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A just sentence for crimes against humanity

It was a first for Canada: Desiré Munyaneza, scion of a wealthy family in the former Belgian colony of Rwanda, was sentenced in Montreal last month after a lengthy trial for crimes against humanity during the genocide of 1994. He was not the first alleged war criminal to enter Canada, but was the first to be convicted under Canada’s War Crimes Act, which allows Canadian residents to be prosecuted for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

All who believe that nobody who commits crimes against humanity should be given impunity will rejoice. Yes, Rwanda, tucked away in east Africa, is far away, but in the global village we are all Rwandans. Until the 1980s, Canada was among many countries that were guilty of inaction in failing to prosecute those who lied on their applications for refuge after the Second World War in failing to mention that they had served the Nazi killing machine. This “let-bygones-be-bygones” attitude flourished in France with regard to Vichy régime collaborators, until such courageous citizens as Beate Klarsfeld tracked down Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyons, in Bolivia and compelled his return to France to face trial.

In his landmark judgment, Justice André Denis of Quebec Superior Court sentenced Munyaneza to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years. Munyaneza not only incited genocide, he led a team of Hutu murderers as part of the systematic killing of at least 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. He was arrested in Toronto in 2005 under the new Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act.

The evidence showed that Munyaneza’s family had stockpiled machetes just before the attacks began. The evidence showed he killed dozens himself in a deliberate and premeditated way, justifying the toughest sentence under Canadian law.

In his trenchant ruling, the judge wrote that Munyaneza “chose to kill, rape and pillage in the name of the supremacy of his ethnic group,” reminding us that “every time a man claims to belong to a superior race, a chosen people, humanity is in danger.” As for the accused denying guilt, Denis wrote, “Denying genocide is to kill the victims a second time.”

“There is no greater crime than genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes,” he continued. “History has shown that what happened there could happen anywhere in the world, that nobody is safe from such a tragedy.”

Meanwhile, at The Hague, the genocide and war crimes trial of ex-Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic continues, even though he claims he needs more time to prepare his defence. He was branded the “undisputed” leader of Serbs involved in the ethnic cleansing campaign from 1992-95 in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The prosecutor in his opening statement said that, “In the course of conquering the territory he claimed for the Serbs, his forces killed thousands of Bosnian Muslims and Croats, imprisoned thousands more in squalid and brutal camps and detention facilities, and forced hundreds of thousands away from their homes.” He quoted Karadzic as saying before the war that Serb forces would turn the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, into “a black cauldron, where 300,000 Muslims will die.” The charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity and other atrocities include allegedly organizing the massacre of up to 8,000 Bosnian men and youths in Srebrenica.

What a contrast between these horrific episodes of planned mass murder with those who throw around notions of “war crimes,” such as in the recent Goldstone Report, when it comes to Israel’s actions in Gaza last year. Israel acted in response to years of unprovoked rocket attacks from that territory against civilian targets in Israel. As the report said, “The Government of Israel has a duty to protect its citizens.” Yes, innocent victims died, on both sides, as they always will in armed conflict. But with Gaza ruled by Hamas, dedicated to destroying Israel and allowing or directing rocket attacks and other acts of terror against it, there is no denying its primary responsibility for the deaths that occurred.



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