Arusha, June 1st, 2010 (FH) - Two French lawyers at the International criminal tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), Arthur Vercken and Anta Guissé, denounced on Tuesday the jurisdiction's silence regarding the arrest in Kigali of their American colleague Peter Erlinder over accusations related to "negation of the 1994 genocide".

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Erlinder is President of the ICTR defence lawyers association in Arusha. He is currently defending former major Aloys Ntabakuze, who has been sentenced by the ICTR to life in jail in first instance and is now awaiting his appeal trial.

The American lawyer had been in Kigali for a week to be part of the defence team of Victoire Ingabire. An opponent to Paul Kagame's regime,  she is charged with negation of the genocide, collaboration to a terrorist organization and spreading ethnic division.

"To date it seems the ICTR has not raised the slightest protest against this arrest or demanded the immediate freedom of this lawyer who is on its list and who represents an accused person", said the two attorneys in a written request.

Arthur Vercken and Anta Guissé are defending  former senior official  at the Ministry of Interior Callixte Kalimanzara. He has been sentenced to 30 years in jail by the lower court and is now waiting for his appeal hearing, scheduled for June 14.

"This silence heightens worry by defence lawyers. Kalimanzira's team can no longer carry out its duties in peace and security."

"Indeed, Rwandan law includes in its definition of 'genocide ideology' assisting those accused of genocide, even in one's professional capacity," they said.

"That being the case, Mr. Kalimanzira's counsels can not under any circumstances take the risk of being treated the same way as Mr. Erlinder and/or risk being prosecuted by the Rwandan government or having arrest warrants issued for us," the two lawyers added.

They then asked  for a postponement sine die of their appeal hearing.

ICTR spokesman Roland Amoussouga rejected on Wednesday in a written statement the lawyers' allegations as regards to ICTR's silence.

"The ICTR sent on Monday an oral request (note verbale) to Rwandan authorities", he said. He also stated that the tribunal was in contact with Rwandan authorities as well as with Erlinder's defence.

According to Roland Amoussouga, the ICTR wants to know if Rwandan prosecution intends to use Peter Erlinder's work before the ICTR as part of the accusation.

"Mr Erlinder was not in Rwanda for a mission regarding his job at the ICTR (...) The ICTR doesn't have the power or the vocation for giving lawyers any immunity in cases that are not related to ICTR's mandate", he explained.

However, Roland Amoussouga reassessed that the tribunal was concerned by the case, and would be "uncompromising regarding the respect of ICTR's defence rights".


© Hirondelle News Agency