Rwandan war criminal to be sentenced in Montreal

Crown prosecutors say a Rwandan man found guilty under Canadian law of war crimes committed in his home country must face the maximum sentence.

Munyaneza 1st person convicted under Crimes Against Humanity legislation.

Crown prosecutors say a Rwandan man found guilty under Canadian law of war crimes committed in his home country must face the maximum sentence.

Désiré Munyaneza, was back in Federal Court in Montreal on Tuesday for his sentencing hearing.

Désiré Munyaneza, 42, was convicted by a Quebec court in May of war crimes, for his part in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. It is the first conviction under Canada's Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act, which took effect in 2000. ((CBC))

Munyaneza, 42, was convicted in May on seven counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in connection to his actions in and around Butare, Rwanda, during the 1994 genocide.

Munyaneza, who was prosecuted under a Canadian law that allows residents to be tried for war crimes committed abroad, is the first person to be convicted under the legislation. The Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act took effect in 2000.

While there is no Canadian precedent for his case, sentencing should be relatively straightforward, said Payam Akhavan, associate professor of law at McGill University and expert on international criminal law.

"Under the Crimes Against Humanity Act, there is a mandatory life sentence similar to murder, with a minimum period of eligibility for parole," Akhvan told CBC News in an email.

"Given the gravity of genocide, the judge does not have much discretion on sentencing."

While the Crown argued Munyaneza should have no chance of parole before 25 years, defence lawyer Richard Perras said he should be eligible for release earlier.

Perras argued that because his initial indictment only accused Munyaneza of participating in the crimes — not planning them — he should be released earlier.

"It is only when he's charged with planned and deliberate [crimes] that the judge doesn't have discretion," said Perras.

Perras is also appealing the verdict, which he said is not justifiable given the evidence.

Ruling being closely watched

Rwandan-Canadians who watched Munyaneza's trial say it's important for them to hear the sentencing, even if the conviction is still going to be appealed.

"I think it's important to hear the sentence read out," said Jean-Paul Nyilinkwaya, a Montreal resident who lost more than 60 members of his family in the genocide, and is now an active member of support group Page-Rwanda.

"But we know the nightmare is not over yet."

Nyilinkwaya knew Munyaneza in high school and helped launch the original RCMP investigation that led to his former schoolmate's arrest.

He said the trial was cathartic for genocide survivors, and any step in the sentencing process will bring further closure.

"A few months down the road, we are still happy about the verdict," he said. "We are hoping that the sentence that is handed down is going to be proportional."

Munyaneza 'intentionally killed Tutsis'

Munyaneza was a store owner in Butare when civil strife escalated into genocide in the central African country.

Evidence presented in his two-year trial proved that Munyaneza "specifically intended to destroy the Tutsi ethnic group in Butare and in the surrounding communes," said Judge André Denis in his 210-page judgment. 

"He intentionally killed Tutsis, seriously wounded others, caused them serious physical and mental harm, sexually assaulted many Tutsi women, and generally treated Tutsi inhumanely and degradingly."

The landmark trial heard testimony from witnesses on three continents, who testified in English, French and Kinyarwanda, one of Rwanda's official languages.

Most of the witnesses testified behind screens or closed doors because of fears for their personal safety.

Munyaneza is being held in isolation at a Montreal detention centre until he is sentenced.

The judge will render his decision Oct. 29.