Today it has emerged that Green List Member of Parliament Golriz Ghahraman allegedly defended suspected participants in the Rwandan Genocide. It also emerged that in the reaction to this news, there are a frighteningly large number of people who either cannot or will not understand that defendants in court cases – big or small – have a right to a fair trial just like anyone else.
Not surprisingly the right-leaning commentators are jumping up and down. On articles on Facebook about this story, there have been people calling for Ms Ghahraman to resign. Others have suggested she should go back to Iran. Many of them I think have a thinly disguised contempt for an Iranian-New Zealand woman who has fled persecution and managed to build a successful life in New Zealand and established herself as a respectable person in the legal circuit. The accusations that she cleaned her Wikipedia article are not surprising in the least as anyone can try to amend it and sometimes information is put up that is not from a verified source. If Ms Ghahraman actually did do that, she did it at her own discretion and would have known full well the ramifications just like any other educated person attempting such an act.
The outrage that has been spouting on Facebook seems rather misplaced as well. It is almost as if it is some sort of unpardonable offence to be on the defence team for person accused of activities of a genocidal nature. It is almost as if ensuring that the accused bad guys are somehow not entitled by the reckoning of these commentators to a fair trial like any other human being is.
Where is the justice if for the victims if the accused are not put to trial so they can defend themselves and let the jury in a court of law determine whether or not they are guilty? Would these people prefer that an innocent person is found guilty by flimsy association whilst the ones who carried the mass murders, the rapes, the mutilation and everything else that went on continues on their not so merry way?
Ms Ghahraman would have seen injustice in her time in Iran and possibly in New Zealand as well. She might have seen criminals getting off free and continuing their crimes because the victims were too scared to come forward, particularly if the perpetrator was in some sort of position of power at the time of the offences. Who wins then? Not the victims. But nor do they win if an innocent person is tried, convicted and punished for something they did not do.
Sometimes third world countries are not suitable locations to have the trials of suspected war criminals or genocide participants. It may be because the country is still too unstable and a trial might open up wounds that are just starting to heal. It might be that the local judiciary is not in a position to carry out its responsibilities or not.
But does that mean Ms Ghahraman should be ashamed of defending a person who was later convicted? No. As a lawyer involved in a trial if you are not on the prosecution you will be on the defence. It would have been good experience for her and as long as she does the job to the honest best of her ability, conducts herself in a professional manner and complies with any court protocols, then I have two words and two words only: WELL DONE.