Arusha, April 27, 2011 (FH) - The Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) has sanctioned  American lawyer, Peter Erlinder, lead defence counsel for genocide-convict, Major Aloys Ntabakuze, and ordered his replacement for failure to appear before the Tribunal to defend his client.

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‘'The Appeals Chamber instructs the Registrar, pursuant to Rule 46(C) of the Rules, to replace Peter Erlinder as Ntabakuze's Lead Counsel as soon as possible,'' part of the decision signed by Presiding Judge Patrick Robinson on April 21, 2011 reads.    

The Appeals Chamber said that sanctions against the Lead Counsel was warranted due to several reasons including ignoring two warnings which reminded him about his duty to adhere to professional obligations to his client and also considered multiple efforts by Counsel to avoid traveling to Arusha for the appeal hearing.

‘'The Lead Counsel's conduct amounts to a failure to act diligently and in good faith and does not demonstrate the highest standards of professional conduct,'' the ruling states.

The Appeals Chamber was compelled to postpone the appeals hearing of Major Ntabakuze scheduled on March 30, 2011 as Lead Counsel did not turn up in court.

According to the ruling, Erlinder informed the Chamber on March 25, 2011 by a confidential and ex parte letter that he would not appear at the appeals hearing due to his medical condition. ‘'Lead Counsel's failure to inform the Appeals Chamber in a timely manner of his inability to attend the appeals hearing due to non-emergency medical reasons amounted to an obstruction of proceedings and was contrary to the interests of his client,'' the decision insists.   

However the Appeals Chamber went ahead hearing the appeals of the other two co-convicts, former military officers, namely Colonel Theoneste Bagosora, former Cabinet Director in the Ministry of Defence and Lieutenant Colonel Aloys Nsengiyumva. The trio was sentenced to life imprisonment on December 18, 2008 for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Erlinder was reportedly worried to travel to Arusha, Tanzania, at the Tribunal's seat, for the appeal hearing of his client allegedly for threats on his life.   

His client Major Ntabakuze desperately backed his lead counsel by filing a motion before the Appeals Chamber seeking for his counsel to participate in the appeal hearing by video-conference but the Chamber denied the motion.

Erlinder was arrested in Rwanda on May 28, 2010 on grounds of genocide denial but was later released "on medical grounds". He was in Rwanda to prepare the defence of opposition leader Victoire Ingabire, herself charged with "negationism" by Kigali.

After his release, Rwandan prosecution said Erlinder would be summoned any time to face charges and if he would jump bail and not respond to the summons, it would use the Interpol to track him down for his arrest.   


© Hirondelle News Agency