Désiré Munyaneza

On 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.