CLAIHR Newsletter First Quarter 2010


Désiré Munyaneza

Witness XOn 29 October 2009, Désiré Munyaneza, a 42 year old Rwandan businessman, became the first person to be convicted under the Canadian Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act (the “Act”) which came into force in 2001. He has been sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for 25 years. He now seeks to appeal his conviction and sentence before the Quebec Court of Appeal.

The Munyaneza case thus serves as a ground breaking case in the development of International Criminal Law principles from a Canadian perspective. CLAIHR has closely monitored the trial and now seeks intervener status in the appeal together with the Canadian Centre for International Justice (CCIJ). By seeking intervener status, CLAIHR and the CCIJ hope to further develop and to distil the definition of war crimes, such as genocide and crimes against humanity, set out in the Act, in order to bring them in line with International Criminal Law principles.

Munyaneza was convicted of seven charges under the Act; including genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Munyaneza, A Rwandan Hutu, led a Militia group which systematically targeted Tutsis and committed acts of murder and sexual violence against them in a bid to destroy them. One of Munyaneza’s responsibilities was to carry out surveillance of a network of roadblocks in the town of Butare, manned by militiamen wielding machetes, axes, and other instruments. Anyone who was identified as a Tutsi was killed on the spot, or taken away and killed elsewhere.

Munyaneza was also found to have played a significant role in the rape and sexual violence of Tutsis–having personally raped many women and girls and having encouraged militia under his command to do the same.

Munyaneza fled to Canada with an illegitimate Cameroon passport. His appeal for refugee status had been denied by the Immigration and Refugee Board who found a Munyaneza was involved in the Rwandan massacre.

Although Canada had previously attempted to prosecute Imre Finta, a Hungarian Nazi, who was charged with manslaughter, unlawful confinement and forced deportation of 8617 Hungarian Jews in the early 1990’s,Finta was acquitted in 1994 and subsequently deported. Accordingly, the Munyaneza case is the first time anyone has ever been convicted under Canadian law of such crimes.

The Munyaneza proceedings therefore demonstrate and reaffirm Canada’s commitment to holding war criminals accountable for their actions, and ensuring that Canada does not become a safe haven for war criminals. It also shows that Canada as a world stage actor has an ability to enforce international human rights norms and is a willing participant in taking a stand against impunity.


The Hot Docs Film Festival – The Canadian International Documentary Festival

In the Spring of 2009, CLAIHR’s innovative spirit found new expression in its exciting new alliance with the Hot Docs Film Festival, North America’s largest documentary film festival which showcases films and filmmakers from over 35 countries around the world.

As a premiere festival sponsor, CLAIHR proudly presented Mugabe and the White African, the true story of white African farmer Michael Campbell’s desperate struggle to keep his farm in the face of brutal violence by Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe. Boldly charging him with racial discrimination and human rights violations before an international court for his brutal land reclamation policies, Campbell and his family risk their lives in the pursuit of justice. The film was presented to a sold-out audience and was followed by a post-screening CLAIHR reception where guests and members had a opportunity to mingle with the producers and directors of the film.

In its capacity as a recognized leader of human rights in Canada, CLAIHR was also invited by Hot Docs to the Good Pitch Forum, an initiative providing filmmakers with the unique opportunity to pitch social issue documentary projects and their associated campaign strategies to NGOs, charities, foundations, campaigners, advertising agencies, brands and media. The directors and producers of various film proposals were invited by turn to take a seat at one end of an exquisite antique boardroom table in the historic Hart House and to share a synopsis of the film and show a brief trailer. Following each presentation, industry participants seated around the table made comments or suggestions about the film and offered channels of distribution or other forms of assistance including, in some cases, funding. Participants included notable groups such as Amnesty International, Witness, Rights and Democracy, Ford Foundation, American Civil Liberties Organization and the American Bar Association. Set up in the style of a great theatrical production, all around the Good Pitch table in rows of increasingly elevated seating were hundreds of interested observers. This was a novel and laudable approach to uniting filmmakers and organizations fighting for a common purpose.

CLAIHR has continued its exciting association with Hot Docs. In the Fall of 2009, Hot Docs invited CLAIHR to the World Press Photo Exhibit, which featured photos from the winners of the annual worldwide photojournalism contest. As part of the 2010 Hot Docs Film Festival, CLAIHR has once again been invited to participate in the Toronto Documentary Forum.


