Friday, January 20, 2012

Leon Mugesera

There is much about Rwanda that Montrealers know little or nothing about because mainstream Western news media do not report it. This is why, regardless of what one thinks of the man, The Gazette's editorial "Léon Mugesera and justice in Rwanda" (Jan. 14) is out of touch with reality.

Mugesera is facing deportation to Rwanda over allegations that he was in part responsible for precipitating the 1994 genocide in that country. He argues that he faces torture or summary execution there.

A key issue for Canada is whether deporting Mugesera to Rwanda, even as the United Nations Committee Against Torture is assessing the risk of him being tortured, violates our international obligations under both "hard law" (traditional, legally binding laws) and "soft law" (adhering to international norms and standards).

I'm curious why The Gazette thinks Rwanda is a safe or just place. Having worked with Rwandans and been on more than a dozen missions to Rwanda since 2005, I wish it were, but it's not. Rwanda remains the vengeful totalitarian state it was in 1994. It is governed by President Paul Kagame's iron fist instead of the rule of law. Does The Gazette believe that African dictatorships grow kinder after making war for 18 years?

Rwanda officially prohibits the Hutu/Tutsi ethnic distinction, but only Tutsis are allowed to be called "survivors" and can benefit from state-sanctioned victim-support organizations. Statements that Hutus were killed or suffered in 1994 are often met with accusations of "genocide denial" or "genocide ideology," and possible imprisonment. Hutu losses cannot be recognized in public. So while technically Hutus may grieve their dead loved ones privately, they understandably fear the consequences of doing so publicly.

In the months leading up to Rwanda's August 2010 presidential elections, there were reports of bombings, explosions, and arbitrary arrests and detentions that left all political opposition leaders and several journalists either dead or in jail.

Your editorial asks why the UN Committee Against Torture needs to assess the likelihood of Mugesera being tortured when the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda "has decided it is safe to send suspected war criminals back to that country." This is a reference to the recent decision by the tribunal to refer genocide suspect Jean Uwinkindi to stand trial in Rwanda. That was a political decision intended to appease Rwanda, the U.S. and Great Britain; it rendered no justice at all to Uwinkindi. All 49 of his potential defence witnesses feared for their personal safety and signed affidavits confirming that they would not testify if the case were transferred to Rwanda. The UN tribunal decided to send him to Rwanda anyway.

The reality on the ground in Rwanda is the life-threatening situations to which accused persons, victims and witnesses in genocide cases are exposed.

The disposition written at the end of a court decision usually contains one or two paragraphs containing the court's conclusions and orders. The disposition in the Uwinkindi decision required 24 paragraphs to cover the tribunal's back, and included an order to send a "monitoring mechanism." This case is being treated like an experiment, and someone's life hangs in the balance. Canada does not need to send another guinea pig to "wait and see" if Rwanda can deliver impartial justice. The evidence shows it does not.

Canada can and should, I believe, respect its international-law obligations and either await the report of the UN Committee Against Torture, try Mugesera here as it tried Désiré Munyaneza (a Rwandan living in Canada who was convicted in Montreal in 2009 of war crimes and crimes against humanity) or consider other options.

While Canadians and the rest of the world stood and watched, Rwanda lived the horror of seeing hundreds of thousands of Tutsis and several tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Hutus slaughtered at the hands of military personnel and non-military thugs (government and non-government), settling scores or rivalries, or committing genocide for the hell of it. Is Léon Mugesera serving as Canada's opportunity to "let some blood" to assuage its guilt for its own complicity in doing nothing to stop the carnage in 1994?

Let's not kid ourselves into believing that deporting him to Rwanda would be legal.

Allison Turner is a Montreal lawyer who has represented clients charged before the UN's International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda since 2005. She lectures and teaches on international criminal defence work and sits on the board of the International Criminal Defence Attorneys Association and is a council member for the International Criminal Bar.

Read more: http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/L%c3%a9on+Mugesera+case+Canada+prepared+place+life+risk/6017571/story.html#ixzz1k0RvYPDs

1 comment:

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