A Quebec court has found Désiré Munyaneza guilty of war crimes committed in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, the first conviction under a Canadian law that allows residents to be tried for crimes committed abroad.
'We have been waiting for this. Nobody comes to Canada to hide.'—César Gashabizi, a Rwandan genocide survivor
Judge André Denis handed down the decision Friday morning in a packed room at the Montreal courthouse, stating very clearly that he had no hesitation whatsoever in convicting Munyaneza based on the evidence and witness testimony presented during the two-year trial.
"The accused's criminal intent was demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt, as was his culpable violence," Denis wrote.
"Désiré Munyaneza specifically intended to destroy the Tutsi ethnic group in Butare and in the surrounding communes. To that end, he intentionally killed Tutsi, seriously wounded others, caused them serious physical and mental harm, sexually assaulted many Tutsi women and generally treated Tutsi inhumanely and degradingly."
Munyaneza was found guilty on all seven counts brought against him related to genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in and around Butare, Rwanda, during the genocide, in which nearly 800,000 minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed.
He was accused of murdering and raping civilians, and of leading attacks against ethnic Tutsis at the National University of Rwanda during the genocide.
The offences fall under Canada's Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act, which allows residents to be tried for war crimes committed abroad.
Munyaneza, 42, is the first person to be convicted under the Canadian law in a case many Rwandan survivors followed very closely.
"I'm very happy he was found guilty, I want to thank and congratulate Canada," said César Gashabizi, a genocide survivor, outside the courtroom. "We have been waiting for this."
"Nobody comes to Canada to hide," he said.
Defence lawyer Richard Perras said he would appeal. "The evidence did not justify a conviction," he told reporters gathered outside the courtroom.
Judge found defence witnesses hard to believe
In his 210-page judgment, Denis said that he found the prosecution witnesses to be credible, but had a difficult time believing any of Munyaneza's defence witnesses.
The court heard from 66 people on three continents, who testified in French, English and Kinyarwanda, one of Rwanda’s official languages.
Witness testimony filled more than 16,000 pages of stenographic notes, Denis noted in the judgment.
The case generated an impressive amount of paperwork, including more than 30,000 pages of annexed material, and final argument briefs that were more than 600 pages long.
Most of the witnesses testified behind screens or closed doors because of fears for their personal safety.
Conviction seen as test-run for law
Munyaneza's trial was the first test of Canada's revamped war crimes law, which took effect in 2000.
His conviction will send a strong message to the international legal community, said Bruce Broomhall, a law professor at the University of Quebec in Montreal.
"I'm optimistic that this will be seen as affirming the usefulness of this new law," he told CBC News.
The international community has already made great strides in establishing global standards for prosecuting war crimes, notably through the creation of the International Criminal Court, Broomhall said.
But the ICC focuses on major players, such as presidents and generals, and "they don't always reach down to the level of Mr. Munyaneza, who was a local actor in his hometown of Butare," he said.
"That's where courts like those in Canada have to pick up the slack."
RCMP investigated Munyaneza after his refugee claim was refused
Munyaneza, an ethnic Hutu and son of a wealthy businessman, was 27 during the genocide and lived in the Butare region.
He moved to Canada with his family in 1997 and settled in the Toronto area, where he tried and failed to obtain refugee status.
'The evidence did not justify a conviction.' —Richard Perras, Munyaneza's defence lawyer
By that time, a Rwandan group called African Rights had linked Munyaneza to several people indicted by the UN International Criminal Tribunal.
They accused him of being a ground-level leader in a militia group that raped and murdered dozens of people.
RCMP arrested Munyaneza in 2005 after a long investigation.
Munyaneza was held in a detention centre in Montreal's east end for the duration of his trial. Less than a month into the court proceedings, he was badly beaten in his prison cell by a teenaged inmate, and sustained injuries severe enough to postpone the trial.
He has since been held in isolation.
Munyaneza will return to court on Sept. 9.