Peter Erlinder, the American lawyer who is in the country to defend Victoire Ingabire, the embattled leader of the yet-to-be-registered political party, FDU-Inkingi has not yet received accreditation from the relevant authorities, to practice in the country.
Erlinder, who was the lead counsel for Major Aloys Ntabakuze at the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda (ICTR), has been expressing his readiness to defend Ingabire in her ongoing case, but authorities say he has processes to follow before expressing his intentions.
Ingabire is facing charges of associating with a terrorist group, propagating the Genocide ideology, revisionism and ethnic division.
A senior lawyer at the Kigali Bar Association, the body that is responsible for accrediting all lawyers before they can practice in the country, has denied having received any application from the American lawyer asking for a go-ahead to practice.
“We have never stopped anyone from practicing in the country, as long as they fulfil the legal requirements--that is reciprocity, where two countries have a mutual arrangement to allow lawyers from either countries to practice,” the lawyer said.
“We also haven’t seen any documents from the bar association, from his country of origin to confirm whether indeed he is a recognised member of a bar association. Once we have these requirements, any one is allowed to practice. We haven’t received anything from Erlinder.”
In a phone interview with The New Times, Erlinder indeed agrees that there are procedures to be observed but could not confirm whether he has been given a green light to defend Ingabire.
“I have undertaken the processes, but at this moment, that is a radical question and I am not ready to speak about it this afternoon. I can talk about it tomorrow,” Erlinder said.
He said that he has written to the Prosecutor General, Martin Ngoga, and the Minister of Justice, Tharcisse Karugarama, informing them of his intentions but the Justice Minister in an interview, said the only communication he received was in form of greetings.
“I saw the letter but it only contained greetings to me. I am not responsible for any accreditations,” Karugarama said.
Ngoga also received a copy of the same letter but he says beyond the letter there other procedures to be followed.
“As far as the procedure to accredit a foreign lawyer to practice or appear in any case in Rwanda, I have no communication to that effect,” Ngoga said.
“Other communications from this lawyer, formal or through the press are short of that requirement.”
In an earlier interview with The New Times, Karugarama said that for Erlinder to be on Ingabire’s defence team, he should first meet the requirements that authorise lawyers to practice in Rwanda.
“There are laws that govern lawyers in Rwanda. It is not a jungle where everyone walks in to practice law. If he meets the conditions, defending someone is his right,” Karugarama said. “I don’t think a Rwandan lawyer can just go to America or any other European Country and start practicing law. I guess they also have laws in place. The fact that he defended Bagosora or any other Genocidaire does not give him passage to practice in Rwanda.”
Prior to travelling to Rwanda, Erlinder and a group of other lawyers of ICTR convened a conference in Brussels, Belgium which attracted several wanted Genocide fugitives, including Eugene Rwamucyo.
Rwamucyo, was arrested by French Police on Wednesday.
Erlinder is also a self-proclaimed genocide denier. A day before the 12th commemoration of the 1994 Genocide, he sent an open letter to Stephen Harper, the Canadian Prime Minister, in which he clearly denied the genocide.
The letter contained statements that deny, minimize, justify the 1994 genocide and also attempted to portray a negative image of the current leadership by denying the role it played in halting the genocide.
He completely denies the fact that genocide took place in Rwanda and prefers to use ambiguous, misleading and negating terminologies such as “terrible massacres”, “horrific events”, “massive civilian killings” and “civilian-civilian massacres”.