KIGALI - The Rwandan Government has accused defence lawyers of the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda (ICTR) of creating deliberate confusion by mixing their right to defend their clients in the Arusha-based tribunal and trying to rewrite the history of the Rwandan genocide.
Government Spokesperson and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Louise Mushikiwabo, was reacting to a decision by the defence lawyers not to participate in hearings in protest over the arrest of one of their colleagues, Peter Erlinder.
“Since the 1994 Genocide, Rwanda and its people have always understood and respected the role of defence lawyers. They play an integral role in the process of achieving justice and reconciliation for our country,” said the minister.
“Attempts by lawyer friends of Mr Erlinder to link his prosecution with the hearings at Arusha are disingenuous and completely misleading. It is a fiction and a fabrication to say that defence lawyers at Arusha or anywhere else have anything to fear from Rwanda as a result of the Erlinder case.” Mushikiwabo said.
The embattled American lawyer was denied bail two weeks after his arrest on charges of Genocide denial. His colleagues claim that they fear for their safety.
“It is nonsense. It is important to alert the public on this deliberate confusion by the defence lawyers. Rwandans will not sit back and watch as the history of Genocide is being distorted. We will prosecute them aggressively,” she added.
“We understand that these lawyers are concerned for their friends and colleague, but we reject their outrageous and false claims that reflect poorly on Rwanda, the integrity of the ICTR process”.
A statement released by the lawyers says that the laws are “deeply troubled by Erlinder’s continued detention in Kigali which occurred in the context of his activities guaranteeing the rights of defence”.
But according to the Prosecutor General Martin Ngoga, by doing what they are doing, ICTR defence lawyers have failed to draw lines between their work and interfering in affairs of another country.
“We are not in the Management of the ICTR and we believe in their capacity to deal with the situation. The most important thing is that we know where to draw the line not to interfere with their mandate as we enforce our own law with regard to Peter Erlinder,” he said.
“The defence lawyers’ decision is one of many other strikes they have carried out before. It has much to do with general discipline and professionalism than standing for any legitimate cause”.