A Rwandan philosopher living in Quebec, who is accused of inciting the 1994 genocide with a venomous speech, may be about to test whether Rwandan justice can finally deliver a fair verdict.
Léon Mugesera, whose deportation was upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2005, has received notice that his removal will take place on Jan. 12. Mr. Mugesera will ask for a delay and launch a last-ditch appeal in Federal Court on Monday.
Mr. Mugesera's removal has been put off for seven years over concerns he could face torture and death in Rwanda. Like many Western nations, Canada hesitated to return Rwandans accused of crimes against humanity because it was feared the African country was incapable of providing security or a fair trial in cases related to the 1994 massacre of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis and moderate Hutus by Hutu extremists.
Federal officials could not answer questions about Mr. Mugesera on Thursday, saying they do not comment on specific cases, but it appears two rulings by international tribunals in late 2011 have paved the way for Mr. Mugesera's deportation.
Dealing with separate cases involving Rwandans living in Norway and Sweden, the European Human Rights Court and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda each delivered landmark rulings ordering accused war criminals back to Rwanda. Each tribunal found the country's courts can now provide sufficient independence and impartiality and its jails are safe enough for prisoners.
If Mr. Mugesera's deportation goes ahead, he would likely be the first Western refugee claimant accused in the Rwandan massacre to land in the hands of Rwandan prosecutors since the two rulings. His case is expected to mark the start of a series of deportations and extraditions from Europe and North America.
"The wave is happening, and these are test cases, in a sense. They will be really closely watched," said Fannie Lafontaine, a scholar in international law at Laval University in Quebec City, where Mr. Mugesera, 59, once lectured.
Mr. Mugesera's lawyer, Guy Bertrand, maintains his client of 17 years faces death if he goes back to Rwanda.
"Canadian justice will be stained by this. It's clear Mr. Mugesera will never get a fair trial in Rwanda. He's convicted in advance, and I'm not even convinced he will survive to see trial," Mr. Bertrand said. "He's finished."
Rwanda has taken a series of steps to assuage international concerns over justice and prisoner safety. It abolished the death penalty in 2007 and promised not to impose permanent solitary confinement, a punishment used in Rwandan justice but considered cruel in many Western jurisdictions.
The Rwandan government has also pledged to allow observers to monitor trials and detentions. Mr. Bertrand said the assurances are empty, but one leading expert on human rights in Rwanda says much has improved in the country since the 1990s and early 2000s, when torture and extra-judicial killings were common.
While elections in 2010 brought the high-profile murder of an opposition politician and a journalist, the overall level of political violence has diminished greatly, according to Carina Tertsakian, Human Rights Watch's senior researcher on Rwanda. But the courts still have a long way to go, she said.
The lack of independence is key, Mr. Bertrand said. Mr. Mugesera is famous in Rwanda, both for being an alleged spiritual inspiration for the genocide and for being the critic who blamed Rwandan President Paul Kagame for starting the bloodbath as he led rebel forces in 1994.
"Mr. Mugesera is Mr. Kagame's sworn enemy, and in Rwanda, Mr. Kagame has a long reach," said Mr. Bertrand, who has called on Canada to prosecute Mr. Mugesera here. "Canada has long erred on the side of caution in this case. I don't know why the government would stop now."
Mr. Mugesera delivered a speech in November of 1992 urging Hutus to fill Rwanda's rivers with the corpses of Tutsis. The Rwandan justice minister issued a warrant for his arrest, but he fled and eventually landed in Canada in August, 1993.
The acts he described were carried out 18 months after the speech. He and his wife raised five children in Quebec City.