Munyaneza c. R., 2014 QCCA 906

Links: Factum [PDF] | Judgment [website]


Munyaneza is Canada’s first prosecution under its Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act, SC 2000, c 24 (CAHWCA). In 2009, Désiré Munyaneza was prosecuted for his involvement in the Rwandan genocide. During the trial, which took place in Montreal, witnesses described Munyaneza as a militia commander who both ordered killings and carried them out himself. Several women testified that Munyaneza had raped them. The Honourable Justice André Denis found Munyaneza guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. Munyaneza was sentenced to life imprisonment without chance of parole for 25 years. You can access the trial decision here.

Munyaneza appealed both the conviction and his sentence. On October 11, 2012, CLAIHR, in partnership with the Canadian Centre for International Justice (CCIJ), was granted leave to intervene in Munyaneza’s appeal.

On Monday, April 22, 2013, CLAIHR and CCIJ presented arguments as an intervener in Munyaneza’s appeal. CLAIHR focused on whether CAHWCA could be applied retrospectively to the 1994 Rwandan genocide, particularly since the Act only came into force in 2000. CCIJ and CLAIHR argued that the intent of the Act was to hold accountable those who perpetrated such crimes in the past, provided that their actions would have been considered criminal by the international law in place at the time.

The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal, citing the submissions of CLAIHR and CCIJ in finding that the application of the Act is properly retrospective because international law imposed individual criminal responsibility at the time of Munyaneza’s actions.

CLAIHR was represented on a pro bono basis by David Grossman and Audrey Boctor of Irving Mitchell Kalichman LLP.

You can read French and English summaries of both Munyaneza’s trial and appeal here, prepared by GREPIH, the UQAM student group that monitored the trial.

Background to Munyaneza

In 1994, an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered by Hutu extremists in Rwanda within a deadly 100 days, in one of the century’s worst massacres which has come to be known as the Rwandan Genocide.

Désiré Munyaneza was born in 1966 in Rwanda. Among other atrocities, he was alleged to have participated in a mass slaughter of as many as 500 terrified Tutsis seeking shelter in a Roman Catholic Church during the genocide. Munyaneza also stood accused of having been involved in the mass sexual violence committed during the genocide, both by participating in it, and by having encouraged the militia under his command to do the same.

In 1997, Munyaneza fled to Canada on a fake Cameroon passport. Upon his arrival, he immediately filed a refugee claim, insisting that because he was a Hutu, he would be killed if he was sent back to Rwanda. Munyaneza’s refugee claim was denied, largely on the testimony of a Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigator who linked Munyaneza to the Rwandan massacre. The Immigration and Refugee Board panel found that there were reasons to believe that Munyaneza had participated in crimes against humanity. According to Article 1F of the 1951 Refugee Convention, a person is excluded from asylum if there are serious reasons to believe that he or she has committed a crime against peace, a war crime, a crime against humanity, or has committed an offence against the purposes and the principles of the United Nations [Declaration of Human Rights].

In October 2005, Munyaneza was arrested at his Toronto-area home and brought to Montreal to stand trial. He faced seven charges under the CAHWCA, including two counts of genocide, two counts of crimes against humanity, and three counts of war crimes. The indictment accuses Munyaneza of murder, psychological terror, physical attacks, and sexual violence with the intent of eliminating the Tutsi race.

Canada’s Prosecution of International Crimes Prior to the CAHWCA

In the early 1990s, the Canadian Department of Justice (DOJ) sought to convict Imre Finta, a former Hungarian police officer alleged to have forced the deportation of 8,617 Hungarian Jews during World War II. He was charged with manslaughter, kidnapping, unlawful confinement, and robbery. The Finta prosecution was largely unsuccessful because of the difficulty in convicting a person for crimes committed fifty years earlier. In particular, the prosecution faced problems with the testimony of the witnesses, including suggestions of unintentional collaboration through stories told over the years since World War II.

The Finta case did provide an interpretation of the “military orders defence”: the decision stated that since the accused was merely following orders, he should not be entirely responsible for his actions. The Court also found that in order to be convicted of international crimes, a perpetrator must have known and understood the context of the crime. Specifically, the perpetrator knew or ought to have known that a state of war existed and that his/her actions, even during a state of war, would “shock the conscience of all right thinking people.”

The Fallout from Finta

Following the DOJ’s failure to convict Finta, the Canadian government moved to citizenship revocation proceedings, rather than criminal prosecutions, as a means of holding alleged international war criminals present in Canada. These revocation proceedings were viewed by the government as a more expeditious and practical . For the most part, these proceedings have been used with respect to former Nazis. While there have been some successes in establishing that such persons have entered Canada under false pretenses, a decision from the court does not necessarily lead to deportation. It is ultimately a matter of Cabinet’s discretion as to whether these persons should be deported from Canada. The Cabinet must pass an Order in Council to arrange for the deportation of these persons, which has proven challenging. As a result, many alleged war criminals remain in Canada.

Since the Supreme Court of Canada’s 1994 Finta decision, international humanitarian law has progressed such that the accused’s defence of “following orders” no longer constitutes a defence to war crimes and crimes against humanity. The case law arising out of the ad hoc international tribunals and the International Criminal Court clearly provides for individual criminal responsibility for one’s actions during armed conflict, whether such violence is internal or international in nature.

The Enactment of the CAHWCA

In 2000, Canada adopted the CAHWCA to meet its obligations and commitments as a state party to the International Criminal Court, pursuant to the Rome Statute. In doing so, Canada became the first country to incorporate the Rome Statute into its domestic laws.

The Importance of the Munyaneza Decision

The Munyaneza decision demonstrates that Canada is ready, willing, and able to hold war criminals responsible for their actions. The decision sends the message that despite Canada’s open immigration policies, Canada is not a safe haven for perpetrators of international crimes fleeing accountability in the jurisdictions where they committed crimes.

On an international level, the case indicates that, although the assessment of accountability for international crimes has tended to be restricted to international tribunals or military courts, it is appropriate, and maybe even ideal, for nations to prosecute war criminals in domestic courts.

For more background information, visit Trial Watch.