Rwanda: Detained Lawyer's Wife To Speak With U.N. Security Council Members

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[Global: Rwanda]

Masako Usui, the wife of the U.S. Professor and Attorney Peter Erlinder, is traveling to New York City this week on a mission to visit United Nations Security Council members.

Her husband, Peter Erlinder was arrested by Rwanda Police in Kigali on May 28, 2010. She plans to ask for their assistance in urging Rwanda to free Professor Erlinder and drop all charges.

Professor Erlinder is a law professor at William Mitchell College of Law, lead defense attorney for the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (I.C.T.R.), and President of the I.C.T.R. defense lawyers association. The I.C.T.R. which was set up by the United Nations Security Council in 1994 to prosecute war criminal for events that happened in 1994.

Erlinder faces charges of genocidal ideology and threatening Rwandan national security. These charges are directly related to the vigorous defense of his clients. He successfully proved to the I.C.T.R. that the genocide had not been planned or executed by the persons he represented, Aloys Ntabakuze.

According to the Rwanda prosecutor and court, the basis for the charges against him are that he: Publicly wrote, outside of Rwanda, in defense of his clients through articles, press releases and open letters to public officials calling for a deeper examination of the events that happened in 1994 and suggests that there could be a different narrative based on factual evidence; and, he filed wrongful death lawsuit against Paul Kagame in the Oklahoma Federal court under the Alien Tort Claims

Act on behalf of his client, Agathe Habyarimana, the widow of the former Rwandan president.

Erlinder continues to be held, now in Kigali Central Prison, after he received a judgment on Monday, June 7, 2010, denying him bail or any type of release.

The spokesman of “United Nations-backed tribunal for Rwanda," Roland Amoussouga, stated, in a New York Times June 13, article: “I.C.T.R. will not allow anyone to be prosecuted for the work that it has done for it.”

The same New York Times article also reported, “Despite assurances from Rwanda that Mr. Erlinder was not arrested for his work at the tribunal, officials at the tribunal say they also believe there is a connection. They have asked Rwanda for clarification and may bring the case in front of the United Nations Security Council." 

Among many human rights and legal organizations that have called for Erlinder’s release, the American Bar Association points to the U.N. Basic Principals on the Role of Lawyers, which state that lawyers “shall not be identified with their clients or their client's causes as a result of discharging their functions” and that “governments shall ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper influence.” These principals also provided that “lawyers like other citizens are entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly.”

The International Criminal Defense Attorneys Association (ICDAA) denounced and condemned Peter Erlinder’s continued detention in the strongest possible terms and urged all concerned to demand his immediate release.

In a joint statement to the court and the UN security council, many defense lawyers have demanded Erlinder's immediate release: "We hereby resolve to postpone all activities, other than those which strictly conserve the interests of our mandates, until such time as the minimum conditions of the normal exercise of our missions have been restored by the removal of threats," the statement says.

This continued detention has prompted other defense lawyers at the ICTR to refuse to participate in proceedings. Five defense teams before the ICTR have filed motions saying it was too dangerous to represent an accused, ICTR responded by launching contempt proceedings against another American defense lawyer, Peter Robinson, when Robinson stated his intention to withdraw from the case due to Erlinder's detention.


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