The First Nations Truth and Reconciliation Committee

First Nations TRCOver the past two years, CLAIHR has closely followed the progress of the First Nations Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) with interest. In 2008 and 2009, CLAIHR was pleased to partner with the Human Rights Clinic at the University of Toronto, Faculty of Law to conduct research regarding not only Canada’s First Nations TRC, but TRC’s around the world. CLAIHR was also honoured to speak to the students at St. Thomas Acquinas Secondary School in Oakville last May at the request of a student in the human rights class.

The residential schools, which are the subject of the TRC, were notorious for abuse and neglect of First Nations children. The children were forcibly sent to the schools, often hours away from their families, and were punished if they were caught practicing their religion, speaking their native language, among other reasons. An astounding number of children at the schools contracted tuberculosis, resulting in many deaths.

The main purpose of the schools was to assimilate aboriginal children into the dominant Anglo-Saxon culture of the rest of Canada. As Stephen Harper eloquently stated in his apology, “these objectives were based on the assumption aboriginal cultures and spiritual beliefs were inferior and unequal. Indeed, some sought, as it was infamously said, ‘to kill the Indian in the child.’ Today, we recognize that this policy of assimilation was wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country.”

The First Nations Truth and Reconciliation Project officially began in June of 2008, a year prior to Stephen Harper’s apology. The purpose of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in Canada is to rectify knowledge and experiences from the IRS. Ultimately, the First Nations are searching for a truth to continue the healing process for those who may have been former students of the IRS and for all aboriginals that have experienced injustice. The TRC also hopes to offer recommendations to the government of Canada.


Responsibility to Protect Panel Discussion – April 2009

Early last year, CLAIHR was approached by the Law Society of Upper Canada to partner an event on the “Reconciling State Sovereignty with the Global Responsibility to Protect”. In approaching CLAIHR, the Law Society recognized the legitimacy of the organization’s role in the international human rights discourse. On April 6, 2009, the panel discussion took place, featuring prominent Canadian figures including the following: the Hon. Bob Rae, former Premier of Ontario, current Member of Parliament and fervent Human Rights defender and foreign affairs critic – in 2005 he oversaw discussions between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers – Steve Crawshaw, UN advocacy director of Human Rights Watch, Professor Pacifique Manirakiza, assistant professor at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law and the Hon. Harry F. LaForme, Ontario Court of Appeals judge. The panel proved to be an informative and educational discussion centered on the origins and applications of the responsibility to protect and specifically on Sri Lankan issues. This occurred for numerous reasons: the very presence of Bob Rae bringing his knowledge and direct experience in the region, the currency of the issues at the time of the event, and the makeup of the audience. While expectedly, the event was attended by lawyers, legal scholars and academics, there were a considerable number of members of the general public interested in the current topic and many were of Sri Lankan descent.

Following the hour and a half long panel discussion, Anne Marie Tremonti served as the keynote speaker at the reception. Tremonti, as an internationally experienced and award-winning journalist and host of “The Current” on CBC Radio, discussed the coverage of international human rights in the media. Bringing a media perspective to a law-emphasized event, she explained the way in which overseas assignments for journalists are the first to be cut in an economic recession, consequently reducing direct experiences and points of view from journalists and the entire public.

Serving as an event partner, CLAIHR also had the opportunity to set up an information booth at the reception following the panel discussion. There, representatives from CLAIHR promoted another event they were sponsoring: the Hotdocs film festival. There was significant interest in the film and subsequently, the film’s showing was sold out.

CLAIHR looks forward to partnering with and fostering an ongoing affiliation with the Law Society in promoting and educating on international human rights.


Event: Diplomatic Reflections on Afghanistan – March 24

On March 24, 2010, CLAIHR is proud to co-sponsor with the Law Society of Upper Canada an event entitled Peace, Reconciliation and Justice: The Afghanistan Experience Reflections of a Canadian Diplomat. The press release follows.

After three decades of social and political unrest, Afghanistan has an historic opportunity to break with the past and set the direction of its future. One of Canada’s esteemed former diplomats and the first-ever ambassador to Afghanistan will deliver a keynote address at the Law Society on March 24, 2010 to reflect on his mission to Afghanistan and the prospects of achieving peace in that country.

