Burundi and Rwanda presidents’ widows appeal Obama immunity for indicted murderer


    by Claire Umurungi

    Oklahoma City – The widows of two African presidents slain in the 1994 missile attack on the presidential plane that triggered the Rwanda Genocide filed notice with the 10th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals challenging “head-of-state immunity” granted to the current president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, by the Obama administration in Habyarimana v. Kagame.

    Kagame has been indicted in France and Spain for the murders of the presidents. On Oct. 1, Kagame’s former chief of staff issued a public statement admitting his knowledge of Kagame’s role in the assassination of the two presidents and the cover-up, assisted by the ruling party and its supporters in the U.S government.

    The memoir of top U.N. Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte states she was fired by the U.S. in 2003 when she publicly announced she had the evidence to prosecute Kagame and the RPF for Rwanda Genocide crimes. Carla Del Ponte is a former chief prosecutor of two United Nations international criminal law tribunals. A former Swiss attorney general, she was appointed prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in August 1999.

    A federal district court in Oklahoma City dismissed the wrongful death lawsuit against Kagame for the assassination of Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira after the Obama administration claimed that “head-of-state” immunity applies to acts Mr. Kagame allegedly committed as a private citizen, not related to any government policy, which occurred long before he became Rwandan head of state.

    The Supreme Court has already established in Clinton v. Jones, 520 U.S. 681 (1997), that U.S. presidents may not claim immunity for acts committed before becoming head of state. In June 2010, the Supreme Court held in Samantar v. Yousuf, 130 S.Ct. 2278 (2010), that individual immunity is derived from the sovereign immunity of the state, and individuals may claim immunity only for acts committed on behalf of a government, when acting in an official capacity.

    According to Professor Peter Erlinder, IHLI director and co-counsel on appeal with John Zelbst Esq. of Lawton, Oklahoma: “Whether Mr. Obama has the power to grant an expansive immunity from suit in U.S. courts to a foreign head of state that Mr. Obama could not claim for himself – nor could it be claimed by Mr. Kagame – is a question of first impression that raises a basic separation of powers question: Does the Supreme Court or the executive branch ultimately decide the scope of immunity from suit in Article III courts? It is a question the Supreme Court will eventually have to decide.”

    Erlinder is professor of Constitutional Criminal Law and International Humanitarian Law at William Mitchell College of Law, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger’s Minnesota alma mater. Erlinder is also lead defense counsel in the Military-1 trial at the U.N. Tribunal for Rwanda, the case in which four former top military leaders were acquitted of conspiring or planning to commit genocide or any other crimes and the highest ranking defendant was acquitted of all charges, in December 2008. Erlinder is also president of ICTR-ADAD (Association des Avocats de la Defense), past president of the National Lawyers Guild, headquartered in New York City, and director of the International Humanitarian Law Institute, St. Paul, Minn.

    Oral argument in the challenge to head-of-state immunity for Kagame in Habyarimana v. Kagame is requested. A briefing schedule will be set by the court.

    Rwandan-born writer Claire Umurungi lives in Belfast, U.K., and can be reached at clairemrungi@live.com. This story first appeared on The Proxy Lake: Views and News on the African Great Lakes Region.



    1. Ann Garrison and her San Francisco Bay newspaper has always been against Kagame administration for the simple reason that she works and closely relates with the former Rwandan Governemnt's officials believed to have masterminded the Genocide of Tutsi in Rwanda. There is no surprise that the writer of this article cites Prof Peter Erlinder who has always been denying Tutsi Genocide just because he is not only a Defense Lawyer for the Genocidaires detained in Arusha but he has also picked a clear hatred for Kagame in person and for his administration.

      There are no evidence so far showing that Kagame's people are the ones who shut down the plane. The Genocide was carefully prepared and executed by the former government and it had even started way before the death of Habyarimana though not at the 1994 scale. But I wonder! When Kennedy was shot, how many Americans have died because of that. Can the death of one man lead to the extermination of an ethnic group?

    2. why this immunity is applied to some presidents. e.g: Mr Al Bashir soudanese president is wanted by ICC but Kagame has immunity. It is not fair, because both presidents are accused to kill their people(genocide and war crimes).

    3. Kagame is murder who needs to brought to justice and be prosecute for thousands of innocent people were killed.

    4. Kagame is nothing but a murder… A murder with a protection from USA and Europe. Kagame should not be granted any kind of immunity especially from United States of all places. United States Government should be prosecute as well because they are the ones who trained Kagame and place him in Rwanda so they can have there ways in DRC.

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