RWANDA: American academic released

Human rights lawyer and academic Professor Peter Erlinder was released by a Rwandan court on health grounds after being held by the authorities for almost three weeks, the BBC reported on 18 June.

Erlinder was arrested on 28 May on accusations of denying the 1994 genocide. He had recently arrived in Rwanda to join the defence team of Rwandan presidential candidate Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, yet ran into problems with the authorities as he disputes the official version of what happened in 1994.

Erlinder is a law professor at William Mitchell College of Law in St Paul, Minnesota. He is a lead defence counsel for genocide suspects at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha, Tanzania, created by the UN Security Council to prosecute those accused of responsibility for the genocide. Tribunal authorities have argued that he should have diplomatic immunity.

Article 13 of the 2003 Constitution of Rwanda specifies that revisionism, negationism and the minimisation of genocide are punishable by law. Under Law number 33bis/2003 punishing the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, Article 4 prohibits the denial, gross minimisation, and any attempt to justify or approve of genocide.

Both the constitution and the 2003 law are considered overly vague by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, with neither providing specific definitions of the terms. It is alleged, therefore, that the crime of genocide ideology has been used to silence dissent, including criticisms of the ruling RPF party.