U.S. Criminal Defense Bar Challenges Rwandan Pres. Kagame: End the Campaign of Intimidation against Defense Lawyers
Washington, DC (June 10, 2010) – The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) condemns the unrelenting intimidation of American criminal defense lawyers in Rwanda and reiterates its call for the prompt release of Prof. Peter Erlinder together with an immediate end to the Rwandan government’s interference with the criminal defense function. NACDL stands with the 30 defense lawyers practicing before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) who together, in a statement to the court and the UN Security Council, said they fear for their own safety and have demanded Erlinder''s immediate release.
Erlinder, a professor at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minn., was arrested on May 28, 2010, on charges of “genocide ideology,” or genocide denial, for statements allegedly made before the ICTR and in the United States. He has been representing presidential candidate Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, an opposition candidate in upcoming elections who herself was recently arrested on the same charge and released. Prof. Erlinder was denied bail on June 7 and remains in police custody. In addition, it is now being reported that NACDL member Peter Robinson, a Santa Rosa, Calif., defense attorney working in the ICTR, is being threatened with charges of contempt. In light of the arrest and detention of Prof. Erlinder, Robinson, who represents Joseph Nzirorera, the former President of the Rwandan National Assembly, is seeking to withdraw from his defense before the ICTR. It is further reported that Kurt Kerns, a Wichita, Kan., defense attorney and NACDL member, was threatened with arrest for “unauthorized practice of law” after allegedly referring to the police who arrested Erlinder as “punks.”
Taken together, these events, and the ongoing, outrageous detention of Prof. Erlinder, suggest an effort by the current regime to repress political opposition leaders as the August elections in Rwanda approach.
“While the genocide in Rwanda was truly a tragedy from which Rwanda has yet to fully recover, this blatant intimidation of respected criminal defense attorneys undermines the very basis of the criminal justice system in that nation,” NACDL President Cynthia Hujar Orr said today. “As long as the Kagame regime continues to interfere with criminal defense lawyers representing the accused, justice will remain out of reach for Rwanda. NACDL challenges the Kagame government to live up to the democratic ideals espoused by the Rwandan constitution and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and to immediately cease this highly improper and self-destructive campaign of intimidation.”
NACDL also supports the resolution introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Betty McCollum on Tuesday (H.Res. 1426) urging the Rwandan government to release Prof. Erlinder and allow him to return to the United States, Orr said.