Leon Mugesera’s case – perversion of justice?

17 Jan

We live in a strange world, where things are turned on their head, and that’s accepted as normal or even right. Take the notion of justice, for instance. It would seem that criminals have more right to justice than victims of their crime. Certainly, you will excuse Rwandans for thinking that way.

There can be no debate that there are hundreds of thousands of Rwandan victims of the genocide who crave justice. They would like to see the perpetrators of the genocide answer for their crime and atone for their sins before they are reintegrated into normal society. This should not be seen as a special request. It is the normal thing in any society where there is the rule of law.

Equally indisputable is the existence of thousands of Rwandans responsible for the genocide who should face justice. Again, this is a normal expectation.

I have read many books and articles about post-genocide Rwanda – most of them written by academics, journalists, activists of every sort and all manner of “experts”. Nearly all of them are concerned about the rights of the accused – fair hearing, humane treatment, access to the best legal services and generally living conditions above those enjoyed by the majority of Rwandans, among them their victims. Rarely do you hear anything about the victims. It is like they have no rights and should expect none.

For victims, this obsession for the wellbeing of criminals amounts to perversion of justice. And you cannot blame them, especially when they see every trick in the book used to make known and convicted criminals escape justice. It has happened to Theoneste Bagosora, one of the masterminds and most brutal executioner of the genocide, and several others.

The latest person to use every trick available – and he has actually been doing so for the last seventeen years – is Leon Mugesera, an MRND ideologue and demagogue residing in Canada whose public pronouncements incited the killing of the Tutsi in the genocide. He is fighting extradition to Rwanda to face trial for his crimes. Canadian courts have ruled on several occasions since 2005 that he should be extradited.

In his most recent attempt to avoid answering for his actions, Mugesera appealed to the United Nations to pressure the Canadian Government to delay his deportation. And the basis for the appeal? Supporters of genocidaires and other revisionists claim that he will be tortured when he is returned to Rwanda for trial. Notice there is no mention that his actions caused the death of more than a million people and untold anguish to thousands of others who survived.

Those with a sense of history cannot fail to notice a twist of bitter irony in this appeal. Inaction by the UN was partly responsible for the scale and speed of the genocide in Rwanda. Now the same UN is being asked to prevent justice for the victims of its inaction.

But that aside, where do they get the crazy idea that he will be tortured?

I have read a lot about Rwanda, some of it written by haters of the government of Rwanda who have turned hate into a hobby or subject of academic pursuit. They accuse the government and President Paul Kagame of many things. Torture is not one of them.

A Rwandan familiar with the workings of the international system told me that he has not read anything from international organisations and the other usual suspects condemning Rwanda for torture.

Torture is indeed so absent that criminal suspects are happier to be arrested and kept in police custody than face irate victims of their crime. There is, in fact, general public concern that once suspected criminals get into police hands they will not confess because no one will touch them. This is in contrast to obtaining confessions under duress.

This is the extent of the absence of torture in Rwanda.

There was some instructive irony about Mugesera’s appeal that even his supporters could not have missed. At about the same time they were making a desperate appeal to the UN, pictures of United States Marines urinating on the bodies of dead Taliban fighters in Afghanistan were flashed around the world.

The pictures naturally caused worldwide outrage. Here was a most despicable and revolting act. No decent person ever does such a thing. But the revulsion was perhaps strongest in what was not shown but implied. If dead bodies can be subjected to such humiliation, how much worse are captured enemies treated?

We remember the furore caused by revelations of water-boarding and other “enhanced”  interrogation techniques against Iraqis a few years ago. Enhanced interrogation techniques is euphemism for torture.

Stories of torture during rendition of suspected terrorists across the globe still make headlines. The most current is the complaint by a senior anti-Gadhafi Libyan commander who alleges he was detained and tortured in the United Kingdom as a suspected terrorist.

No one has raised questions about the fairness of the judicial processes of the countries where such methods are practiced. Yet they are being asked where they do not happen.

Mugesera has been running for nearly twenty years, but now he has surely run out of steam and space. His case, and similar others, have tested the patience of Rwandans. They still trust that justice can still be done, for, as they say, the wheels of justice may turn slowly, but in the end everyone gets what they deserve.


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