Peter Erlinder

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Peter Erlinder
Known forRwandan genocide legal defense

C. Peter Erlinder (born 1948) is an American lawyer, originally from Chicago,[1] who lives in St. Paul, Minnesota. He was Lead Defence Counsel for the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and has represented several clients internationally, most notably several Rwandan opposition leaders, including Rwandan Presidential candidate Victoire Ingabire.


Erlinder was born in Chicago. He received his bachelor's degree from Bradley University, then spent two years at Georgetown Law School. He graduated from Chicago-Kent College of Law, and was a lecturer at the University of Chicago, before becoming a professor at William Mitchell College of Law. He retired in 2012.


Erlinder specializes in high-profile crimes involving terrorism, the death penalty, civil rights, claims of government and police misconduct, and criminal defense of political activists. Some of the clients he has defended include:

Arrest in Rwanda[edit]

Erlinder was arrested on May 28, 2010, in the Rwandan capital.[2][4][5][6] He is currently defending opposition leader Victoire Ingabire against the same charge which he now faces, a law prohibiting "Genocide Ideology" – speech refuting that the 1994 Rwandan genocide occurred exactly as the Rwandan government claims.[3][7] The Republic of Rwanda has issued a statement[8] that claims that Erlinder "continually engaged in conspiracy theories and denial surrounding the circumstances of the genocide [and] has promulgated this dangerous and distorted fiction over many years." This statement claims that he was arrested for allegedly denying the Rwandan genocide, and accuses him of links to FDLR. Police spokesman Eric Kayiranga claims that Erlinder said that "no Tutsis were killed by Hutus."[9] As a result of Kayiranga's claim, some media have reported that Erlinder's defense of clients accused of genocide included the argument "that the Tutsis were not the primary victims but the instigators and that the massacres were actually part of a civil war."[10]

Although "Conspiracy to commit genocide" is just one of six possible genocidal crimes enumerated in the "Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide," the crime of genocide still requires proof of "intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group."[11]

Erlinder has sued Kagame for ordering the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) to commit war crimes, including murder, and has accused the United States of turning a blind eye to Kagame's wrongdoing.[12] Amnesty International has confirmed that the RPF committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, but the crimes have largely escaped international notice.[13]

The National Lawyers Guild called for his immediate release.[14] William Mitchell College of Law stated that it stands in solidarity with Erlinder.[15] The International Criminal Defence Attorneys Association condemned Erlinder's arrest as "an attack on the right to counsel and the independence of counsel," and demanded that he be freed.[16] Paul Rusesabagina, the subject of the film Hotel Rwanda, argues that Erlinder is a political prisoner who should be immediately released, as President Kagame frequently silences his political opponents by charging them with the crime of genocide denial.[17]

Despite the American State Department's call for Erlinder's release, a Rwandan judge denied Erlinder's request for bail on June 7, 2010, and Erlinder stayed imprisoned in Kigali.[18] In the wake of Erlinder's continued detention, the work at the United Nation's International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda has ground to a halt. Current defense attorneys refused to proceed with their casework, for fear that they too could be arrested and held by the Kagame regime.[19] Recognizing the effect of Erlinder's arrest, the American Bar Association has called on Rwanda to respect the U.N. Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, and to "refrain from harassment of lawyers practicing law consistent with their professional obligations."[20] Other groups, including Advocates for Human Rights and the Society of American Law Teachers, joined in calling for Erlinder's immediate release.[21][22] U.S. Congressional Representatives Betty McCollum and Keith Ellison have introduced a resolution calling on Rwanda to immediately release Erlinder, pointing out that the U.S. gives Rwanda hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid every year;[23] Senator Amy Klobuchar has also called for Erlinder's release, and has asked Rwandan authorities to grant him an expedited appeal.[24]

Writing in the Harvard Law Record, an independent student-edited newspaper based at Harvard Law School, Patrick Karuretwa said that Rwanda was right to prosecute Erlinder, stating the country's anti-genocide denial laws helped ensure its stability and progress, and that no exemptions should be made for an individual's privileged position.[25]

Erlinder was released on bail on June 18, 2010.[26]


