At exactly 11:27 p.m., the plane carrying Léon Mugesera touched down at Kigali International Airport after a long flight from Montreal, Canada, as 16-year deportation battle came to a dramatic end.
Mugesera, 59, remained aboard the white private jet - C-GIRE bearing a
Canadian flag, as Canadian immigration officers processed deportation formalities with Rwandan officials.
Mugesera, who in 1992 gave a virulent speech urging Hutus to kill their Tutsi enemies, had, since 1996, exploited all available legal
avenues to challenge the deportation order.
Upon arrival, Mugesera clad in an army green winter coat, was un-handcuffed, served with an arrest warrant and his rights read out, before being handcuffed again by a Rwandan National Police officer.
He was then led to a waiting VIP Land cruiser, bearing police registration numbers, which then drove away.
A team of local and foreign journalists keenly watched the proceedings as photographers and camera crews scrambled to capture the story.
“Mugesera, you remember me in Canada. It’s me. I have been following your case since 1997,” Marie Grace Ruzindana, a member of the Rwandan Diaspora in Canada shouted.
The suspect stood briefly looked at her, then got into the car.
The adamant bespectacled former university lecturer became the centre of a runway ceremony that lasted under 10 minutes.
A vividly relieved Ruzindana said she was happy that, although it took so long, the deportation finally came.
“I can’t express how happy I am,” she said.
A Government statement later said that Mugesera will be held for processing of charges by the national police, for a maximum of 72 hours, after which his file will be forwarded to the National Public Prosecuting Authority.
According to Prosecution, Mugesera will appear before a court within seven days, where “readiness by both parties to commence substantive trial will be assessed”.
The Government of Rwanda welcomed the deportation. “It has been a rocky, long and circuitous road, but Canada has made the right decision in the case of Leon Mugesera. Mugesera returns to find a country at peace, far removed from the vision of ethnic hatred and bloodshed he propagated before seeking exile in Canada two decades ago,” Prosecutor General, Martin Ngoga was quoted in the statement.
“Mugesera’s deportation is a relief for Genocide survivors and millions of Rwandans who have worked tirelessly since the Genocide to rebuild a nation governed by the rule of law with an abiding commitment to reconciliation and justice without vengeance.
“Like anyone else facing trial in a Rwandan court, Leon Mugesera will be assisted by lawyers of his choice at every stage and can expect to benefit from the great strides we have made in building a fair and robust system of justice,” Ngoga said.
Rwanda abolished the death penalty in 2007 and has strong collaboration with the United Nations across a range of justice and human rights issues, the communique added.
The UN has entrusted Rwanda to house war criminals from Sierra Leone
and the UNHCR’s has declared the country safe for returning refugees, it stated.
“The first Genocide suspect will face trial in Rwanda after a referral from the ICTR, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled in favour of the fairness of the Rwandan justice system and the United States has already deported two Rwandans convicted of Genocide who are currently serving their prison sentences.”
Police Spokesperson Supt. Theos Badege told The New Times that Mugesera will be held at a special detention facility designed for deportees before handing the case to prosecution “as stipulated by the law”.
The Executive Secretary of Ibuka, the umbrella association of Genocide survivors, Janvier Forongo, who also witnessed the ceremony, hailed Canada’s decision to deport Mugesera, saying it sent a strong message to other countries harbouring Genocide perpetrators.
“It should become clear that no country should be a safe haven to Genocide perpetrators. He was not the only one in Canada but his deportation means that even others can be deported.”
In a 1992 speech in Kabaya, former Gisenyi prefecture, Mugesera called the Tutsi “cockroaches” and “scum,” as he encouraged the Hutus to kill them and dump them into River Nyabarongo – a source of the River Nile – supposedly as a short cut to Abyssinia (Ethiopia), where he claimed they originated from.
According to Tom Ndahiro, a Kigali-based researcher, Mugesera’s deportation is a major step in the right direction.
“He is not accused of having killed anybody but, in actual sense, he killed everybody. His words were a major factor in the attempt to exterminate the Tutsi.”
“Apart from the 1992 speech, Mugesera had published a document in 1991 with even more inflammatory language,” Ndahiro added.
Reacting to the deportation, Canada’s Immigration Minister Jason Kenney tweeted: “Seventeen years is too long (to take) to deport a foreign criminal.”
In a statement, he said Canada should not be a dumping ground or a safe haven “for the world’s evildoers, according to The Gazzette.
“We are happy that we have finally managed to remove Mr. Mugesera from Canada. We hope that his ilk will never set foot on our soil again.”