Lawyer freed from Rwanda returns to US

[JURIST] US lawyer and JURIST Forum [website] contributor Peter Erlinder [professional profile; JURIST news archive] returned to the US Tuesday after spending 21 days in a Rwandan prison. Upon his return, Erlinder stated his belief that had he not requested to contact the US embassy shortly before his detention, he would not have survived [Star Tribune report]. He also said that he was on a reported hit list made up of the names of opponents to Rwandan President Paul Kagame [official website; BBC profile]. The High Court of Rwanda [GlobaLex backgrounder] on Thursday released Erlinder on bail due to persisting medical problems from what Rwandan officials say was a suicide attempt [JURIST reports]. The court also required him to inform the court of his whereabouts and comply with future court orders. 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]. He will speak to the press [FOX9 report] Wednesday at William Mitchell College of Law, where he is a professor.

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website] last week called for Erlinder's release [JURIST report] in a letter to Rwandan 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 is a party to that prevents legal action of any kind against UN employees working in an official capacity. Last 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. Two weeks ago, 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.

 

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