By Juda Strawczynski
The Quebec Court of Appeal’s decision in Munyaneza was one of the most important cases to be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada in 2014. Désiré Munyaneza appealed his conviction and life sentence for seven separate counts under Canada’s Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act, S.C. 2000, c.24 (“Act”). The convictions arose out of his participation in the Rwandan genocide of 1994 and consisted of:
– two counts of genocide, one by murder and the other by causing serious bodily or mental harm;
– two counts of crimes against humanity, one by intentional killings and the other by acts of sexual violence;
– three counts of war crimes, the first by murders, the second by acts of sexual violence, and the third by pillage (QCCA at para. 7)
However, unlike the other top cases of 2014, in Munyaneza the Supreme Court denied leave to appeal. As reasons for denying leave are not provided by the Supreme Court, it only took Justices LeBel, Karakatsanis, and Gascon one sentence to provide closure for Munyaneza’s victims.
The Supreme Court of Canada’s decision to deny leave is itself a major victory for international criminal justice. It demonstrates that Canada’s approach to international justice has reached a level of maturity: jurisdictional issues that typically complicate prosecutions of crimes against humanity and war crimes no longer necessitate a full hearing at the Supreme Court. Rather, lower courts are entrusted with the hearing of prosecutions under the Act, despite their jurisdictional and factual complexity. The Munyaneza trial, for example, took 8 months, the Court heard from 66 witnesses, and 200 exhibits were filed.
Canada’s trial courts also appear to be suited to review, interpret, and apply international criminal law. In the Munyaneza trial decision, Justice Denis considered the Rome Statute, as well as case law from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), and the International Criminal Court (ICC). His decision demonstrates that Canadian courts at all levels are able to interpret,and participate in the transnational development of international criminal law, and thereby protect universal human rights.
The Supreme Court of Canada’s decision to deny leave to appeal sends the clear message that Canada has the proper authority under both national and international law to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity. Indeed, at the Quebec Court of Appeal, Munyaneza argued that certain charges against him could not be prosecuted in Canada because they were either not war crimes under international law at the time of the Rwandan genocide, or because this would give the Act retroactive effect contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. CLAIHR and the Canadian Centre for International Justice intervened at the Quebec Court of Appeal to respond to these arguments. The Quebec Court of Appeal ultimately rejected Munyaneza’s arguments.
The precedent-setting Munyaneza case stands for the principle that Canada will not allow the violation of human rights, wherever they have taken place, and even if Canada must use its own court system to see that justice is served.