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Court finds Rwandan leader guilty of genocide

Latest update : 2009-05-23

A Canadian court on Friday found a Rwandan militia leader guilty of war crimes for atrocities committed during the 1994 Rwanda genocide in which some 800,000 people were killed. The trial was Canada's first ever for war crimes.

AFP - A Canadian court on Friday found a Rwandan militia leader guilty of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity for 1994 rapes, murders and torture in Rwanda, in Canada's first war crimes trial.

Desire Munyaneza, 42, was found guilty of seven counts by a Quebec Superior Court for acts committed in southern Rwanda from April to July 1994 under Canada's Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act.

"As an armed conflict raged in Rwanda between the military and the Rwandan Patriotic Front, Desire Munyaneza intentionally killed dozens in Butare and its surroundings that were not directly involved in the conflict, raped several women, and pillaged homes and businesses of people who also had nothing to do with the unrest," judge Andre Denis said in court.

"As such, you have been found guilty of committing war crimes as defined under Canadian law," he said to the accused.

In his ruling, Denis expressed the view that prosecution witnesses who spoke about "what they had seen and experienced" during the Rwandan unrest offered more credible testimony than defense witnesses.

"Most of the defense witnesses did not see the accused during the genocide," Denis said in his ruling. "According to a number of them, there was no rape, no murder, no corpses in Butare. In fact, there was no genocide."

According to the United Nations, some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were massacred in the 1994 genocide.

Munyaneza's two-year trial heard from 66 witnesses in Canada, France, Rwanda and Tanzania, including former Canadian general Romeo Dallaire who headed a UN peacekeeping mission to Rwanda and American Alison des Forges, a historian and international observer for Human Rights Watch who provided context for the charges. Des Forges was killed in a plane crash in February.

The court heard Munyaneza, the son of a wealthy Hutu beer distributor, had set up roadblocks in southern Rwanda during the genocide to select Tutsis and moderate Hutu as victims based on their ethnicity or allegiances.

A man imprisoned in Rwanda for his own role in the genocide testified that Munyaneza orchestrated the massacre of 300 to 400 Tutsis in a church.

He also raped women at his home, others said in court.

The defense, meanwhile, portrayed him as a son devoted to the family business and of a young man in love. They were friends and family and a few Rwandans who allegedly found refuge at Mynyaneza's home during the fighting.

The trial was the first test of a Canadian law passed in October 2000 claiming "universal jurisdiction" over the world's most horrific crimes.

Munyaneza was arrested in Toronto in 2005 after seeking asylum in Canada, which Canadian immigration officials rejected. He had fled to Cameroon after 1994 where he was exiled, before arriving in Canada in 1997.

He now faces a life sentence -- a maximum of 25 years in prison in Canada. Sentencing is to decided in September.

His defense attorney said outside the court he would appeal the verdict.

Prosecutor Pascale Ledoux told reporters the mere fact this case went to trial shows Canada's resolve in bringing war criminals to justice.

"The case was very challenging as it involved events dating back 15 years in a foreign country, Rwanda," she noted.

Date created : 2009-05-23