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Rwandan gets life sentence for war crimes

A Rwandan man receives a life sentence as the first person convicted under a law allowing people in Canada to be tried for war crimes committed abroad.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A Rwandan man who was the first person convicted under a law allowing people in Canada to be tried for war crimes committed abroad has been sentenced to life in prison.

Desire Munyaneza, 42, was found guilty in May of seven charges, including genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes for his role in the 1994 rape and slaughter of at least 500,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda. He will not be eligible for parole for 25 years.

"The accused, an educated man from a privileged background, chose to kill, rape and pillage in the name of his ethnic group's supremacy," Justice Andre Denis said as he issued the sentence. "The sentence I am imposing is severe because the law considers the crimes committed by the accused to be the worst in existence."

Munyaneza, a Hutu, was convicted of trying to destroy the Tutsi ethnic group in Butare and the surrounding area.

He was the first defendant to be tried under Canada's 7-year-old War Crimes Act.

Munyaneza was living in Toronto and was arrested in October 2005 after reports that he had been seen circulating in Canada's Rwandan community. At the time, African Rights, a Rwandan group that has documented the genocide, linked Munyaneza to key figures indicted by the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

During his trial, more than 66 witnesses testified in Montreal, and in depositions in Rwanda, France and Kenya, often behind closed doors to protect their identities. Many accused Munyaneza, who was 27 at the time, of being a ground-level leader in a militia group that raped and murdered dozens.

Emmanuel Muhawenimena, who said he lost 70 family members in the genocide, said he was satisfied with the sentence.

"It's very important and sends a strong message to other killers hiding somewhere," he said.

Jean-Paul Nyilinkwaya, a Rwandan who lives in Montreal and whose father was killed in the genocide, said survivors have been looking forward to the sentencing.

'Boost for the survivors'
"The fact that he was found guilty is a very big boost for the survivors. Everybody there is desperate for justice," he said.

Nyilinkwaya, who was instrumental in Munyaneza's capture in Canada, said the sentence allows victims to believe humanity still exists.

Prosecutor Pascale Ledoux said the sentencing sends a message to the international community.

"It underlies the importance of the fight against inhumanity and the application of law wherever the persons are, she said.

Defense lawyer Richard Perras argued last month that the sentence should be closer to 20 years. He is also appealing the conviction.

Canada denied Munyaneza refugee status in September 2000 and he has since lost several appeals.