Law Society backing Ghahraman

Golriz Ghahraman. Photo: Getty Images
Golriz Ghahraman. Photo: Getty Images
The Law Society has jumped to the defence of Green MP Golriz Ghahraman, who is facing fresh claims that she defended a senior Hutu figure in New Zealand from extradition to Rwanda to face charges of genocide.

The details of the case remain the subject of extensive suppression orders.

In an unusual move, the Law Society issued a statement yesterday standing by Ms Ghahraman, saying it was wrong to identify a lawyer with their client's actions.

Ms Ghahraman has been in the spotlight after an interview in which she openly talked about her internship and defence work with the United Nations for the Rwanda Tribunal.

She has worked as an unpaid intern as part of a team that defended Joseph Nzirorera, who died before he could be convicted of genocide, and in a paid position as part of a team representing pop singer Simon Bikindi, who was convicted for incitement to genocide.

At The Hague, she worked on the pre-trial defence of Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic, who was found guilty of crimes against humanity.

She also worked on the prosecution at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.

On Tuesday she changed the wording of her profile page on the Green Party website, following criticisms that it implied she had prosecuted - and not defended - world leaders for abusing their power.

Former Labour staffer Phil Quin, who spent three years working in Rwanda, said Ms Ghahraman defended the extradition of a ``very senior Hutu'' accused of crimes against humanity.

The man, who refutes the accusations, came to New Zealand and was granted refugee status and citizenship.

``When he was found ... and ordered to be extradited to face his accusers, who was the defence lawyer that opposed his extradition?'' Mr Quin asked Newstalk ZB's Leighton Smith.

``I cannot for the life of me comprehend why any lawyer or moral human being would opt to engage in the defence of these people.''

Ms Ghahraman confirmed on Newshub's AM Show that she had worked for a Rwandan refugee in an extradition case, but was reluctant to mention details, citing suppression orders.

``We were trying to get a fair process around it here so that everyone could present their witness evidence. That's an ongoing case that I'm not on anymore.''

Mr Quin said he was outraged by Ms Ghahraman's moral judgement, rather than the abstract legal principles of every defendant deserving a fair trial.

He said he had received hundreds of responses on Twitter from ``disgusted'' Rwandans reacting to a photo of a beaming Ms Ghahraman with Bikindi.

``Those kinds of moral choices - forget about the law - that bring into question her judgement as a leader in our Parliament.''

Mr Quin asked Ms Ghahraman to endorse the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda genocide account, rather than the account that her defence team was part of.

A Greens spokeswoman said Ms Ghahraman had already expressed her views on the Rwandan genocide and would not be commenting further.

Ms Ghahraman has rejected suggestions that she was misleading about the nature of her work, and says it is nothing to be ashamed of.

She has said the work, whether for the defence or the prosecution, was important in establishing the rule of law and the UN human rights model.

``It's not about denying genocide. That's what I find offensive. We're all there, the UN is there to say that genocide is a crime ... This is what these trials are about.''

Law Society criminal law committee convenor Steve Bonnar QC said defence lawyers often had no choice about who to act for.

``The personal attributes of the prospective client and the merits of the matter upon which the lawyer is consulted are not considered good cause for refusing to accept instructions.

``The defence lawyer is required to put the prosecution to proof in obtaining a conviction, regardless of any personal belief or opinion of the lawyer as to the client's guilt or innocence.


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