Léon Mugesera’s time of reckoning in Rwanda may at last be at hand. That would be a good thing for Canada, which gave safe haven for nearly two decades to a man accused of crimes against humanity. And it would be an even better thing for Rwanda, and for all international efforts aimed at preventing genocide. (Mr. Mugesera is scheduled to be deported on Thursday, and is in Federal Court this week asking for a last-ditch reprieve.)
Mr. Mugesera’s day in court lasted 17 years in Canada. This country is committed to due process, as it should be. At one point, he managed to convince a desperately naive Federal Court of Appeal that a 1992 speech was not an incitement to murder and genocide. “Why do they not exterminate all of them? Are we really waiting till they come to exterminate us?” he had said. And, “Do not be afraid, know that anyone whose neck you do not cut is the one who will cut your neck.”
Thankfully, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled 8-0 that, at a time of ethnic conflagration, these words and others counselled murder. Perhaps the court had benefited from the presence, for a while, of justice Louise Arbour, a former prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda. (She was gone from the Supreme Court by the time the case arrived.) Or perhaps it was tempted to think the worst when Mr. Mugesera’s lawyer, Guy Bertrand, alleged in a written motion that the court was beset by an extensive Jewish conspiracy that “contaminated” all members. (The court called that motion every scurrilous name it could think of.)
Of the 1992 speech the court said, “Viewed objectively, Mr. Mugesera’s message was likely to incite, and was made with a view to inciting, murder. Mr. Mugesera conveyed to his listeners, in extremely violent language, the message that they faced a choice of either exterminating the Tutsi, the accomplices of the Tutsi, and their own political opponents, or being exterminated by them.” Seventeen months later, the genocide began, and 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed.
Mr. Mugesera has lived in freedom in Quebec City because Rwanda’s judicial system and prisons were seen as unsafe for war criminals. But Rwanda has now dropped the death penalty and life in solitary confinement, and rulings by the European Court of Human Rights and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda have found improvements in judicial independence and prison conditions.
Canada should not be a haven for the promoters of mass murder. A fair, public trial in Rwanda would undermine the culture of impunity that fuelled the genocide.