Peter Erlinder arrested in Rwanda for denying genocide

William Mitchell constitutional law professor Peter Erlinder is no stranger to controversial causes in the United States, but his latest gambit leaves him on the hook far from home: He's been arrested in Rwanda for denying the 1994 genocide.

"He's someone who denies the genocide in his writings and his speeches. Worse than that he has become an organizer of genocide deniers," Rwanda's Public Prosecutor Martin Ngoga told AFP. "If negating (the Tutsi genocide) is not punished in his country, it is punished in Rwanda. And when he came here he knew that."

Whether or not that's what Erlinder has actually done remains to be seen. But he's defending former Rwandan army commander, and accused genocide leader, Aloys Ntabakuze at the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda. He's also defending Victoire Ingabire, who is accused of denying the genocide, collaborating with a terrorist organization and inciting ethnic hatred -- and trying to start a political party that opposes ruling forces in Rwanda. No question, the man is lightning rod.

Here's video of Erlinger in Brussels shortly before leaving for Kigali:

MPR notes that, besides his academic credentials, Erlinder is best known in Minnesota for defending accused cop killer A.C. Ford in the 1990s, and for writing a legal paper cited by Indian bands fighting for off-reservation fishing rights ahead of this year's opener. We wrote about him back in 2003 when he took up the cause of sex offender James Poole.

William Mitchell released the following statement this afternoon:

On Friday, May 28, we were notified that Professor Peter Erlinder was arrested in Rwanda. At this time, he has not been charged with any crime. Our primary concern is for Prof. Erlinder's safety and we hope the situation is resolved both fairly and promptly.

William Mitchell is working with the United States State Department, the U.S. Embassy in Rwanda, and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to monitor the situation and provide any assistance possible. In addition, we are in contact with representatives from the offices of Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Rep. Betty McCollum, and Rep. Keith Ellison to make them aware of the situation and provide information about Prof. Erlinder's work in Rwanda.

William Mitchell has a 110-year history of legal education that is engaged with the legal profession, and we support and encourage the legal pursuits of our faculty beyond the college. Prof. Erlinder is in Rwanda to represent Victoire Ingabire, an opposition candidate for President of Rwanda who was arrested over accusations of promoting genocide ideology. In traveling to Rwanda, Prof. Erlinder exemplifies the great tradition of lawyers who take on the representation of unpopular clients and causes. That Prof. Erlinder did so at great personal risk demonstrates the strength of his commitment to justice and due process. We support his commitment to justice, the rule of law, and public service, which are the core of the lawyer's function in society and values Prof. Erlinder works to instill in the students he teaches at William Mitchell.

We look forward to Prof. Erlinder's return to the college and will continue to monitor his situation and work with the United Nations and the United States government until the issue is resolved.

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