On Thursday, Peter Erlinder, a professor at William Mitchell, was arrested in Kimbaye, Rwanda for “genocide ideology”. Professor Erlinder is also one of the lead defense lawyers for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). Article
Landon and I took classes, including International Criminal Law, with Professor Erlinder when we were students at William Mitchell and thought that he was an excellent professor. We also had the chance to get to know Professor Erlinder on a personal level and found him to be kind and compassionate. We both deeply respect his passion for upholding the rights of criminal defendants and his belief that anyone, regardless of reputation or charge, is entitled to a full and zealous defense. His arrest is an outrage.
It is true that Professor Erlinder is critical of the official story given by the United States and Rwandan governments. However, his criticism should not be a crime and it most definitely is not “genocide ideology”. Professor Erlinder has researched and written extensively on the subject of Rwanda. (here and here, are sample articles so you can draw your own conclusions). Professor Erlinder does not deny that a massive amount of civilians were murdered in Rwanda. Instead, he argues that the current Rwandan government was complicit in murdering civilians and that the ICTR has been encouraged to cover up and not prosecute any of the current government’s war crimes.
Professor Erlinder’s arrest raises serious concerns on humanitarian and legal levels. First, it appears that Professor Erlinder was arrested for criticism of the Rwandan government and genocide denial was used as a pretext. It is no secret that he has accused the current Rwandan government of mass killings and for the assassination of the former Rwandan president that sparked the genocide.
This isn’t the first time the current Rwandan government has been accused of silencing political opponents through the use of intimidation and arrest. According to Amnesty International, the current Rwandan government has used the “Genocide Ideology” law to silence dissenters and imprison an estimated 912 people. (Link to the full report, see page 220. Summary here) The political nature of the arrest is further supported by the fact that Professor Erlinder was in Rwanda to defend Victore Ingabire, a Rwandan presidential candidate who has been accused of genocide ideology by the current government.
Second, Professor Erlinder was arrested in his capacity as a lawyer defending a client. Criminal defense attorneys are often called to promote controversial views if it helps win a case. His arrest is a warning to all international defense attorneys: if you dig to deep or try to zealously defend your clients, the government will stop you by any means necessary. The actions of the Rwandan government damages the credibility and efficacy of international law as a whole.
I understand this is a very politically charged subject and many people do not agree with Professor Erlinder’s views. However what happened to Professor Erlinder is a great injustice. We hope he will be returned safely. Please contact your representatives here to demand Professor Erlinder’s release.