Few nations have suffered like Rwanda, a poor central African state of 7 million where the Hutu majority rose up in a genocidal attack on the Tutsi minority in 1994. Some 800,000 people were slain.
And while Rwandans have tried thousands of genocidaires for their roles in the massacre, some accused of complicity in the violence have fled to Canada, France, Belgium and other countries seeking refuge. Leon Mugesera is one of them. During a speech to Hutu militants in 1992, Mugesera called his foes cockroaches and vermin, spoke of exterminating people and urged his listeners to cut their enemies’ necks. Canada’s Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that there is reason to believe Mugesera promoted hatred, murder and genocide before he fled here in 1993. It upheld his deportation.
Yet the Canadian government has been reluctant to deport Mugesera to face justice at home because Rwanda imposed the death penalty for crimes like Genocide. No longer. The Rwandan senate abolished capital punishment, effective July 25. Some 600 prisoners on death row, including war criminals, will now be spared a date with the executioner. In fact, Rwanda has not judicially executed a prisoner since 1998, Amnesty International reports.
That means Canada no longer has a moral duty to try Mugesera’s case here. He can and should be deported to face justice in Rwanda, where thousands have been tried for genocidal crimes. There is a presumption in international law that foreign jurisdictions, in this case Canada, should try war criminals only if the country where the crime took place is unwilling, or unable. Rwanda is willing, able and eager.
While Canada is prosecuting another Rwandan, Desire Munyaneza, for crimes against humanity, that case was launched before Rwanda abolished the death penalty and made such trials here unnecessary.
In Rwanda, Mugesera should be tried by a seasoned judge, or panel of his peers, who can weigh the political context in which his speech was made. Rwandans will be better-placed than any Canadian judge or jury to assess mitigating circumstances.
Like any alleged criminal, Mugesera deserves a fair trial, before an impartial tribunal and with a robust defence. The Canadian government should insist on that, before turning him over, and should monitor any proceedings. But Mugesera does not have to be tried here. He should face justice at home.