The Advocates for Human Rights Condemns Arrest, Calls for Release of St. Paul Attorney Detained in Rwanda

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The Advocates for Human Rights Condemns Arrest, Calls for Release of St. Paul Attorney Detained in Rwanda
Wednesday, June 02, 2010 11:25 AM

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Minneapolis (June 1, 2010) – The Advocates for Human Rights expresses grave concerns about the arrest and detention of attorney Peter Erlinder by the Government of Rwanda. Erlinder, a professor of law at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, was arrested by Rwandan police on May 28 after arriving in the country as part of the legal defense team of opposition leader Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza. Both Ingabire and Erlinder face charges of promoting “genocide ideology,” a crime under Rwandan law.
 
“We have called upon the Government of Rwanda for the release of Professor Erlinder,” says Robin Phillips, executive director of The Advocates for Human Rights. “The Advocates is gravely concerned that the Government of Rwanda appears to be using its genocide ideology law to silence both members of the political opposition and the attorneys seeking to ensure a fair trial for the accused.”
 
The arrests of Ingabire and Erlinder come in the context of an apparent government crackdown on political opposition prior to the upcoming presidential election in August 2010. Rwanda has banned two newspapers from operating until after the election, charging that they had insulted the president an attempted to foment insubordination in the military. The Rwandan government recently denied a visa to a Human Rights Watch researcher who had been working in Rwanda and has denounced criticism by human rights organizations and the U.S. Government.

Rwandan law criminalizes any act considered to promote “genocide ideology.” The broad provisions of the Rwandan genocide ideology law prohibit speech protected by international human rights law including “marginalizing, laughing at one’s misfortune, defaming, mocking, boasting, despising, degrading, creating confusion aiming at negating the genocide which occurred, stirring up ill feelings, taking revenge, altering testimony or evidence for the genocide which occurred.” Those convicted face sentences of imprisonment of up to twenty-five years and fines of up to 1,000,000 Rwandan francs.

To read The Advocates' letter to the Rwandan Government, click here.

 

 

 

June 1, 2010

 

The Honorable James Kimonyo

Ambassador of Rwanda

1714 New Hampshire Avenue N.W.

Washington, DC 20009

 

Dear Ambassador Kimonyo:

 

The Advocates for Human Rights expresses grave concern about arrest and detention of attorney Peter Erlinder by the Government of Rwanda for alleged violation of the crime of Genocide Ideology and we call upon the Government of Rwanda to immediately release Mr. Erlinder from custody. The crime of Genocide Ideology violates international human rights standards to which Rwanda is obligated, and the apparent use of this crime to silence political opposition violates the rule of law.

 

It is our understanding from news reports and from the reports of his family that Mr. Erlinder was arrested by Rwandan police on May 28 after arriving in the country as part of the legal defense team of Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza. It is our understanding that both Mr. Erlinder and Ms. Ingabire face changes under Law No. 18/2008 of 23/07/2008 relating to the Punishment of the Crime of Genocide Ideology.

 

Rwanda’s crime of Genocide Ideology fails to meet international human rights standards. We recognize the terrible history which confronts Rwanda today. We also recognize that unfettered freedom of expression during the genocide contributed directly to the violence. Nonetheless, freedom of expression lies at the foundation of human rights law, and States must balance carefully any restrictions on this most fundamental human right. Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) provides that everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression. While Article 19 also provides that States may limit the right of freedom of expression in to ensure respect of the rights or reputations of others and for the protection of national security or of public order, and Article 20 mandates States to prohibit any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law, any infringement on the fundamental right to freedom of expression must be as narrow as possible.

 

The application of Rwanda’s crime of Genocide Ideology appears to violate the rule of law. The Advocates for Human Rights is gravely concerned that the Government of Rwanda appears to be using its genocide ideology law to silence both members of the political opposition and the attorneys seeking to ensure a fair trial for the accused. Rwanda’s arrest of a member of the political opposition and her counsel suggests that the crime of Genocide Ideology may have been used to serve political ends, rather than to legitimately limit dangerous speech.

 

In addition to Mr. Erlinder’s release, we call upon the Government of Rwanda to take the following measures:

 

  • The Rwandan legislature should immediately repeal the Genocide Ideology Law in its entirety.
  • The Rwandan government should implement fully its international human rights obligations in order to facilitate the ongoing process of reconstruction following the 1994 genocide.
  • The Rwandan government should protect and promote the right to freedom of expression as defined in international human rights law.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Robin Phillips

Executive Director 

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