Montreal, 11 March 2008 (FH) - The trial of Desire Munyaneza, a Rwandan refugee in Canada accused of participating in the 1994 genocide, has over the last year forced Canada to rediscover the horror of the genocide (800,000 deaths between April and July 1994), as well as the intrigue that drives the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and the gacacas, the semi-traditional Rwandan justice system of tribunals.

3 min 29Approximate reading time

Rape, kidnapping, incitement to genocide and murder: the first ten people who came to Rwanda to testify before the Superior Court of Quebec beginning 26 March 2007 painted a bloody portrait of the accused.

The son of a wealthy businessman from South Butare, Munyaneza arrived in Canada in 1997 with a false Cameroonian passport. He faces seven counts (two for genocide, two for crimes against humanity, and three for war crimes).

According to the survivors (mostly women) who came to testify, Munyaneza was one of the Hutu leaders in Butare. known as "Gikovu" ("Scar" in Kinyarwanda).He allegedly directed roadblocks and massacred Tutsis, in the company of Arsene Shalom Ntahobali, son of the Minister of Family and Women's Affairs, Pauline Nyiramasuhuko (both of whom are on  trial before the ICTR).

Often the stories centered on the atrocities committed in a lot situated behind the prefecture building, where hundreds of Tutsis had sought refuge. The witnesses recounted how they regularly encountered Mr
Munyaneza, notably when he was engaged in "selecting" men to be executed a little further away.

The tension was raised a notch when the survivors affirmed having witnessed or were victims of rapes perpetrated by Munyaneza. Two young women told how they were imprisoned in the home of the accused, where they were repeatedly raped.

"I stopped fighting and told him he could come as frequently as he wanted and do whatever he wanted, because I was already dead," declared witness known only as "C-21 to protect her identity.

But very quickly, the lawyers for Mr. Munyaneza (lawyers from Quebec who previously worked at the ICTR, notably in the Butare case), brought out certain contradictions with declarations the witnesses made in Arusha.

Specifically the defense argued that the witnesses had never spoken of Munyaneza during the Ntahobali trial, where they had given lengthy testimony.

Still, the stories gathered in the testimonies of 14 Rwandan genocidaires by an investigatory commission in the ‘‘Land of a Thousand Hills'' are horrible.

These prisoners, some of whom are sentenced to death, told how they were enrolled by Munyaneza, who directed the militias in the company of Ntahobali.

One of the protected witnesses, known only as " RCW-13", specifically recounted how between 300 and 400 Tutsis, having taken refuge in the church in Ngoma, had been massacred.

The 41-year-old man told a Canadian tribunal that he saw Munyaneza, accompanied by police and soldiers arrive at the church in this village not far from Butare.

"Desire told me to go and open the back door to the church," he said. The Tutsi refugees were ordered to leave the church, five at a time, and to gather in the neighbouring woods.

"They [the killers] first used rifles, others used clubs, and those who didn't die right away, it was Munyaneza who finished them off with his pistol," one can read in the 2,000 pages of interrogations released to
the public at the Palace of Justice in Montreal.

In addition to these 24 direct witnesses, the Crown, which leads the accusation, called in the fall of 2007 three background witnesses: Rony Zachariah (a doctor with Medecins Sans Frontieres, who worked at the
Butare hospital); Romeo Dallaire, (Canadian officer who lead the UN troops present in Rwanda in 1993 and 1994), and Alison Des Forges (historian, human rights activist). There were no more testimonies until the defense began its case in January 2008.

Since then, 15 witnesses have already appeared (three of whom appeared before an investigatory commission in France), but the credibility of all the witness testimonies was not convincing to Judge Andre Denis.

The judge recently declared to have identified "many parts of the testimonies that I am throwing out because they are not pertinent."

"That which we have heard to this point has been more peripheral, but we're heading toward the more precise," Mr. Perras, one of the defense lawyers, told Hirondelle.

"One of the witnesses that the court is going to hear in an investigatory commission in Tanzania scheduled for May says clearly that he was paid to say things against Munyaneza to the Canadian police... Among those who wanted to buy the witness, there is a witness for the prosecution."

One of the defense witnesses, "DDM 12', (a childhood friend of the accused). allegedly faced outside pressure telling him not to testify in Montreal. Since, "DDM 12" has requested political asylum in Canada.

According to Mr Perras, the author of this attempt at intimidation occupies "a post of authority in Rwanda."

Faced with these two declarations, the Crown, in the person of Mr Gauthier, retorted that these are nothing but "simple allegations."

If the schedule is followed, the defense should finish its case before summer, which would permit it to begin pleading its case in September.

A judgment is not expected before Christmas. By then it will have been almost two years since the beginning of this trial, the first of its kind in Canada, a country which is said to harbour close to 800 alleged
genocidaires, according to the victims' associations.

© Hirondelle News Agency