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Rwandan Sentenced to Life in Prison for War Crimes


Catherine Solyom, Canwest News Service  Published: Thursday, October 29, 2009

MONTREAL — Desire Munyaneza showed no emotion Thursday as he was sentenced to life in prison with no eligibility for parole until 2030, for his leading role in the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

Munyaneza, 42, the first person to be tried and convicted in Canada for war crimes, was found guilty in May of seven counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, when an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus were slaughtered in Rwanda.

Quebec Superior Court Justice Andre Denis said Thursday that Munyaneza, one of the key co-ordinators and participants of the genocide in Butare, the second-largest city in Rwanda, chose to kill, rape and torture countless Tutsis.

“The evidence shows that many Rwandans, from all ethnic backgrounds, were courageous during the genocide — some of them paying for it with their lives,” Justice Denis said.

“The accused, an educated and privileged man, chose to kill, rape and pillage, vaunting the superiority of his ethnic group reminding us again that every time a man claims to be part of a superior race, a chosen people, humanity is in danger.”

Munyaneza was given the maximum possible sentence Thursday, Justice Denis continued, because his crimes were the worst crimes, and because neither he, nor his defence lawyers, provided any attenuating circumstances.

On the contrary.

“We saw it,” Justice Denis told a packed courtroom. “His witnesses often denied there was a genocide. And yet we know that to deny a genocide is to kill the victims a second time …

“We have to say it and repeat it: There are no greater crimes than genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, that are nevertheless are still committed today.”

Defence lawyer Richard Perras said that he is appealing the conviction, and hopes the appeal will be heard by late 2010.

But the sentence itself matches the judgment. Munyaneza’s sentence is counted from the date of his arrest in October, 2005.

As for the numerous observers present, some from the Rwandan diaspora, they lauded the decision and hoped Munyaneza would not be the last war criminal tried in Canada.

Munyaneza, who has a master’s degree in economics from the National University of Rwanda, was part of the small bourgeois class that had money, weapons and vehicles.

His father, Isaac Munyagasheke, was a former member of parliament and the most important businessman in Butare, running a beer and soft-drink business.

Munyagasheke was arrested in February in Butare on charges that he participated in and helped plan the genocide, bought machetes and was responsible for the deaths of 17 women in his house. He is to be tried by the gacaca, or a grassroots court, made up of community elders.

His son — one of seven children — arrived in Montreal in 1997 and claimed refugee status. His claim was dismissed in September, 2000, and twice again on appeal but he was never given notice of his pending deportation, probably because by then, Canada’s war-crimes unit of the Justice Department was on to him.



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