Controversy Mounts Over Arrest of U.S. Lawyer in Rwanda

Attorney Peter Erlinder was arrested in Kigali when he attempted to defend an opposition figure. He had accused Rwanda's president of setting off the 1994 genocide.

Rwanda President Paul Kagame

Practicing human rights law can be perilous. American attorney Peter Erlinder was arrested in Rwanda when he attempted to defend Victoire Ingabire, an opposition figure. Erlinder had charged earlier that President Paul Kagame was involved in shooting down a plane that set off the Rwanda genocide in 1994. Not a good move.

Kigali — Rwanda has said an American lawyer intending to represent the embattled opposition politician Victoire Ingabire was arrested for "negating and denying" the 1994 genocide. Chief prosecutor Martin Ngoga told the Sunday Monitor, a Nation Media Group publication, that both acts were criminal offences in Rwanda's jurisdiction and that, Prof Peter Erlinder, the American lawyer, would be prosecuted.

Rwanda police had earlier confirmed that Mr Erlinder was arrested on Friday over the allegations. Mr Erlinder flew into Rwanda one week ago to defend embattled aspiring presidential candidate Victoire Ingabire, who herself was arrested and released on bail in April over accusations of supporting a terrorist group and promoting ethnic divisions and genocide ideologies. Said Mr Ngoga: "Mr Erlinder denied the genocide." "Because of our history, denying the genocide is a criminal offence," he added.

In April, Mr Erlinder filed a lawsuit in the US alleging that the current Rwandan President Paul Kagame ordered the shooting down of a plane carrying then-leader Juvenal Habyarimana, an event that triggered the bloodshed in which over 1.2 million Rwandans perished 16 years ago. Mr Erlinder's accusations were contrary to investigative findings by UK ballistic experts that indicated that the plane was shot by Hutu extremists. The American lawyer has previously worked as the lead defence counsel of several renown Rwandan genocide suspects at the Arusha-based International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).

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