By CHLOÉ FEDIO, The Ottawa Citizen April 29, 2012
Jacques Mungwarere was a 22-year-old school teacher living in the rolling, green hills of Kibuye, Rwanda when the systematic murder of the country’s Tutsi minority began in the spring of 1994.
Now, 18 years later and half a world away, the man who fled his native country and settled in Windsor, Ont. as a refugee after the brutal 100-day Rwandan genocide will face trial in Ottawa for war crimes. Jury selection for the bilingual trial begins Monday from a pool of about 1,000 potential jurors.
Mungwarere was arrested in November 2009 after a six-year RCMP investigation that included interviews with witnesses in Canada, the United States and Rwanda. He has been detained at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre since.
When he was apprehended, Mungwarere was working in a factory warehouse in Windsor, where he lived with his wife and three children, according to TRIAL, a Geneva-based organization that tracks alleged war criminals.
Now 40, he faces four counts under Canada’s Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act, including murder, sexual violence and physical and psychological aggression in an intentional campaign of genocide.
The charges do not outline any other details, although Kibuye is the site where 2,000 Tutsi women and children were locked in a church that was then bulldozed. In all, more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered in the small East African country in 1994.
For Odette Uwambaye, a genocide survivor who works as a counsellor for the Rwandan diaspora in Ottawa, the beginning of the trial comes as a relief.
“It’s still fresh. It will always be fresh. Whatever happened 18 years ago is still in my mind, it’s still in my body,” she says. “The memories come back, the post-trauma comes back. Those days and those nights come back.”
Uwambaye does not know Mungwarere. She was 140 kilometres away from Kibuye, in the city of Butare, during the genocide. But she will be watching the trial closely.
The only other person to be tried under Canada’s legislation, which was introduced in 2000, was Désiré Munyaneza, and that case was heard by a judge only.
A mountain of evidence was presented during Munyaneza’s trial in Montreal: 66 witnesses testified resulting in 16,000 pages of transcripts, 1,000 pages of written arguments were submitted by each the Crown and the defence, and the judge reviewed 30,000 pages of jurisprudence.
The trial itself spanned two years, between January 2007 and December 2008, with some breaks. The guilty verdict came down in 2009, a 200-page judgment with a 300-page confidential annex to protect witnesses. Munyaneza is serving a life sentence.
Mungwarere’s trial-by-jury is a “legal curiosity,” says Bruce Broomhall, an international law professor at l’Université du Québec à Montréal.
“I think we’re all interested in seeing how the jurors will respond to what is likely to be a complicated trial,” Broomhall says. “The facts can be quite intensive and these kinds of trials can last a long time so that could be exhausting for a jury.”
Broomhall believes the issue of witness protection that arose during Munyaneza’s trial could also come up in Mungwarere’s case, putting added pressure on jurors.
“The jury will have to be made very aware of its duties in terms of respecting confidentiality,” Broomhall says.
Add to that the fact that it will be a bilingual trial and selecting a jury becomes even more challenging, he said.
The complex Canadian trial process differs greatly from the method used in Rwanda to judge the accused in cases of genocide, says Joseph Rurinda, a survivor who runs a community association for Rwandans in Ottawa-Gatineau.
With a backlog of cases and thousands of people in prison awaiting trial, Rwanda returned to its traditional system — the Gacaca courts — after the genocide. Hearings were held under trees and in open fields that had been the settings for the brutal attacks. The accused stood before a group of civilian judges while witnesses came forward to defend or condemn their neighbours.
“We were facing a situation with no precedent. We were coming out of a genocide in which our entire population had been involved,” Rurinda explains.
“Those that were arrested needed to be tried but the country was coming out of a genocide and did not have the means to try all those people. We needed a solution — and it was impossible to try each person in a modern judicial system. That would have taken thousands of years.”
Up to 1.4 million dossiers have been resolved through the grassroots process, according to the Rwandan government.
However, many more involved in the genocide sought refuge abroad, Rurinda says. His entire family was wiped out during the genocide — 58 people, including his mother and father, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews. Rurinda settled in Canada in 1999.
“Here’s the problem: The Gacacas were for the general population — the accused who didn’t have the means to leave Rwanda. But many of those who planned the genocide and pushed others to participate — the rich and powerful who fled to countries like Canada — were not brought to justice,” Rurinda said. “That’s why the Rwandan community in Canada is grateful that those people are now being tried.”
The fact that this is Canada’s second war crimes trial makes it historic but also exposes a problem with the federal program, says Matt Eisenbrandt, legal director for the Canadian Centre for International Justice. The centre estimates that there are at least 1,500 war criminals living in Canada.
“The fact is, there have only been two trials in 12 years — in part because the war crimes program is severely under-funded and has been since the beginning such that they’re not able to pursue many cases,” Eisenbrandt said.
The budget of the war crimes program is $15.6 million per year. Its mandate is “to deny safe haven in Canada to war criminals and persons believed to have committed or been complicit in war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide.” The program is enforced by criminal proceedings in Canada, extradition and surrender to an international tribunal, revocation of Canadian citizenship and exclusion from refugee protection.
“The government does not have enough emphasis on the need for criminal prosecutions when alleged war criminals and genocide suspects are found in Canada,” Eisenbrandt says. “There’s been too much emphasis on deportation to other countries where they may not be brought to justice at all.”
Earlier this year, university professor Léon Mugesera, who was accused of inciting genocide in his native Rwanda in a 1992 speech, was deported from Canada after a 15-year battle. He will be tried in Rwanda.