Munyaneza gets life in jail for Rwandan war crimes

A Rwandan man found guilty under Canadian law of war crimes committed in his home country has been sentenced to life in prison.

1st conviction under Canadian law for war crimes committed abroad

A Rwandan man found guilty under Canadian law of war crimes committed in his home country has been sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.

Quebec Superior Court Justice André Denis handed down the sentence for Désiré Munyaneza in Federal Court in Montreal on Thursday morning, in a precedent-setting case that has been tracked by international legal observers for years.

Munyaneza, 42, was the first person to be convicted under Canada's relatively recent Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act.

The former Rwandan businessman was found guilty of seven charges under the law, all related to atrocities he committed during the genocide, when an estimated 800,000 Rwandans, mostly minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus, were raped and murdered.

In his Thursday decision, Denis wrote the sentence is severe because "the law considers the crimes committed by the accused to be the worst in existence."

"The accused, an educated man from a privileged background, chose to kill, rape and pillage in the name of his ethnic group's supremacy."

Denis added that world history has proven that what happened in Rwanda can happen anywhere in the world.

Munyaneza, a Hutu, was convicted of seven counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in and around Butare, Rwanda, where his family was based.

With time already served in detention, he has 21 more years behind bars before becoming eligible for parole.

The sentence is the harshest one allowed under Canadian law, and is what Crown prosecutors sought, in contrast to Munyaneza's defence lawyer, Richard Perras, who pleaded for leniency and early release after 20 years served.

Plans to appeal

Perras said he plans to appeal the guilty verdict, a plea that likely won't be heard until next year at the earliest.

While there is no Canadian precedent for his case, Munyaneza's sentencing was expected to be relatively harsh and straightforward, according to several international criminal law experts watching the case.

Canada's unique war crimes law, introduced in 2000, allows residents to be tried for war crimes committed abroad.

Munyaneza came to Canada in 1997 and filed a refugee claim, which was rejected three years later.

Canadian authorities arrested him in October 2005 at his Toronto home, where he had been living with his wife and children. Authorities were alerted to his presence by Rwandan-Canadians who had seen him in their vicinity.

Since his arrest, he has been held in an east-end Montreal detention centre. Two years ago, Munyaneza sustained serious head and facial injuries while in custody, after a fellow inmate attacked him.

The assault forced the court to postpone some hearings in the trial, and Munyaneza was moved into isolation.

With files from The Canadian Press