Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Rwanda Aide

Free Erlinder Now!
by Charlie Leck

Peter Erlinder is a Minnesotan. He teaches in the William Mitchell College of Law in Saint Paul. He’s 62 years old and not in the greatest of health. He’s been thrown in a Rwanda prison on the silliest and emptiest of charges. This is a genuinely good man who went to Rwanda to defend people who he believed had the right to a good defense.

Where is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on this? Where is President Barack Obama? It’s time for them both to move on this issue. Get Peter Erlinder out of jail.

Rwanda receives over 170 million dollars of official U.S. aide in 2010. They have a strong market in the United States for goods they sell here. This gives us enough leverage to demand they release Erlinder from their prisons.

Free Peter Erlinder Now!

The following was added to this blog 1 hour after it was posted....

Demonstration scheduled in support of Erlinder!

Demonstration to Demand the Release of Peter Erlinder

Tuesday, June 8, 5:00 p.m. Federal Building, 300 South 4th Street, Minneapolis.

Peter Erlinder is a William Mitchell law professor and international human rights attorney. He traveled to Rwanda to join the legal team defending opposition presidential candidate Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza. He was arrested on May 28, 2010 by Rwandan police on false charges. He is being held in a Rwandan prison and has been hospitalized twice after interrogation sessions. He is in grave danger.

In the run up to the national election, the administration of Rwandan president Paul Kagame has engaged in increasing repressive tactics including shutting down independent media and jailing opposition candidates and their supporters under a vague charge of “genocide ideology”—the same charge Professor Erlinder is now accused of. The “Genocide Ideology Law” is vaguely worded, requires no link to any genocidal act, and can be used to criminalize a wide range of legitimate forms of expression. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and even the U.S. State Department have denounced it as a tool of political repression. The Kagame administration has used it widely to target political opponents.

The Obama administration has done little to address Professor Erlinder’s situation. The state department and U.S. embassy have referred to this incident as “a local matter.” This is because the U.S. backs the Kagame regime.

Professor Erlinder has a long history of providing legal assistance, often pro bono, in cases involving the death penalty, civil rights, claims of government and police misconduct, and criminal defense of political activists. He is a long-time supporter of political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. He was president of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) from 1993-1997 and is a current board member of the NLG Foundation. He has been a defense attorney at the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda since 2003.

We must stand with courageous lawyers! Vigorous legal defense is not a crime! Free Peter Erlinder Now!

Sponsored by: Communities United Against Police Brutality (CUAPB). Endorsed by: WAMM. FFI: Call 612-874-STOP or email www.cuapb.org

From Andy Driscoll
The following material was added to this blog at 9:45 A.M. on 8 June 2010... It is a comment by Andy Driscoll, host of the radio show,
Truth to Tell

First of all, thanks to Ted Dooley, who's apparently wired into the proper network on Peter's behalf. This report (below my commentary) is something of a relief, given the charges that Paul Kagame could have leveled under Rwandan law.

What disturbs me no end right now is that the mainstream media is beginning to sound like the press corps for Kagame's administration - and I include my friend, Brian Lambert, of MinnPost.com, who co-writes The Daily Glean. Lambert's quick-to-judge rhetoric regarding Peter's record of criminal defense, not to mention his assumption (and that of others) that Hutu opposition candidate to Tutsi Kagame, Victoire Ingabire represents the only guilty party in the Rwandan genocide, and his implication that Peter Erlinder's arrest for "denial of genocide" is justified. Lambert's first paragraph:

The Peter Erlinder story — the one about the Billy Mitchell professor who has made a career out of defending the lowest of the low (cop killers, sex offenders) — is the sort of stuff that sets your eyes rolling. There are, to be sure, nuances to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, but Erlinder's arrest for returning there to defend a Hutu politician who is trying to rewrite the most well-accepted narrative creates some interesting dilemmas for liberal politicians suddenly charged with pulling his bacon out of the fire. The Strib story, by Kevin Diaz, Randy Furst and newcomer Jeremy Herb, notes that, "In Rwanda, where some 800,000 people lost their lives in ethnic conflict between Hutu and Tutsi, Erlinder has been trying to rewrite the history of good and bad in a conflict that the international community has largely blamed on the Hutu. 'As I understand it, I don't think he's really denying that there was a genocide,' said William Mitchell professor emeritus Kenneth Kirwin, who has known Erlinder for decades. 'I think he is more concerned with who was more at fault, or more responsible.' " I'm thinking this is a story with no straight lines. (emphasis Lambert's)

Lambert's incredible opening line that suggests that the accused deserve no defense is a slap in the face of the very Constitution Lambert would scream bloody murder were it vaunted press freedoms in jeopardy (and many are). This sets the stage, obviously, for his utterly biased, and ignorant report on Erlinder's role in the Rwandan conflict. The bold-face print is editorial comment of the first water, unseemly in a place where judgment should be entirely absent: a news story. Oh, yes, blogs can take more liberty, and The Glean is nothing if not a blog; but, readers have come to rely on this column as a digest of news they can use to skirt the papers and the multiple online sources needed to stay on top of happenings hereabouts. Thus do I charge Brian and MinnPost with journalistic irresponsibility and prejudgment in the face of released Kagame propaganda.

Fortunately, at least a dozen readers have taken Lambert to task in the Comments section, and they're not the crazies you find following almost any Strib story (MinnPost monitors its Comments section).

Let it be known here and now that Erlinder is first an international criminal defense attorney (and president of the association of such attorneys) and that he does not deny genocide, but simply questions the claim that the genocide was one-sided. He calls into question a trial by one half the genocidal forces by the other, equally guilty, side which happens to be in power. No one denies Peter's progressive perspective. That doesn't make him the criminal many would love to make him. Dissenters may be treated like criminals in this country these days, but it's still not a crime to be one.

The entire issue cries out for a reconciliation commission to acknowledge everyone's role in Rwandan genocide and to keep the peace by establishing and maintaining true democratically elected governance with no threats to opposition candidates of either side.

No comments:

Post a Comment