ICTR calls for release of US lawyer in Rwandan custody

[JURIST] The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website] on Tuesday called for the release of US lawyer and JURIST Forum [website] contributor Peter Erlinder [professional profile; JURIST news archive] in a letter [text] to Rwanda authorities. Acting on the advice of the UN Office of Legal Affairs [official website], the ICTR asserted in the letter that Erlinder has immunity from prosecution under the Convention on Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations [text, PDF], a treaty that Rwanda to which is a party that prevents legal action of any kind against UN employees working in an official capacity. Despite assurances to the contrary by Rwandan Prosecutor General Martin Ngoga [New Times profile], the letter points to the arguments made at Erlinder's June 7 bail hearing [JURIST report], as evidence that the genocide denial charges against him are related to his work as defense counsel at the ICTR, stating:

The ICTR notes that the Prosecution appearing before the High Court made specific references to words Professor Erlinder spoke and statements he made in his case before the ICTR. ... Although no formal copy of the charges brought against Professor Erlinder has been received yet, the ICTR takes the view that the decision of the High Court constitutes a sufficient basis to identify a link between the nature of the accusations against Professor Erlinder and his mandate with the Tribunal.
Erlinder has appealed the decision at the bail hearing, where the court found him to be a flight risk and denied bail despite his claim that he needed to return to the US for medical treatment following what Rwandan officials say was a suicide attempt [JURIST report]. The appeal hearing is scheduled for Thursday. On Monday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [official website] stated that the Obama administration had expressed concern [statement] to the Rwandan government over Erlinder's detention and the prosecution of opposition candidates but emphasized the US government's continued support for the Rwandan government.

Last week, US Representatives Betty McCollum (D-MN) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) [official websites] introduced a resolution [JURIST report] calling on the Rwandan government to release Erlinder in order to "prevent ... an impasse in relations" between the US and Rwanda. The resolution emphasizes the amount of aid that has been given to the Rwandan government by the US, which is to be increased by 43 percent in the 2011 budget [materials] and has amounted to over a billion dollars since 2000. The resolution has been referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives [official websites] for consideration. The resolution came a day after a joint statement [JURIST report] calling for Erlinder's release was issued by more than 30 defense lawyers from the ICTR. The statement described the arrest as indicating a growing threat to the country's legal system. The defense lawyers contend that Erlinder's arrest and subsequent denial of bail "seriously compromised" the ICTR's mission by undermining the independence of lawyers and preventing them from performing their duties without fear of suffering reprisals. Rwandan police arrested Erlinder [JURIST report] last month on charges that he denied the 1994 Rwandan genocide [HRW backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Erlinder was in Rwanda to prepare his defense of opposition presidential candidate Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza [campaign website], who was arrested in April [JURIST report] on similar charges. Erlinder has pleaded not guilty [JURIST report].

 

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