  • National president, National Lawyers Guild, 1993–97.
  • Current member, National Lawyers Guild Steering Committee.
  • Member, National Lawyers Guild Foundation Board.
  • Founding board member, National Coalition to Protect Political Freedom, Washington, DC.
  • Member, National Conference of Bill of Rights Defense Committees Steering Committee, Washington, DC.
  • Founding member, Minnesota Bill of Rights Defense Coalition.
  • Member, Minnesota Alliance for Progressive Action Board.
  • Defense Attorney at the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, 2003–April 2011(Dismissed by ICTR)


  1. ^ Schorsch, Kristen (2010-05-30). "Attorney with Chicago ties, critical of Rwandan government, arrested for denying genocide". Retrieved 2010-06-27.
  2. ^ a b c "Peter Erlinder, American Lawyer, Arrested By Rwandan Police". 2010-05-29. Retrieved 2010-06-27.
  3. ^ a b "Rwanda arrests Victoire Ingabire's American lawyer, Peter Erlinder, in Kigali | San Francisco Bay View". 2010-05-28. Retrieved 2010-06-27.
  4. ^ Kron, Josh (2010-05-28). "American Lawyer for Opposition Figure Is Arrested in Rwanda". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-06-27.
  5. ^ "Rwanda arrests US lawyer Erlinder for genocide denial". BBC News. 2010-05-28. Retrieved 2010-06-27.
  6. ^ "American lawyer arrested by Police over Genocide negation". 2010-05-28. Archived from the original on 2011-07-15. Retrieved 2010-06-27.
  7. ^ (AFP) – May 28, 2010 (2010-05-28). "AFP: Rwanda arrests opposition figure's US lawyer". Retrieved 2010-06-27.
  8. ^ "Republic of Rwanda Statement on the Arrest of C. Peter Erlinder". Business Wire. 2010-05-30. Retrieved 2010-06-27.
  9. ^ Hereward Holland (2010-05-28). "Rwanda arrests U.S. lawyer for genocide denial". Reuters. Retrieved 2010-06-27.
  10. ^ BOB VON STERNBERG; Star Tribune (2010-05-28). "St. Paul lawyer is under arrest in Rwanda". Archived from the original on 2011-06-06. Retrieved 2010-06-27.
  11. ^ "Genocide, Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of - - Prevent Genocide International".
  12. ^ (#6) On June 5, 2010, Author Editor Sharon Schmickle says (2010-06-05). "Erlinder's arrest puts focus on fierce fight over record of Rwandan genocide". MinnPost. Archived from the original on June 29, 2010. Retrieved 2010-06-27. {{cite web}}: |author= has generic name (help)CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  13. ^ "Former military official "instigated Rwandan genocide"". 2008-12-19. Retrieved 2018-09-11.
  14. ^ "National Lawyers Guild Demands Immediate Release of Attorney Peter Erlinder". Retrieved 2010-06-27.
  15. ^ "William Mitchell law school supports faculty member Peter Erlinder, under arrest for defense work in Rwanda". MinnPost. 2010-05-28. Archived from the original on 2010-06-30. Retrieved 2010-06-27.
  16. ^ "Lawyers protest Rwanda's arrest of Peter Erlinder | Radio Netherlands Worldwide". 2010-06-03. Archived from the original on 2010-06-07. Retrieved 2010-06-27.
  17. ^ "Paul Rusesabagina Demands Peter Erlinder's Immediate Release to Save His Life". 2010-06-02. Archived from the original on 2011-07-26. Retrieved 2010-06-27.
  18. ^ [1][dead link]
  19. ^ Kron, Josh (2010-06-07). "American Lawyer Denied Bail in Rwanda". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-06-27.
  20. ^ "ABA President Urges Rwanda To Observe UN Principles on Role of Lawyers – ABANow – ABA Media Relations & Communication Services". Retrieved 2010-06-27.
  21. ^ "What's New". Archived from the original on 2012-08-04. Retrieved 2010-06-27.
  22. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-16. Retrieved 2010-06-08.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  23. ^ Dwyer Arce (June 11, 2010). "US lawmakers call for release of lawyer in Rwandan custody". JURIST - Paper Chase.
  24. ^ Herb, Jeremy (2010-06-08). "Klobuchar asks for expedited Erlinder hearing". Retrieved 2010-06-27.
  25. ^ "The Harvard Law Record – Not up for debate: Rwanda cannot excuse Peter Erlinder's genocide denial". Archived from the original on 2010-06-19. Retrieved 2010-06-27.
  26. ^ "Rwanda frees US lawyer – Africa". Al Jazeera English. 2010-06-18. Retrieved 2010-06-27.

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