Rwandan genocide, Canadian complacency

By Kimberly Richards

Two weeks ago, Leon Mugesera — a Rwandan man charged with inciting the 1994 Rwandan genocide — was deported after spending 19 years of refuge in Canada. Mugesera is the poster child for genocide suspects hiding in Western countries. Mugesera’s trial is highly anticipated, as he will be the first genocidaire tried by Rwanda’s judicial system, indicative of Rwanda’s recovery.

The trial also sheds light on Canada’s justice system. The Canadian government contributed significant funds into the redevelopment of Rwanda’s justice system. Every notable news source in Canada reported the verdict that Mugesera was to return to Rwanda on Jan. 23, 2012, and the decision was enthusiastically applauded by the majority of Canadians. But the Canadian government’s willingness to grant Mugesera and his family permanent resident status has gone largely unexplored and under-interrogated by the media. Such an investigation provides insight into the blind-sightedness of Canadian immigration and the repercussions for Canada’s justice system.

In 1992, Mugesera delivered a speech in Gisenyi, urging members of the Hutu party to exterminate Tutsis and dump their bodies into rivers. According to court documents, killings took place the next day. These small-scale occurrences in 1992 were a prelude to the more than 800,000 Rwandans slaughtered in 1994. Mugesera, a professor of linguistics, and his family of five escaped from Rwanda and flew to Canada. Mugesera completed his graduate studies at Laval University, like many other Rwandan political activists, and had remained in touch with high-ranking Canadian bureaucrats who helped him gain refugee status.

Key among Mugesera’s Canadian connections was Alain Landry, the former assistant deputy minister of citizenship. Landry’s name was used in support of Mugesera’s refugee application and Mugesera was granted easy entry. Mugesera had many colleagues in Canada and it was believed that he and his family would adjust well to the country. Mugesera was welcomed back to Laval University and he lectured there for several years as a linguistics professor. His acceptance reveals poor communication between the Department of Immigration, and the Department of Foreign Affairs, the latter of which was aware of the conflict escalating in East Africa and Mugesera’s role in authoring the genocide.

This mistake made by Canadian immigration in the early 1990s resulted in two decades of expensive legal repercussions. Canadian taxpayers have expressed their dissent in hundreds of comments on related cbc and ctv news pages for incurring the cost of Mugesera’s numerous trials. The question has never been whether or not Mugesera was guilty, but rather what nation should try him, and how.

The Canadian government inadvertently assumed the role and responsibility as judge of Rwanda’s justice system when it was forced to determine if this war criminal would receive fair treatment there. Although the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously found Mugesera guilty of crimes against humanity and issued a deportation order in 2005, Mugesera has been able to stay in Canada because it was believed he would face capital punishment if he were to return to Rwanda. In 2007, Rwanda’s death penalty for convicted war criminals was dropped. Canada’s decision to deport Mugesera is a vote of confidence that the Rwandan judicial system is now capable of conducting a fair and impartial trial.

Mugesera’s eviction from Canada will likely commence a new era where genocide trials abroad cease, and Rwanda resumes responsibility for enacting justice and punishing its war criminals. But Canada’s precarious position as arbiter of justice raises an important question: What right does a European or North American state have to choose who to bring to justice and how? It is tragic that this question has emerged in Rwanda, given that the international community did so little to intervene in the mass slaughter in 1994.

Mugesera’s Canadian lawyer, Guy Bertrand, maintains that Mugesera will not receive fair trial back in Rwanda and is being turned into a “modern-day Hitler” as proof there was a mastermind behind the genocide. Bertrand believes that evidence will be fabricated and witnesses will utter false testimony when Mugesera stands trial in early April. He believes that President Paul Kagame will go to any length to convict him so as to set a legal precedent.

But few Canadians appear to be concerned about the legality of Mugesera’s trial in Rwanda. It is clear that he is not wanted on Canadian soil any longer. There are few who are sympathetic to a genocidaire. In Canada, justice seems to be a lesser concern than economics.

Conversely, dozens of Rwandans waited to see Mugesera arrive at the airport in Kigali. It is here — where victims of Mugesera’s speeches are able to witness this war criminal charged for his crimes against humanity — that justice is restored.

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