Has trial been worth it?

RWANDAN WAR CRIMES Munyaneza still in court after a year of testimony, but experts say the effort will pay off in justice

As Canada’s groundbreaking war crimes trial approaches its one-year mark, one of its three crown prosecutors suggested the judge draw a line in the potential mountain of evidence presented.

Opening the door to all kinds of collateral information is a “recipe for a trial that will last eight years,” Richard Roy said as he argued with the defence about just where the line was.

As it is, there is unlikely to be a verdict until the fall, at least for Désiré Munyaneza, who is charged with participating in the mass slaughter and rape of Rwanda’s minority Tutsis in 1994.

Because the alleged crimes took place on Rwandan soil and all the victims and witnesses are there, the case is far more complex than a regular criminal trial, said Stéphane Beaulac, an associate professor of law at the Université de Montréal.

The defence team, prosecutors and judge must travel to Rwanda, Tanzania and France to hear testimony of witnesses unable to come to Canada.

“But these practical problems are set aside to at least have a trial and to send the message that you won’t remain unpunished,” he said.

The federal Justice Department’s crimes against humanity section spent $1.4 million on the case between March 2006 and October 2007. But that doesn’t include the cost of the RCMP investigation leading to Munyaneza’s arrest in 2005, the judge’s salary, the three prosecutors’ salaries and expenses or the salaries of the Justice Department employees, such as the RCMP.

Still, experts and members of the Rwandan community agree the time and millions of dollars spent on the trial is well worth it in fighting the war against crimes committed with impunity.

“All the good intentions in the last 10 years would be worth nothing,” Beaulac said, if no one attempts a prosecution.

An acquittal would be a disappointment, he said, but it wouldn’t mean that justice didn’t work.

“It may be just the growing pains of the first case.”

The trial has seen a few bumps along the way, with Munyaneza being beaten up in detention by another inmate, and one of his three defence lawyers withdrawing from the case.

It has also been full of some of the most gruesome testimony, in terms of scale and type of violence, that has ever been heard in a Montreal courtroom.

Women sobbed as they recalled seeing neighbours and relatives hacked to death with rudimentary weapons like machetes and clubs. Rivers ran red with blood, they said. Children were snatched from mothers as the women were dragged off to be raped.

Now that the defence team is up at bat, witnesses have testified they didn’t see any corpses at Rwandan roadblocks, nor did they see Munyaneza give any orders to the Interahamwe, the Hutu-led militia.

Throughout, Munyaneza, 41, sits in the prisoner’s box, dressed in a suit and tie and often consults his lawyers.

Ce contenu a été mis à jour le 18 juillet 2016 à 11 h 28 min.