KIGALI - Prosecutor General, Martin Ngoga has warned an American lawyer, Kurt Kerns, that he risks landing into trouble for making derogatory remarks about the Rwandan Police.
Ngoga made the threats during a press conference he called at his office, yesterday. Kerns is in the country as part of the defence team of Peter Erlinder, another American lawyer charged with Genocide denial.
According to Ngoga, by referring to the country’s Police officers as “young criminals” as reported in the US press, Kerns risks expulsion from the country.
“We are taking issue over remarks that appeared in some media outlets in Minnesota that are attributed to one of the lawyers, Mr Kurt Kern, who is on Erlinder’s legal team”.
In an email reproduced in the Twin Cities Daily Planet by journalist Mary Turck, Kerns referred to the police who arrested Erlinder as “punks”
“While the arresting officers were punks, his guards are treating him well,” Kerns says in his mail.
“He sent an email that was reproduced, where he referred to our Police officers with an expression that would mean young criminals - punks. If you called an American Police officer a punk, you would certainly face the law,” Ngoga said.
He added that is not only inappropriate, but also offensive for anybody to refer to any country’s police officers carrying out duties authorised by law, as punks or criminalshe Prosecutor General noted that the operation to arrest Erlinder was mounted by the Deputy Commissioner of Criminal Investigations, who is a senior officer, and out of diligence, ensured that an official from the US Embassy was present.
“To say that these officers are punks or young criminals, a remark that would be used to refer to street criminals in the US, and actually has a racist tone, is not appropriate and acceptable.
“In any event, we are ready to cooperate with these lawyers, but if such arrogance continues, some will have to be shown the door,” Ngoga warned.
“A Police officer executing a legal mandate cannot certainly be a punk. We consider the remarks a hitch in the process that is supposed to be professional.”
He, however, said that despite the remarks, prosecution is ready to cooperate with the defence team because the right to defence is guaranteed by the country’s constitution where any suspect has a right to choose his or her attorney.
Ngoga added that the country’s laws allow anybody to come from Kenya or the US to defend people in Rwanda, despite it being practically impossible for Rwandan advocates to practice in these countries.
“We are proud of their presence. It adds value to our laws and institutions for such people to come here and do what they want. But in this case, we find these remarks attributed to him very offensive and unacceptable. If he was really professional, he would go out there and apologise,” Ngoga added.
Kerns, who has been in the country before to gather evidence in his defence for a Genocide fugitive on trial in the US, Lazare Kobagaya, is also reported to have described the nature of the case against Erlinder as “pathetic” and “ridiculously weak”.
Ngoga revealed that Erlinder himself, in the presence of his legal team, acknowledged that he made statements which he is ready to retract and that there is full compliance and ‘no breach’ of procedures during interrogation.
“Some people have been referring to our applicable law as repressive,but that’s their choice... our law is available in many countries.
“The law that punishes Holocaust denial is applicable in many countries. It’s under the same context that we have a law that punishes Genocide denial, which we consider detrimental to our national security; long term and short term,” Ngoga said.
Ngoga insisted that the country is certainly not going to be intimidated or scared away from doing what its law dictates just because some people prefer to call the law repressive.
He said that there shouldn’t be any surprise in Erlinder’s decision and Kerns utterances. He said that the duo is not short of controversy, given their choices of cases, but warned that Rwanda would not tolerate their ‘stubborn behaviour.’
Two Kenyan lawyers, Kennedy Ogetto and Gershom Otachi BW’Omanwa, have also joined Erlinder’s defence team, but not as strangers. Erlinder and the two Kenyans worked on the so-called “Military 1” trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).
The Kenyans were defending Colonel Anatole Nsengiyumva while Erlinder’s client was Major Aloys Ntabakuze. Both the defendants were found guilty of Genocide and war crimes and sentenced to life in prison.
The two parties also met at a conference in Brussels that Erlinder helped organise, a few days before his arrest. The conference brought together well-known revisionists and some Genocide suspects.
One of the suspects, Eugene Rwamucyo, was arrested shortly after the conference by French authorities on Genocide charges. He is awaiting extradition proceedings.