wave of fighting against “genocide denial”!  Hopefully, he has gone too far in using that Kafkaesque gimmick against Peter Erlinder, a notable fighter against both actual genocide and genocide denial.

Endnotes

1  For a much more comprehensive development of the themes discussed here, see Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, “Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo in the Propaganda System,” Monthly Review 60, May, 2010.  Also see Herman and Peterson, The Politics of Genocide (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2010).

2  Quoting Kinzer’s hagiographic words in A Thousand Hills: Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2008), 337.

3  “Rwanda Opposition Chief Held for ‘Genocide Denial’,” Agence France Presse, April 21, 2010.

4  Peter Erlinder quoted in “U.S. Lawyer to Defend Victoire Ingabire: First Female Presidential Candidate in Rwanda — Jailed by President/Gen. Paul Kagame,” News Advisory, International Humanitarian Law Institute, April 23, 2010 (as posted to the BayView website).

5  Josh Kron and Jeffrey Gettleman, “American Lawyer for Opposition Figure Is Arrested in Rwanda,” New York Times, May 29, 2010.

6  “Rwanda Arrests U.S. Lawyer Defending Opposition Figure,” Agence France Presse, May 28, 2010.

7  See Constitution of the Republic of Rwanda, June 4, 2003, and its Amendments, as posted to the website of the Rwandan Ministry of Defense.  Here we note that the word ‘genocide’ appears no fewer than 14 different times in Rwanda’s approx. 16,400-word-long Constitution.

8  George E. Moose, “Human Rights Abuses in Rwanda,” Information Memorandum to The Secretary, U.S. Department of State, undated though clearly drafted between September 17 and 20, 1994.  This document is archived at the Rwanda Documents Project at William Mitchell College of Law, St. Paul, Minnesota, ICTR Military-1 Exhibit, DNT 264.

9  See Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, “The Dismantling of Yugoslavia,” Monthly Review 59, October, 2007, esp. Sect. 5 and Sect. 6, 19-26. 

10  See Jean-Louis Bruguière, Request for the Issuance of International Arrest Warrants, Tribunal de Grande Instance, Paris, France, November 21, 2006, 15-16 (para. 100-103).

11  See Christian Davenport and Allan Stam, Rwandan Political Violence in Space and Time, unpublished manuscript, 2004 (available at Christian Davenport’s personal website > “Project Writings”); and Christian Davenport and Allan C. Stam, “What Really Happened in Rwanda?” Miller-McCune, October 6, 2009.

12  See Allan C. Stam, “Coming to a New Understanding of the Rwanda Genocide,” a lecture before the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan, February 18, 2009.  Beginning at approx. the 22:47 mark, Stam explains: “Now, moments later, the RPF — literally moments, somewhere between 60 and 120 minutes after his plane is shot down, the RPF invades.  Now, we could characterize this invasion as, ‘Wow, a spontaneous reaction to go in and defend our allies’.  The problem is, this invasion looks staggeringly like the United States’ invasion of Iraq in 1991.  It has exactly the same features.  There is a central drive in this case due south towards Kigali, very much like the central drive towards Baghdad.  There is the sweeping left-hook — but in this case because the map is reversed there is the sweeping right-hook.  This is a plan that was not worked out on the back of an envelope.  Fifty-thousand soldiers move into action on two fronts, in a coordinated fashion, ‘spontaneously’?  Tsk.”

13  In the words of Rwandan UN Ambassador Jean-Damascène Bizimana: “[T]he international community does not seem to have acted in an appropriate manner to reply to the anguished appeal of the people of Rwanda.  This question has often been examined from the point of view of the ways and means to withdraw [UNAMIR], without seeking to give the appropriate weight to the concern of those who have always believed, rightly, that, in view of the security situation now prevailing in Rwanda, UNAMIR’s members should be increased to enable it to contribute to the re-establishment of the cease-fire and to assist in the establishment of security conditions that could bring an end to the violence. . . .  The option chosen by the Council, reducing the number of troops in UNAMIR. . . , is not a proper response to this crisis. . . .”  See “The situation concerning Rwanda,” UN Security Council (S/PV.3368), April 21, 1994, 6.


Edward S. Herman is professor emeritus of finance at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania and has written extensively on economics, political economy, and the media. Among his books are Corporate Control, Corporate Power (Cambridge University Press, 1981), The Real Terror Network (South End Press, 1982), and, with Noam Chomsky, The Political Economy of Human Rights (South End Press, 1979), and Manufacturing Consent (Pantheon, 2002).  David Peterson is an independent journalist and researcher based in Chicago.  Herman and Peterson are co-authors of The Politics of Genocide (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2010).StatCounter - Free Web Tracker and Counter

Advocates Demand Rwanda’s Immediate Release of U.S. Attorney Erlinder

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contacts:

David Gespass, National Lawyers Guild; 205 566-2530

Gena Berglund. International Humanitarian Law Institute of Minnesota; 651 208-7964

Emira Woods, Institute for Policy Studies; 301 523-2979

International Human Rights Advocates join Erlinder family to condemn Rwanda’s arrest of U.S. Attorney Peter Erlinder and demand his immediate release.

