Peter Erlinder to be Released


Peter Erlinder received “unconditional medical release” from the Rwandan court.

Thursday, June 17, 2010 (Washington, DC) — Peter Erlinder, Professor of Law at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, MN and Lead Defense Counsel at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) was arrested in Kigali, Rwanda on May 28, 2010.  On June 7, 2010, his application for bail was denied.

The U.S. Embassy in Rwanda reported to the family at 10:30 CST that Peter Erlinder will be allowed to return to the United States, but charges have not been dropped.  Erlinder’s attorneys were informed that he would receive “unconditional medical release” by the Rwanda Court.  The process has to work its way through the court and prison system.  Actual release is possible on Friday, June 18.  At 10:30 a.m. CST the attorneys were on their way to the hospital to inform Erlinder of the decision.  Erlinder was not present in the courtroom when the decision was announced.

Peter Erlinder’s family credits the massive outpouring of support and education of all the various stakeholders and thanks each and every person and organization for their work on behalf of Peter Erlinder.  And the family urges the Rwandan government to drop all charges, citing the ICTR ruling that Professor Erlinder has diplomatic immunity because of his work as ICTR defense attorney.

In a two-page letter issued this week the ICTR Office of the Registrar in Arusha wrote, “The ICTR hereby informs the Rwandan authorities that Professor Erlinder enjoys immunity and requests, therefore, his immediate release.”

On June 14, 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton responded to a question at the Diplomacy Briefing Series Conference on Sub-Saharan Africa in Washington, DC.

SECRETARY CLINTON: . . . We’ve made [those concerns] known to the Rwandan Government.  We really don’t want to see Rwanda undermine its own remarkable progress by beginning to move away from a lot of the very positive actions that undergirded its development so effectively.  We still are very, very supportive of Rwanda. . . .  But we are concerned by some of the recent actions and we would like to see steps taken to reverse those actions.

On the one hand, I understand the anxiety of the Rwandan leadership over what they view as genocide denial or genocide rejectionism.  There are many countries that have been in a similar historic position, so I do understand that and I know that they are hypersensitive to that, but — because, obviously, they don’t want to see anything ignite any kind of ethnic conflict again.  So I’m very sympathetic to that.

But I think that there are ways of dealing with that legitimate concern other than politically acting against opposition figures or lawyers and others.  So on the one hand, I understand the motivation and the concern.  On the other hand, I want to see different actions taken so that we don’t see a collision between what has been a remarkably successful period of growth and reconciliation and healing with the imperatives of continuing to build strong democratic institutions.

Gena Berglund is Associate Director of the International Humanitarian Law Institute of Minnesota; Scott Erlinder is Peter Erlinder’s brother.

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