UN’s torture committee puts its reputation on the line

It is seemingly obvious that Léon Mugesera will never accept reality. Up till now, the former National University of Rwanda (NUR) professor is still battling to overturn a deportation order handed down, in 2005, by the Canadian Supreme Court. Even after dramatically ending up on a Quebec hospital bed, at the time he was scheduled to board a flight to Rwanda, the leading Genocide instigator will not believe that he is inadmissible in the North American country, which he illegally entered in 1992 as a fugitive.
By James Munyaneza
By James Munyaneza

It is seemingly obvious that Léon Mugesera will never accept reality. Up till now, the former National University of Rwanda (NUR) professor is still battling to overturn a deportation order handed down, in 2005, by the Canadian Supreme Court.

Even after dramatically ending up on a Quebec hospital bed, at the time he was scheduled to board a flight to Rwanda, the leading Genocide instigator will not believe that he is inadmissible in the North American country, which he illegally entered in 1992 as a fugitive.

The most interesting but annoying development in this roller coaster legal battle is the intervention by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights-Committee Against Torture (OHCHR-CAT), which has, bizarrely, asked Canada to stay the deportation order until it has investigated the suspect’s fears of torture upon returning to Rwanda. The UN body’s demand, which came only hours after Mugesera had lost his final bid to avoid deportation, gave the feeling that the Committee was lying in wait to undermine a longstanding decision by Canada’s highest court, while  also blocking justice for a nation that suffered the consequences of Mugesera’s virulent speech.

In 1992, Mugesera called on the Hutu population to slaughter Tutsis. “…Anyone whose neck you do not cut is the one who will cut your neck…” his speech reads in part. Given the timing of the speech (a sort of coalition government had been formed in Kigali as a result of  mounting pressure from the then RPF rebels and the international community), the opposition called for his arrest, prompting the prosecutor to issue an arrest warrant. However, thanks to his position in the ruling MRND party, for which he was vice chairman in the Gisenyi prefecture, as well the genocidal ideology he shared with many among senior political and military leaders, Mugesera escaped arrest and fled the country.

Two years later, his inflammatory speech was rebroadcast during the Genocide to incite the killings.

In Canada, legal battles to have the fugitive returned home to stand trial for his criminal past intensified far back in 2005. Even after examining a translated version of his hate speech, Canadian courts and other relevant authorities have been frustratingly too lenient in their handling of Mugesera’s case.

Mugesera and his legal team were graciously allowed to exploit every slightest opportunity to secure a stay or even possible reversal of the decision by his host country’s highest court. Canada gave him far more time than he needed to practically challenge the wisdom of the country’s judicial system, that by the time he received the notice about the looming deportation, from the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration, on December 6, 2011, the Quebec resident could hardly believe that actually Canada was serious with its court decisions.

He then frantically hired a new lawyer to fight the imminent deportation, and, on Monday, last week, pleaded with a Federal Court judge to quash the Supreme Court ruling, arguing he would be tortured upon returning home. The court dismissed his claims and upheld the deportation order, prompting excitement among Rwandans, who are sick of seeing fugitives live scot-free in Western capitals.

‘By the shortest means’

But, as if we had not witnessed enough twists in this case that has lasted nearly two decades, a desperate and dejected Mugesera was rushed to hospital apparently after his health failed to come to terms with the prospect of being on a Rwanda-bound plane the day after (January 12).

He is now out of hospital and in a detention facility pending yet another hearing today, hopefully the very last! Whether his illness was genuine or not is a matter between him and the doctors.

But the fact is he is so terrified at prospect of seeing eye to eye and talking with the same people he had wished to “send back to Abyssinia, by the shortest means, via River Nyabarongo” – the River Nile tributary which, indeed, washed away thousands of half-dead Tutsis during the Genocide against the Tutsi.

More than a million people perished in the Genocide, which Mugesera proudly helped incite, in by no means small measure.

That is the gentleman the OHCHR-CAT is, bizarrely, shielding from justice.

It is not strange to hear Genocide fugitives make unsubstantiated allegations about torture in Rwanda. Sometimes, they may be forgiven knowing the kind of Rwanda they left behind when they fled with blood-socked hands. They are of the same ilk as Genocide revisionists and apologists, as well as other fugitives who are wanted back home to serve their sentences. Rwandans are used to the disgraceful and simplistic propaganda of these individuals and nothing from their mouths can surprise the nation anymore.

But it becomes a completely different case when such a distinguished institution as OHCHR-CAT swallows these empty lies hook, line and sinker. The Committee’s move to thwart Mugesera’s deportation does not only undermine the judicial systems of two sovereign nations, but is inconsistent with the earlier decisions by other UN institutions, namely, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and UNHCR.

‘New, stable, democracy’

While the ICTR will soon transfer Genocide suspects to Rwanda after it concluded, last year, that the country had all it takes to ensure a fair judicial process, the UNHCR this month invoked the Cessation Clause with regard to Rwandan refugees, after it was satisfied that the country was safe enough for everyone. And, in October, last year, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) paved way for the extradition of Genocide suspects, after concluding there was no evidence to doubt the capacity of the country’s judicial system to render justice.

For now it appears that OHCHR-CAT has put its reputation on the line by providing a cover to a criminal, with total disregard of the more than one million victims of the Genocide and the cries for justice from survivors.

With the Federal Court appearing to have given the last word on the case on Thursday, the Quebec Superior Court dramatically moved in and granted the OHCHR-CAT request – to stay the deportation order.

Nonetheless, it appears Mugesera and OHCHR-CAT are unlikely to succeed in their efforts, considering Canadian authorities have publicly expressed their determination to not keep criminals in their backyard. 

The Minister of Federal Immigration, Jason Kenney, is quoted in the Gazette as saying Rwanda has “established a fair court system in their new, stable, democracy…”We do not send people back if our legal system determines they are likely to face cruel or unusual punishment. Our system has determined that he does not face such risk and it is time for him to go…”

The spokesman for the Minister of Public Safety, Michael Patton, said  last week “He (Mugesera) was ordered deported in 1996 and has unsuccessfully been making his case in front of numerous courts and tribunals for 15 years… war criminals will find no haven on our shores.”

‘Wouldn’t lose sleep’

Legal experts have equally expressed outrage at the UN body’s interventions, with Payam Akhavan, a professor of international law at McGill University and former UN war crimes prosecutor, telling the Gazette that Ottawa was under no legal obligation to respond to the UN’s request even though Canada signed the convention against torture.

“…These UN committees have to be reasonable and not create a situation where people like Mugesera are going to enjoy impunity.”

“Even if deporting him before the UN committee makes its determination may violate certain international procedures, I wouldn’t lose much sleep over it in this case,” observed Akhavan.

These sentiments have been echoed by Rwanda’s prosecutor general, Martin Ngoga, who said the UN Committee’s intervention was “naively conceived and in bad taste.”

Many will continue to wonder why OHCHR-CAT stooped too low to render some credence to desperate claims from a man who vigorously sowed genocide seeds.

munyanezason@yahoo.com

Twitter @jmunyaneza

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