Christopher Alexander, Canada’s former Ambassador to Afghanistan (2003 – 2005) and former United Nations Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan (2005 – 2009), will share his first-hand experiences of promoting peace, human rights, justice and the rule of law while posted in Kabul.

He will also offer his perspectives on the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, including his role in organizing the country’s historic elections, the progress that has been made in rebuilding Afghanistan, and the country’s pursuit of peace, democracy and justice.

Alexander joined the Canadian Foreign Service of the Department of External Affairs and International Trade in 1991 and held a number of positions, including serving abroad twice in the Canadian Embassy in Moscow. He has been named one of the “Top 40 under 40” by the Globe and Mail.

This special event is being presented by the Law Society, in partnership with the Canadian Lawyers for International Human Rights, Amnesty International and Canadian Lawyers Abroad. It is part of the Law Society’s Rule of Law Education Series.

Members of the legal profession and the public are invited to attend this free event. Advance registration is required. To attend, please register by March 22, 2010 by calling 416-947-3413 or 1-800-668-7380, ext. 3413, or by email

Members of the media interested in attending are required to confirm their attendance in advance, to help ensure adequate space and audio requirements. Contact Susan Tonkin at 416-947-7605 or

Event details
Date: March 24, 2010
Presentation: 6 to 8 p.m.
Location: Convocation Hall


Looking Forward to 2010

With the success of CLAIHR’s events and undertakings in 2009, 2010 looks to be an exciting year. In addition to CLAIHR’s continued observation of the Munyaneza case, there are plans to submit a motion to intervene in the case. A variety of CLAIHR’s Student Chapters plan on showing films on relevant human rights topics – either through organizing a film festival or with individual viewings. These films have proven popular in the past and hopefully will continue to educate others interested in the promotion of human rights. The University of New Brunswick’s chapter is planning on tailoring a research project to coincide with the ongoing the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Committee. As CLAIHR continues to be a non-profit organization, there are plans underway for a late spring fundraiser to support activities undertaken by CLAIHR.


CLAIHR’s Student Chapters

CLAIHR has one of the largest networks of law student chapters among Canadian NGOs. Over the years, we have had presence in 12 law schools around the country. Currently, the most active Chapters are located at the Universities of British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Western Ontario, Windsor as well as Queen’s University Faculty of Law.

CLAIHR’s philosophy is to allow its Student Chapters to retain significant autonomy. This stimulates the diversity of projects, that range from poker tournaments to film festivals to research projects.

Ottawa Chapter is famous for organizing its Annual Global Generations Conference. The Conference has been providing opportunities to students to present their paper to a large likeminded audience since 2003.

Queen’s and Western Chapters bring together students and professors from all levels and departments of their respective universities to their Human Rights film festivals. The film viewings focus on specific issues related to human rights violations around the world. They are accompanied by presentations from famous speakers and roundtable discussions where everyone can share their thoughts on the issues raised in the films.

This year, our new UBC Chapter will be holding a Poker Tournament to raise funds for its First Human Rights Film Festival. The Festival is expected to be held at the end of the academic year. Other Chapters also hold various fundraising events, such as extremely popular Quiz Nights, and Speaker Series that focus on international human rights and politics.

This year, the University of New Brunswick Chapter is successfully continuing the research project initiated at the University of Toronto Chapter two years ago. The Project provides students with an opportunity to be involved in historical, policy and legal research related to the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Students in these chapters collect and analyze data on international experience in creating and operating similar Commissions.


New Board Members

Anatoly Vlasov

Anatoly Vlasov joined CLAIHR’s board in July 2009. He is in private practice in Toronto and has experience working for the defence at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague. With CLAIHR, Anatoly has taken over responsibility for CLAIHR’s Student Chapters.

Antoinette Issa

Antoinette Issa joined CLAIHR’s board in September 2009. She has worked as both a trial and appeals counsel for the office of the prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (“ICTY”). Notably, she worked extensively on the notorious Srebrenica case, which was found to be the only genocide committed in the Former Yugoslavia and in Europe since World War II. She presently works for the Public Prosecution Service of Canada as a federal crown. Her interest lies in the International Criminal Law and International Humanitarian Law fields.

David Andrews

David Andrews joined CLAIHR’s board in December 2009. David is a technology and marketing consultant who runs Ryatta Group, a company specializing in the online marketing of luxury goods. He holds an MBA from the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. David will assume responsibility for improving CLAIHR’s marketing, website and social media offerings.