Saturday, May 29, 2010 (Washington, DC) –Professor Erlinder, a faculty member at William Mitchell College of Law in the United States and president of  the Association des Avocats de la Defense (ADAD), the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) Defense Lawyers Association, was arrested by the government of Rwanda under the leadership of president Paul Kagame. Peter Erlinder has been arrested in the course of his representation of Rwanda’s opposition leader, Victoire Ingabire.

Erlinder’s arrest was politically motivated and seeks to punish him for fulfilling his responsibilities as a lawyer, to be a vigorous and conscientious advocate for his clients. The Rwandan government and President Kagame must allow fair and public trials. Erlinder’s advocacy is in the finest tradition of the legal profession and every individual and government committed to the rule of law, including the authorities in Rwanda, should applaud his dedication to human rights and international law.

As international human rights activists, we join the Erlinder family to call on the United States government, the United Nations, non-governmental organizations and individuals around the world to prevail upon Rwanda to release Erlinder immediately.  The U.S. has had a special relationship with Rwanda which remains one of the largest recipients of U.S. foreign assistance in Africa.  Given the U.S. government’s expressed commitment to democracy and the rule of law, it is critical that the Obama Administration and the U.S. Congress uphold these values in Rwanda and demand the immediate release of Peter Erlinder, an advocate of justice.

“Professor Erlinder has been acting in the best tradition of the legal profession and has been a vigorous advocate in his representation of his clients. There can be no justice for anyone if the state can silence lawyers for representing defendants it dislikes.  A government that seeks to prevent lawyers from being vigorous advocates for their clients cannot be trusted. The entire National Lawyers Guild is honored by Erlinder’s membership, his leadership as past president and his courageous advocacy.” said David Gespass, president of the National Lawyers Guild.

“The offense Peter is charged with is not based on facts, but on the suppression of free speech in his representation of clients, which undermines the rule of law. His family knows he stands with people who are oppressed by those in power and he encourages people to stand up for justice.” Masako Usui, wife of Peter Erlinder.

“The real issue here seems to be whether the U.S. and the world will stand by and allow my father to be detained and prosecuted for doing his job, as an attorney and advocate for his clients. After a career of defense of others, he needs our help now demanding his immediate release and dismissal of all charges.” said Sarah Erlinder, daughter of Peter Erlinder.

“The International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL) is outraged at the arrest of Peter Erlinder in Rwanda.   This arrest violates the rights and privileges of lawyers in discharging their professional responsibilities, constitutes a willful obstruction of the judicial process and is in gross violation of the rights of defense of an accused person,”  said Jeanne Mirer, President, International Association of Democratic Lawyers

Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation on Proffesor Erlinder’s arrest

For Immediate Release
Contact: Kitty Kurth
Phone: 312-617-7288

May 28, 2010

American Law Professor Arrested in Kigali

The Rwanda News Agency reported today that American law professor C. Peter Erlinder (William and Mitchell College of Law – Minnesota) was arrested over accusations related to negating the Rwandan genocide. The Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation deplores this clearly politically motivated arrest, and implores the international community to act quickly and decisively to demand Professor Erlinder’s immediate release from custody.

Erlinder, an outspoken critic of the Kagame regime, is frequently criticized by the Rwandan government. His name recently appeared on a publicized list of foreigners who the Rwandan government allegedly wants silenced for their views. Erlinder traveled to Rwanda last week to defend presidential candidate Victoire Ingabire on the charges brought against her by the Rwandan government. Mrs. Ingabire, a political opponent of current President Kagame, was jailed recently and is currently under house arrest for expressing her political views, which are in opposition to official government policies. Erlinder is also a defense lawyer and leader of the association of defense attorneys defending Rwandan genocide suspects at the International Criminal Tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania. His current trip to Rwanda was intended to provide defense counsel in a peaceful legal process, but with this arrest his human rights, liberty and possibly his person safety are in danger.

Professor Erlinder was reportedly arrested on charges of “genocide negationism,” which means that he disagrees with the official version of the 1994 genocide perpetuated by the current Rwandan regime. This law is frequently applied to silence critics of the regime, including in the past Mrs. Ingabire, Human Rights Watch investigators, and even the BBC.

Immediate action is needed to free Professor Erlinder and guarantee his human rights and personal safety.