Mugesera returns to Rwanda

MONTREAL — The Globe and Mail

(Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Léon Mugesera’s family huddled around a cellphone at the Montreal airport to hear the news: The family patriarch and accused war criminal would not be passing through for a final goodbye. He was already aboard a private jet, they were told, ready to take off to his native Rwanda.

It was nearly 4 p.m. on Monday, and this time, Mr. Mugesera’s options for appeal really had run out. Several family members cried out. One collapsed and had to be helped to her feet.

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About an hour and 15 minutes later, the news was confirmed officially, not by Canadian minister, but on Twitter by Rwanda’s foreign affairs minister, Louise Mushikiwabo: “Léon Mugesera is now airbound for Kigali!” She hailed ordinary Canadians, saying they saw through the confusion of the case and demanded the removal of Mr. Mugesera.

A spokesman for Canadian Public Security Minister Vic Toews said the government was committed to removing Mr. Mugesera as soon as legally possible, but refused to say more for security reasons.

The legal possibility of deporting Mr. Mugesera opened wide just before 3 p.m. on Monday, when the Federal Court, where he made an unsuccessful attempt to be allowed to stay two weeks ago, tossed out his final appeal.

Mr. Mugesera, a 59-year-old philosopher, linguist and former political activist, is a wanted man in Rwanda. In a speech in November, 1992, he urged about 1,000 followers of a Hutu political party to rise up and resist the Tutsi “cockroaches,” whom he warned would cut Hutu throats.

Even Hutu moderates then in government concluded the speech was an incitement to murder. After they issued a warrant for Mr. Mugesera’s arrest, he fled to Canada, landing in 1993. The murder of 800,000 Rwandan Tutsis and moderate Hutus followed the next year.

Now Rwandan justice will be tested by one of the highest-profile genocide suspects to arrive from a Western country. Canada and other developed nations long refused to return people accused of genocide in Rwanda for fear they would be tortured and murdered.

The assessment started to change late last year when international tribunals and countries such as the United States started ordering people returned. In a Canadian first, the Federal Court ruled Jan. 11 that Mr. Mugesera could get a fair trial and was unlikely to be mistreated.

As with every decision involving Mr. Mugesera, Monday’s deportation left Canada’s Rwandan community deeply divided. Enemies of President Paul Kagame’s regime, many of them Hutu, point to his Tutsi-led movement’s wartime atrocities and recent human rights abuses. But among the many Tutsi survivors of the genocide now living in Quebec, joy was unequivocal.

“I think we can say this is a great victory for justice. There are no parties planned. His family is here in Quebec City, and it can’t be easy for them. But this is one more step on the road to reconciliation,” said Joachim Muntezintare, a cab driver and a leader in the city’s Rwandan community.

Mr. Mugesera’s legal team based their final pleas for an injunction on an expected UN review of the risk of torture their client faces. They argued that Canada is legally bound to await the outcome of the review before making a decision. The lawyers are convinced Mr. Mugesera is in for rough treatment, as are several Quebec lawyers who have defended others accused in the Rwandan genocide in international courts.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International maintain torture is no longer a major problem in Rwanda, but both question whether country can stage a fair trial. Alex Neve of Amnesty International Canada says the federal government should have set an example by allowing the UN process to unfold.

Mr. Mugesera’s lawyers spent the past two weeks racing among Federal Court, Superior Court and the immigration and refugee tribunal, but managed only to delay his deportation by days.

In one of the final judgments on Monday morning, Superior Court Justice Michel Delorme said agreeing to hear the case would only encourage “tribunal shopping.” The Federal Court heard arguments by phone later that afternoon, but quickly issued a one-line dismissal.

Mr. Mugesera’s tour through the immigration and court system was finally over, 18 years and five months after he landed in Canada.

Follow on Twitter: @Perreaux

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