US lawyer in Rwanda custody released on bail News
US lawyer in Rwanda custody released on bail
Photo source or description

[JURIST] A Rwandan court on Thursday granted the bail request of US lawyer and JURIST Forum [website] contributor Peter Erlinder [professional profile; JURIST news archive]. Judge Johnson Busingye of the High Court of Rwanda [GlobaLex backgrounder] granted unconditional release [Reuters report] due to Erlinder's persisting medical problems, which would allow Erlinder to leave the country, but requires that he inform the court of his whereabouts and comply with court orders. Erlinder, who was being hospitalized during the hearing, is expected to return to the US on Friday [AFP report]. In reacting to the court's decision, Prosecutor General Martin Ngoga [New Times profile] said that the investigation against Erlinder is ongoing, and that the ruling does not affect the charges against him [press release, PDF], stating:

Bail on health grounds cannot be mistaken as vindication for Mr. Erlinder – it just proves that the justice system he so freely criticizes was willing to show him compassion with respect to his physical and mental wellbeing. This will not deter the prosecution as we finalize the case against Mr. Erlinder. He will soon be called to defend his record of genocide denial that insults the people of Rwanda and inflames those who seek to harm us.

Thursday's bail hearing comes on appeal from the Gasabo Intermediate Court's decision Sunday ordering that Erlinder be detained for 30 more days [JURIST report] as the investigation is pending, citing flight risk, despite Erlinder's claim that he needed to return to the US for medical treatment following what Rwandan officials say was a suicide attempt [JURIST report].

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website] on Tuesday called for Erlinder's release [JURIST report] in a letter 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. 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. 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].