Peter Erlinder, l'avocat américain accusé de négation de génocide au Rwanda a été libéré, jeudi 17 juin pour raisons de santé. Il était retenu depuis le 28 mai dernier à Kigali, où il était venu défendre l'opposante Victoire Ingabire. Il est désormais libre de rentrer aux Etats-Unis, à la seule condition de laisser une adresse au Rwanda afin que la justice puisse le contacter, si nécessaire.
Les pressions s'étaient accentuées au fil des jours et elles ont manifestement convaincu le régime de Kigali de faire machine arrière. A Washington les partenaires américains ont réclamé expressément la libération de Peter Erlinder. Mercredi 16 juin, c'est le Tribunal pénal international pour le Rwanda, sur conseil des Nations unies, qui demandait à ce que l'avocat américain soit relâché. Le TPIR A fait valoir que M. Erlinder bénéficiait, en tant qu' avocat auprès du tribunal, d'une immunité.
Certains observateurs voient en fait derrière cette affaire une tactique politique de Kigali. Le président Kagamé aurait cherché à tester au sein de l'administration américaine le rapport de force entre ceux qui continuent de le soutenir et ceux qui critiquent de plus en plus durement son régime jugé autocratique.
Des éléments appuient cette thèse. Pourquoi en effet avoir arrêté Peter Erlinder cinq jours après son arrivée à Kigali ? Une expulsion dès son entrée au Rwanda aurait permis d'éviter les turbulences et surtout la mobilisation que suscite ce type d'affaire. Le gouvernement rwandais a voulu s'attaquer à un avocat qui lui est très hostile. En avril dernier Peter Erlinder a porté plainte aux Etats-Unis contre Paul Kagamé, l'accusant d'avoir ordonné la destruction de l'avion à bord duquel se trouvaient le président Habyarimana et son homologue burundais. Aujourd’hui Kigali a choisi de libérer quasiment sans condition l'avocat américain.
Rwandan Government Releases American Lawyer
Today, June 17, 2010, facing the overwhelming international condemnation, including a harsh rebuke from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), and isolated, the Rwandan Government gave up and released an American lawyer. After three weeks, the lawyer, Professor Peter Erlinder was released on “bail” on medical grounds. However, it appears that is the way for the Rwanda Government to save face.
Rwandan Superior Court Judge Johnson Busingye explained the conditions of the release during the hearing: "It is ordered that professor Carl Peter Erlinder be hereby unconditionally released from detention on health grounds as explained above. It is ordered further that investigations into his case will proceed while he is not in detention”
The Rwandan Prosecutor, Martin Ngoga, visibly humbled but wearing a mask of defiance said in a statement: "Bail on health grounds cannot be mistaken as vindication for Mr. Erlinder, This will not deter the prosecution as we finalize the case against Mr. Erlinder. He will soon be called to defend his record of genocide denial that insults the people of Rwanda and inflames those who seek to harm us."
The pressure on the Rwandan Government to release the lawyer had become too much to bear. When the US Government, through the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton weighed in, the Rwandan Government had no choice than to oblige. Even the worst dictators know when their finger is the mouth of a lion. In fact, on June 14, 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, during the Diplomacy Briefing Series Conference on Sub-Saharan Africa in Washington, DC. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unequivocally asked Rwanda to release, without conditions, the American lawyer abusively detained in Rwanda for seeking to defend a political opposition figure accused of sedition and political ideology by the Government:
QUESTION : Thank you, Secretary Clinton, for being here today. My name is Beth Tuckey. I’m with Africa Action. And you mentioned in your presentation that you would speak out on behalf of democratic governance in Africa, and I know that the U.S. has been a strong supporter of Rwanda for many, many years. And I’m just wondering what you’re doing to address the recent oppression of political candidates in Rwanda and if you’re doing anything to address attorney Peter Erlinder, who is currently under arrest in Rwanda.
SECRETARY CLINTON : I know that we have addressed those concerns. We’ve made them known to the Rwandan Government. We really don’t want to see Rwanda undermine its own remarkable progress by beginning to move away from a lot of the very positive actions that undergirded its development so effectively. We still are very, very supportive of Rwanda. The kind of development that has taken place in Rwanda is really a model in many respects for the rest of the continent. But we are concerned by some of the recent actions and we would like to see steps taken to reverse those actions.
On the one hand, I understand the anxiety of the Rwandan leadership over what they view as genocide denial or genocide rejectionism. There are many countries that have been in a similar historic position, so I do understand that and I know that they are hypersensitive to that, but – because, obviously, they don’t want to see anything ignite any kind of ethnic conflict again. So I’m very sympathetic to that.
But I think that there are ways of dealing with that legitimate concern other than politically acting against opposition figures or lawyers and others. So on the one hand, I understand the motivation and the concern. On the other hand, I want to see different actions taken so that we don’t see a collision between what has been a remarkably successful period of growth and reconciliation and healing with the imperatives of continuing to build strong democratic institutions.
Thank you all very much. (Applause.)