By Jacques Lemieux
MONTREAL (AFP) — A Canadian court found a Rwandan militia leader guilty Friday of crimes against humanity in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, in Canada’s first war crimes trial.
Desire Munyaneza, 42, was found guilty of seven counts of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity for the rape, murder and torture of dozens of Tutsis and moderate Hutus in southern Rwanda from April to July 1994.
Quebec Superior Court judge Andre Denis said in his ruling that Munyaneza “specifically intended to destroy the Tutsi ethnic group in Butare and in the surrounding communes.
“To that end, he intentionally killed Tutsi, seriously wounded others, caused them serious physical and mental harm, sexually assaulted many Tutsi women and generally treated Tutsi inhumanely and degradingly.
“In doing so, he committed the crime of genocide” according to Canadian law.
Munyaneza, whose sentencing is to be decided in September, now faces a possible life sentence — a maximum of 25 years in prison under Canadian law.
However, his defense attorney Richard Perras said outside the courtroom he was “very disappointed” and would appeal the verdict.
The trial was the first test of a Canadian law passed in October 2000 claiming “universal jurisdiction” over the world’s most horrific crimes.
“It was a very challenging case as it involved events dating back 15 years in a foreign country,” prosecutor Pascale Ledoux commented after the ruling.
The mere fact this case went to trial shows Canada’s resolve in bringing war criminals to justice, she added.
Cesar Gashabizi, a spokesman for the Association of Relatives and Friends of Victims of the Genocide in Rwanda, told AFP he was “very satisfied” with the result. “Now, nobody will come to Canada to try and hide,” he said.
Munyaneza was arrested in Toronto in 2005 after seeking asylum in Canada, which Canadian immigration officials rejected. He had fled to Cameroon after 1994 where he was exiled, before arriving in Canada in 1997.
His two-year trial heard from 66 witnesses in Canada, France, Rwanda and Tanzania, including former Canadian general Romeo Dallaire who headed a UN peacekeeping mission to Rwanda and American Alison des Forges, a historian and international observer for Human Rights Watch who provided context for the charges. Des Forges died in a US plane crash in February.
The court heard Munyaneza, the son of a wealthy Hutu beer distributor, had set up and manned roadblocks in southern Rwanda during the genocide to select Tutsis and moderate Hutu as victims based on their ethnicity or allegiances.
A man imprisoned in Rwanda for his own role in the genocide testified that Munyaneza orchestrated the massacre of 300 to 400 Tutsis in a church.
He also raped women at gunpoint at his residence, others said in court.
The defense tried to portray him as a son devoted to the family business and as a young man in love. They were friends and family and a few Rwandans who claimed they found refuge at Munyaneza’s home during the fighting.
In his 216-page ruling, the judge expressed the view that prosecution witnesses who spoke about “what they had seen and experienced” during the Rwandan unrest were more credible than Munyaneza’s defense witnesses.
“Most of the defense witnesses did not see the accused during the genocide,” Denis said in his ruling. “According to a number of them, there was no rape, no murder, no corpses in Butare. In fact, there was no genocide.”
According to the United Nations, some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were massacred in the 1994 genocide.
Photo Credit: Skulls of victims on display at one of more than fifty genocide memorial sites located all around Rwanda. ©2009 Radio Netherlands Worldwide