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(Marc Hofer)
(Marc Hofer)

The law society of Upper Canada and genocide denial in Rwanda Add to ...

An enigmatic, controversial woman returns to Israel after decades away and announces she's running for Prime Minister.

She regrets the Holocaust, but after a tour of Yad Vashem, the country's main memorial to the genocide of the Jews, she can't help asking why no one bothers recalling all those good people that were killed by Jews resisting the Nazis. In fact she says not even sure whether more Germans or more Jews were murdered.

The Israeli authorities decide to take her seriously. She's imprisoned, awaiting trial.

Soon her lawyer appears, from another country. He proves to be one of the world's most notorious Holocaust deniers. The Law Society of Upper Canada (i.e. Ontario) writes to remind the Israeli government that UN protocols protect the right of a lawyer to perform his/her professional functions without hindrance. The responsibility of the Law Society, its website tells us, is to ensure that "the people of Ontario are served by lawyers and paralegals who meet high standards of learning, competence and professional conduct". And the people of the world, as well. Their letter fails to mention the lawyer's views on the Holocaust.

The Israeli government unceremoniously throws the lawyer-denier out of the country. Despite UN protocols, the world cheers.

This story never happened in Israel. It is happening right now, with minor situational variations, in Rwanda. But the world's reaction is entirely different.

A woman named Victoire Ingabire returns to Rwanda from many years living in Holland to run against President Paul Kagame in August's election. It's not clear who's financing her campaign. She has known ties to Kagame's ferocious enemies in Europe and possibly in the Congo. In Europe those foes include known genocide deniers, Rwandans accused of having participated in the 1994 genocide, and conservative European Catholics who have protected accused genocidaires for years. Is Ms. Ingabire linked to them?

Kagame's opposition in the Congo are a violent Hutu militia that rapes and kills Congolese citizens while fighting to return to Rwanda to finish the genocide. Is Ms. Ingabire connected to them?

Accusations fly, but nothing is yet proved.

Ms. Ingabire tours Gisozi, the main Rwandan memorial to the victims of the genocide, perhaps as many as a million Tutsi and thousands of moderate Hutu. While she is prepared to acknowledge the genocide against the Tutsi, she seems far more concerned about the Hutu dead. But she doesn't mean those killed by the Hutu genocidaires. She means those killed during the genocide and the simultaneous civil war by the Tutsi-led RPF, who stopped the genocide by driving the genocidaires out of the country and forming the new government. To the RPF government, this feels deliberately provocative. It seems aimed at stirring up old hatreds against the Tutsi among the majority Hutu citizens of the country.

In fact, everything Ms. Ingabire says and does can be characterized as deliberately provocative, testing what she can get away with, seeing how far she can trample on laws against both genocide denial and exacerbating ethnic tensions. It's only 16 years since the genocide, the country remains fragile, and the government has many avowed mortal enemies. Ms. Ingabire has consorted with many of them.

Ms. Ingabire may acknowledge the genocide out of one corner of her mouth. Yet she tells reporters that she doesn't know whether more Tutsi or more Hutu were killed. There are two interpretations of this statement. At best, it implies an equivalency between the number of Tutsi and Hutu killed-a bald-faced lie. At its worst, it means accepting the assertions of a lunatic fringe of deniers that more Hutu than Tutsi were actually slaughtered. It is hardly possible that she's unaware of this loaded ambiguity.

Ms. Ingabire succeeds in enraging the government. They arrange for her and an assistant to be assaulted by a gang of young men. She is then imprisoned and charged with genocide denial and "spreading ethnic dissent" but she is released on bail. Her movements are monitored.

Into this scene suddenly appears her chosen lawyer, an American named Peter Erlinder. Erlinder's presence is like a sharp slap in the face to all survivors of the genocide. Ms. Ingabire is going out of her way to provoke again. There are no accidents: Erlinder is one of the world's leading deniers of the genocide against the Tutsi. For years he has noisily doubted that there was ever a plan by Hutu extremists to exterminate all the Tutsi, a truth embraced by the vast majority of those who have studied Rwanda.

As of this writing, the Kagame government seems determined to hold Erlinder prisoner.

Though he seems to have real health problems, he has been refused bail to return to the US to seek medical care. Everyone and their uncle condemns the Kagame government for its intransigence in the cases of both Ms. Ingabire and Mr. Erlinder. Both the American State Department and, yes, the Law Society of Upper Canada, demand that he be released and allowed to function freely as a lawyer (health permitting).

The Law Society's letter does not mention his views on the genocide. Whether he actually meets "high standards of learning, competence and professional conduct" is not raised.

Holocaust or genocide denial is now banned in Israel, Germany, France, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Israel, Poland and Portugal. If you break the law you are punished by imprisonment or a fine. A number of Holocaust deniers have been jailed in these countries, including David Irving and Ernst Zundel in Germany. Why is it not acceptable for denial to be banned in Rwanda, of all places, and why shouldn't deniers be duly punished?

More questions: Mr. Erlinder is not registered to practice law in Rwanda; is that irrelevant to Kagame's critics? Is anyone from anywhere allowed to materialize in Canada or the US and begin practicing law? Does every non-citizen who lands at Kigali airport have a right to remain in Rwanda? That's certainly not true of Canada and the US.

If I were advising President Kagame, I would strongly recommend that he deport Erlinder and be done with it. I would also suggest that he can afford to be more tolerant of dissent (though not of denial).

But then, why would he listen to an outsider like me? I did nothing in 1994 to try to stop the genocide. Why would he listen to any of those who support Erlinder's rights without even alluding to Erlinder's inflammatory views? Why should the ban on genocide denial not apply to him? Who has earned the right to tell this Rwandan nation, abandoned and betrayed by the world a mere 16 years ago, how to deal with the fear of renewed genocide? Who would dare lecture Israel on the rights of Holocaust deniers?

 

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