By Jayne Stoyles, The Ottawa Citizen May 27, 2012
As the prosecution begins its case today in Canada’s second criminal trial related to the Rwandan genocide, many Canadians will be wondering why. Why should Canada spend the money? Why is it our problem?
International justice — and Canada’s contribution — matters for two compelling reasons.
If you have ever been the victim of a crime you will understand the first. Crime victims often express the same needs — to have the full truth emerge, hear a condemnation, see that there are consequences for their harm. Many are also strongly driven to help prevent others from suffering the same traumatic experiences.
Jacques Mungwarere was a teacher in Rwanda, where an estimated 800,000 people were killed in 100 days in 1994. He has been charged with genocide and crimes against humanity for having allegedly participated in a massacre in Kibuye Prefecture. There, about 2,000 Tutsis were killed in a complex in which they had sought sanctuary. He has been accused of murdering children and raping women, among other accusations.
After the genocide, Mungwarere came to Canada and settled in Windsor. He was arrested in 2009 after a six-year investigation, which started when he was recognized on a bus by a former student.
This is not an unusual occurrence, as people from the same regions often settle in the same communities in Canadian cities. Thus, survivors of violence may come face-to-face with their torturer or someone who killed members of their family, resulting in significant re-traumatization and a strong desire for action.
Rwandan-Canadians have also repeatedly underscored the importance of a contribution from the Canadian judicial system to addressing the past, especially since the response of the international community to the emerging genocide in 1994 was so inadequate.
In addition to the strong views of survivors about the need for justice, a second compelling reason for the Mungwarere case — and others like it — is the potential for the deterrence of future atrocities.
After the Second World War, the phrase “never again” was often heard, yet mass atrocities have since been committed in countless countries around the world.
It is too soon to make bold claims that the possibility of criminal accountability — through an international justice system that has only recently been emerging — will deter those who might plan or perpetrate a genocide.
At the same time, if this nascent system of international justice receives sufficient global support to reach its full potential, it is intuitive that at least some of these horrendous crimes, which are largely premeditated, will be prevented.
In the same way, one can imagine how much more “ordinary crime” there would be in Canada with no criminal laws or no courts.
A new permanent International Criminal Court (ICC) opened its doors in The Hague in 2003, embodying this hope for deterrence. Yet the ICC was intended as a court of last resort, and will only ever try a small number of alleged perpetrators in any situation of atrocities.
As a result, trials for war crimes and genocide in national courts were also envisioned when the ICC treaty was drafted. Such trials in the countries where the crimes took place still occur only in limited circumstances, thus countries that have a lesser connection to the incidents must also contribute.
Underlying these cases is the concept that we are all affected as human beings when widespread acts of violence are perpetrated, and thus we all have a stake in responding. One could argue that, in addition to this notion of universal impact, there is also universal responsibility. There are many ways in which countries around the world, and international corporations, have contributed to creating or perpetuating conditions that have ultimately led to armed conflict or genocide.
So why the case against Jacques Mungwarere? Because of our responsibilities and because it embodies hope. Hope of contributing to individual healing, saving hundreds of thousands of lives, sparing entire nations the need for decades of recovery, and reallocating the global resources needed to respond to emerging crises. Contributing to international justice is not about a charitable use of Canadian tax dollars, but about their wise investment.
Jayne Stoyles is the executive director of the Canadian Centre for International Justice and was involved in the negotiations of the treaty that established the International Criminal Court.
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