KIGALI - Genocide survivors have petitioned the US Congress to throw out a petition tabled before it calling for the release of Peter Erlinder, an American lawyer detained in Rwanda on charges of Genocide denial.
Through their umbrella body of Genocide survivors’ associations, IBUKA, the survivors Monday contested the petition before the US Congress which has been dubbed #HR 1426.
“On behalf of our mothers and fathers, grandparents, neighbours, and friends who were among more than one million victims of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, we urge the US Congress in the strongest possible terms to reject HR#1426,” reads part of the open letter by the survivors.
The letter was read out to the media at the High Court in Nyamirambo where Erlinder had appeared to contest a ruling by a lower court which remanded him for 30 days as investigations continue.
Erlinder had applied for bail, saying he wanted to get medical attention back home. Presenting their petition which was in a form of an open letter, over 100 Genocide survivors, led by their President Theodore Simburudari, urged US Congress to respect their rights and freedoms.
Simburudari said that in building a peaceful and stable Rwanda, Genocide survivors have put aside the natural desire to avenge the slaughter of their loved ones.
“We have embraced unity and reconciliation as the only way forward for all Rwandans whatever ethnicity, gender and religion,” he said.
“But this does not mean that we turn a blind eye to those who want to deny or defend the Genocide, whether in academic journals or at the end of a gun. We have learned in the hardest way imaginable, that Genocide does not begin in a vacuum. It begins with the voices of rational-seeming men telling lies and distorting history.”
According to the survivors, the motion before the US House of the Representatives invokes humanitarian grounds for Erlinder’s release, it asks for the Rwandan government to honour his rights and freedoms as a US citizen but makes no mention of the of the rights and freedoms of the Rwandan Genocide survivors.
“We are struck by the concerns raised in HR#1426 about rights and freedoms, but in Rwanda, we have decided that freedom of speech does not include the right to spread lies about the Genocide,” it reads.
“In Europe, similar crimes exist for Holocaust denial, civil libertarians in the US may disagree with these laws, but the Rwandan people believe they are necessary to preserve the hard-won peace and stability of our nation”.
Simburudari added that, as the survivors of the Genocide, they urge US Congress to consider the freedom of the Rwandan people to live in peace and prosperity and weigh this against Erlinder’s freedom to promote lies and distortions.
“We ask that you apply your humanitarian compassion not just to Erlinder’s predicament, but to the memory of the Rwandans who were slaughtered in the spring of 1994 in a horrific Genocide that he claims did not take place,” he emphasised.
In an interview with The New Times, Serge Rwigamba one of the survivors said that Erlinder stood in a courtroom and claimed to have a secret knowledge of what happened to the Rwandan people in 1994.
“This is insulting and outrageous; we do not need history lessons from him. It is the survivors who have special knowledge and memory about the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi,” he said.
“Rwanda cannot allow this hateful speech and rewriting of history, our peace and stability, unity as people of Rwanda is very important.”
Erlinder was arrested late last month.