Betty McCollum seeks resolution for Peter Erlinder's release

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McCollum reminds the Rwandan government of U.S. generosity in foreign aid
Will this help? Rep. Betty McCollum has introduced, and Keith Ellison has cosponsored, a U.S. House resolution calling on the Rwandan government to release accused genocide denier William Mitchell law professor Peter Erlinder from prison.

She's hoping an appeal to that country's self-proclaimed adherence to the rule of law and humanitarianism -- as well as its need for foreign aid from the U.S. -- will bring him home.

Erlinder was arrested in May after entering the country to defend Victoire Ingabire, who is accused of denying the 1994 Rwandan genocide, collaborating with a terrorist organization and inciting ethnic hatred.

The charge against Erlinder is "genocide ideology," which to the ruling regime means he denies the accepted explanation of the genocide's cause: The planned massacre by rebel Hutus of Tutsis and moderate.

Shorthand: He's a genocide denier -- something his wife, friends and colleagues deny. Erlinder, they say, knows that hundreds of thousands of people died in the genocide, but is challenging why they died.

Since his arrest, he's been subject to interrogation, denied bail and is now being detained at a prison in Kigali

The resolution calls on Rwanda's government to respect its own constitution," Resolved to build a State governed by the rule of law, based on respect for fundamental human rights, pluralistic democracy, equitable power sharing, tolerance and resolution of issues through dialogue."

And it reminds Rwanda, none too subtly, that the African nation might want to play ball since it's the recipient of much largesse from Uncle Sam, which has, "Provided over $1,034,000,000 billion in United States taxpayer-funded foreign assistance to Rwanda since 2000, and an additional $240,200,000 is proposed in the President's fiscal year 2011 budget."

Here's the full text of her press release:

Washington, DC - On Tuesday, June 8, 2010, Congresswoman Betty McCollum (MN-04) and Congressman Keith Ellison (MN-05) introduced legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives, H.Res.1426, requesting that the Rwandan government release Peter Erlinder from prison so he may immediately return to the United States. Congresswoman McCollum believes his release is important to ongoing positive U.S.-Rwandan relations.

The legislation has been referred to the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

"This legislation is meant to send a signal to the Rwandan government that the immediate release of Professor Erlinder can prevent this unfortunate incident from escalating into an impasse in relations between our two countries," said Congresswoman McCollum. "My staff and I have made multiple attempts to reach the Rwandan Ambassador with no response yet. Now I will be reaching out to my Congressional colleagues to urge them to send a signal to Rwanda to immediately release Professor Erlinder."

"Professor Erlinder is being held without access to his family and I have serious concerns regarding his basic rights as an American citizen held in Rwanda," said Congressman Ellison. "This resolution calls for Professor Erlinder to be released immediately on humanitarian grounds."

A resident of St. Paul, Minnesota, Professor Erlinder is a human rights attorney and instructor at the William Mitchell College of Law. Last month, he was arrested in Rwanda on charges of denying the 1994 genocide. Initially, he traveled to the country to defend presidential candidate Victoire Ingabire, who was also arrested on suspicion of genocide denial. Professor Erlinder pleaded not guilty, but the court denied him bail.

Since Professor Erlinder's arrest, Congresswoman McCollum and her staff have been working with the State Department, the Rwandan Embassy in Washington, DC, and the U.S. Embassy in Rwanda to ensure Professor Erlinder's safety and eventual release.

Here's the full text of the H. RES. 1426:

RESOLUTION

Urging the Government of the Republic of Rwanda and President Paul Kagame to immediately release human rights lawyer Professor Peter Erlinder from jail and allow him to return to the United States.

Whereas the Constitution of Rwanda, adopted on May 26, 2003, states that Rwanda is `Resolved to build a State governed by the rule of law, based on respect for fundamental human rights, pluralistic democracy, equitable power sharing, tolerance and resolution of issues through dialogue';

Whereas there is an increasing pattern of restrictions of free expression in Rwanda ahead of the August presidential elections, including the denial of a work visa to a senior Human Rights Watch researcher and the crackdown of opposition members and journalists;

Whereas the United States Government has provided over $1,034,000,000 billion in United States taxpayer-funded foreign assistance to Rwanda since 2000, and an additional $240,200,000 is proposed in the President's fiscal year 2011 budget;

Whereas Peter Erlinder is a law professor at William Mitchell College of Law in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and has served as a lead defense attorney for the United Nationals International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania;

Whereas Peter Erlinder was arrested on May 28, 2010, in Kigali, Rwanda, and is currently being detained at Kicukiro Prison on charges of `genocide ideology' based in part upon legal arguments made during his work as a defense attorney at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda; and

Whereas United States Department of State Spokesman P.J. Crowley announced on June 3, 2010, that the United States Government was pressing the Government of Rwanda to `resolve this case quickly' and that the Department of State hoped for Peter Erlinder's release on `compassionate grounds': Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the House of Representatives urges the Government of the Republic of Rwanda and President Paul Kagame to immediately release Professor Peter Erlinder from jail and allow him to return to the United States.



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