Prosecution of Désiré Munyaneza

Trial Update

Following his conviction, Mr. Munyaneza appealed both the conviction and his sentence.  CLAIHR, with the Canadian Centre for International Justice (CCIJ), has brought a motion to intervene on appeal.  The hearing of this motion is expected to be held in the Fall of 2011.

CLAIHR is represented pro bono by Mr. Fred Headon.

Read the judgment

In the News

McGill Tribune
The Agenda with Steve Paikin


Désiré Munyaneza, born in 1966, is a Rwandan man being prosecuted in Montreal for crimes committed during the Rwandan genocide in 1994. This case is notable as this is the first person to be arrested in Canada on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. This is the second attempt in Canada to prosecute someone for crimes against humanity for crimes committed abroad in the context of an armed conflict.

In 1994, an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered by Hutu extremists in the central African country within a deadly 100 days, in one of the century’s worst massacres.

Among other atrocities, Désiré Munyaneza is alleged to have participated in a mass slaughter of as many as 500 terrified Tutsis seeking shelter in a Roman Catholic church during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. Munyaneza is also accused of having played a very significant role in rape and sexual violence – having personally raped many women and girls and having encouraged the militia under his command to do the same.

In 1997, Munyaneza fled to Canada carrying a fake Cameroon passport. He immediately filed a refugee claim, insisting that because he was a Hutu, he would be killed if he was sent back to Rwanda.

Mr. Munyaneza’s refugee claim was denied largely on the testimony of an RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) war crimes investigator who linked Mr. Munyaneza to the Rwandan massacre. The Immigration and Refugee Board panel found that there were reasons to believe he had participated in crimes against humanity. According to Art. 1F of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, 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.

In October 2005, he was arrested at his Toronto-area home and brought to Montreal to stand trial on charges of rape, murder and looting.

Désiré Munyaneza faces seven charges under the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act, the first prosecution under this Act, including two counts of genocide, two counts of crimes against humanity and three counts of war crimes. The indictment accuses him of committing murder, psychological terror, physical attacks and sexual violence with intent to wiping out the Tutsi.

The Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act was adopted to implement Canada’s obligations with respect to the International Criminal Court and to provide for the prosecution of international crimes before Canadian courts.

Following the unsuccessful prosecution of Imre Finta in the early 1990s, leading to the 1994 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada, the Canadian Department of Justice has focused on citizenship revocation proceedings rather than criminal prosecutions in dealing with alleged war criminals. The Finta decision, which involved the prosecution of a WWII era Hungarian police officer, was unsuccessful largely due to the difficulty in trying a person alleged to have committed crimes 50 years prior. Mr. Finta was charged with manslaughter, kidnapping, unlawful confinement and robbery. He was accused of committing these acts while forcing the deportation of 8,617 Hungarian Jews.

In Finta, there were great difficulties with the testimony of witnesses, including suggestions of unintentional collaboration through stories told over the years since the war. Significantly, the case also provided an interpretation of the ‘military orders defence’ that since the accused was merely following orders he should not be entirely responsible for his actions. Further, the court found that in order to be convicted of international crimes, the perpetrator must have known and understood the context of the crime, meaning whether they knew or ought to have known that a state of war existed and that their actions, even during a state of war, would “shock the conscience of all right thinking people.”

Due to the failure of Canadian authorities to convict Mr. Finta for the crimes he was charged with, it was decided that it would be more expeditious and realistic to focus on immigration law to remove alleged war criminals from Canada rather than to try them for their crimes. For the most part, this has involved former Nazis. While there have been some successes in establishing that they entered Canada under false pretenses, a decision from the court does not lead to deportation. Once it is found they did enter the country unlawfully, the ultimate decision to revoke their citizenship and deport them rests with Cabinet. In order for these individuals to be removed on this basis, Cabinet needs to pass an Order in Council, which has proven to be extremely difficult to attain. Many of these individuals remain in Canada.

However, since the 1994 Finta decision, international humanitarian law has progressed substantially so that the defence that one was merely following orders can no longer shield an individual from accountability. The ad hoc tribunals established to prosecute the perpetrators of international crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and more recently the Special Court in Sierra Leone and the International Criminal Court, clearly set out individual criminal responsibility for one’s actions during armed conflict – whether internal or international in nature. The Munyaneza trial is tremendously important for Canada in terms of its own ability to hold war criminals accountable for their actions, but also as an example among its international colleagues in a world where international accountability has tended to be restricted to international tribunals or military courts. Now that international criminal law has become much more firmly established and understood, this case will provide us with an opportunity to send a message that there will be no impunity for such crimes in Canada.

CLAIHR monitored the trial proceedings and is now moving to intervene on appeal.

Trial Highlights

In March 2007, Munyaneza’s trial began with the testimony of a woman, identified only as witness C-15, who stated that she had pretended to be dead for three days and smeared her sister’s blood on her body in order to hide from Interahamwe gangs. [3] [4]

On April 10, a witness known as C-17 testifed that Munyaneza had raped her four times, and that she had witnessed him personally raping and killing others. [5]

On April 11, Munyaneza was severely beaten in his cell at the Rivières-des-Prairies prison by a 17-year old who had heard about the details of Munyaneza’s trial in the media. [6]

Interview on The Agenda

CLAIHR President, Jillian Siskind, discusses war crimes prosecutions and the Munyaneza case on TV Ontario’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin on November 3, 2009.