The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), the United Nations court that has tried Rwanda's genocide crimes — and where St. Paul attorney Peter Erlinder is head of the defense attorney association — has called for Erlinder’s immediate release.  

The tribunal, in a two-page letter to Erlinder’s Rwandan prosecutor and the Rwandan minister of foreign affairs, wrote that Erlinder should not be prosecuted because the case against the William Mitchell College of Law professor involves his work as a defense attorney in the tribunal, where his clients were Rwandans accused of genocide.

“The ICTR hereby notifies the Rwandan authorities that Prof. Erlinder enjoys immunity and requests therefore, his immediate release,” the letter said.

The letter cited Erlinder’s June 7 bail hearing, where the Rwandan prosecutor used Erlinder’s statements in the tribunal, in which Erlinder had said that “the killings committed against the Tutsi in 1994 did not constitute genocide.”

The tribunal, based in Arusha, Tanzania, is conducted under the auspices of the UN, and the letter said that those performing work for the UN, including both their actions and words spoken or written, are granted "immunity from legal process of every kind.”

Erlinder, a defense attorney at the tribunal since 2003, has a rocky past at the ICTR: He was part of a defense attorney strike in 2004 and has criticized the tribunal’s ability to give its defendants fair trials. Erlinder’s supporters had previously been critical of both the tribunal and UN for not taking stronger action against Erlinder’s detention.


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