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Her Majesty the Queen (Prosecutor) v. Désiré Munyaneza

Court Superior Court, Criminal Division, Canada
Case number 500-73-002500-052
Decision title Judgment
Decision date 22 May 2009
  • Prosecutor
  • Désiré Munyaneza
Categories Crimes against humanity, Genocide, War crimes
Keywords Genocide; crimes against humanity; murder; pillaging; rape; sexual violence; Rwanda; war crimes; Interahamwe
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Désiré Munyaneza was born in December 1966 in Rwanda. Between the beginning of April and the end of July 1994, Hutus killed approximately 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda. During that period, Munyaneza was one of the leaders of the Interahamwe Hutu paramilitary organisation in Butare, which played a major role in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. In 1997, Munyaneza fled to Canada to avoid prosecution. However, in October 2005 he was arrested in Canada on suspicion of his involvement in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. In May 2009, the Quebec Superior Court found Munyaneza guilty for the criminal offences of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes for abducting, raping, sexually assaulting, and killing Tutsis, and for pillaging of their properties. He was sentenced to life in prison.

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Procedural history

Désiré Munyaneza moved to Canada in 1997 where he sought refugee status, arguing that he would be persecuted by Rwanda’s Tutsi government if returned to Rwanda. In 2000, his request was denied due to his suspected involvement in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

In October 2005, Munyaneza was indicted (in French here) under Canada’s 2000 Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes Act for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

On 19 October 2005, Munyaneza was arrested in Toronto by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).

On 26 March 2007, the trial against Munyaneza commenced.

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Related developments

On 29 October 2009, Munyaneza was sentenced (in French only) to life imprisonment with no chance of parole for 25 years, which is the maximum sentence available in Canadian law.

Following his conviction, Munyaneza appealed both the conviction and his sentence. He argued that acts of murder, sexual violence and pillaging do not constitute war crimes according to international law that was in force in 1994, or, alternatively, according to Canadian law in force at the time. Furthermore, he said that the indictment was invalid on grounds of vagueness, that his trial was unfair due to irregularities, and that the constitutive elements of the alleged offences were misinterpreted. Moreover, Munyaneza also argued that there was a clear lack of credibility of the Prosecutor’s witnesses. 

On 7 May 2014, the Quebec's Court of Appeal rejected (in French here) Munyaneza’s grounds of appeal and confirmed the first-instance verdict.

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Legally relevant facts

Between April and July 1994, Rwanda experienced a bloody genocide during which Hutu people targeted Tutsis and moderate Hutus. About 800,000 people were killed during that period.

Munyaneza was one of the leaders of the Interahamwe Hutu paramilitary militia in Butare, which played a major role in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Munyaneza is the first person found guilty under Canada’s 2000 Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act, ratified in order to fulfil Canada’s obligations under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

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Core legal questions

Can Désiré Munyaneza be found guilty of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity?

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Specific legal rules and provisions

Geneva Convention (I), 1949:

  • Article 3 - Conflicts not of an international character

Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, 1948, UN General Assembly:

  • Article  2 - Definition of genocide

 Additional Protocol (II) to the Geneva Conventions, 1977:

  • Article 4 - Fundamental guarantees

Criminal Code, 1985, Canada:

  • Section 229 - Murder

Statute of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, 1993, UN Security Council:

  • Article 4(2)(b) - Genocide

Statute of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, 1994, UN Security Council:

  • Article 2(2)(b) - Genocide  

Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act, 2000, Canada:

  • Section 6(3) - Offences outside Canada

Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, 1998:

  • Article 8(2)(e)(v) - War crimes
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Court's holding and analysis

On 22 May 2009, the Quebec Superior Court found Désiré Munyaneza guilty of seven counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes for acts of murder, causing serious bodily harm, sexual violence and pillaging.

After analysing the facts of the case and the evidence provided, the Court held that ‘Munyaneza was at the forefront of the genocidal movement’ (para. 2057), and that he ‘distributed arms and uniforms to Interahamwe so that they would attack Tutsi’ (para. 2060). According to the Court, the roadblock guards on Munyaneza’s instructions detained Tutsi who were subsequently killed by Munyaneza and other Interahamwe militias, he raped and sexually assaulted Tutsi women, and looted houses and stores belonging to Tutsi (paras. 2058-2075). Furthermore, Munyaneza ‘gave orders and attacked people for the sole reason that they were Tutsi’ (para. 2070).

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Further analysis

F. Lafontaine, ‘Canada’s Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes Act on Trial: An Analysis of the Munyaneza Case’, Journal of International Criminal Justice, February 2010, Vol. 8(1), pp. 269-288.

R. J. Currie and I. Stancu, ‘R. v. Munyaneza: Pondering Canada's First Core Crimes Conviction’, International Criminal Law Review, October 2010, Vol. 10(5), pp. 829–853.

F. Lafontaine, ‘Prosecuting Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes in Canadian Courts’, Toronto: Carswell 2012.

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Instruments cited

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Related cases

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Additional materials

‘Désiré Munyaneza’, Canadian Centre  for International Justice.

Monitoring Le procès Munyaneza - The Munyaneza Trial’, Groupe de réflexion en droit pénal international et humanitaire (GRÉPIH).

‘Desire Munyaneza’, TRIAL.

S. Montgomery, ‘Montreal man convicted of Rwanda war crimes’,, 22 May 2009.

‘Canada Convicts Rwandan Man For Genocide’, CBSNews, 22 May 2009.

I. Austen, ‘Canadian Judge Convicts Rwandan in Genocide’, International New York Times, 22 May 2009.

‘Canada's first war crimes conviction’, the interpreter, 3 June 2009.

‘Canada finds Rwandan guilty of war crimes’, Ceasefire, 3 June 2009.

 ‘Sentence in R. v. Munyaneza’, Public Prosecution Service Press Release, 29 October 2009.

‘Munyaneza gets life in Rwandan war-crimes case’, The Globe and Mail, 29 October 2009.

‘Canada court gives Rwandan life term for war crimes’, Reuters Africa, 29 October 2009.

‘Canada jails Rwandan war criminal’, BBC News, 29 October 2009.

‘Canada jails Rwandan over genocide’, Aljazeera, 30 October 2009.

A. Chung, ‘‘Kill, rape and pillage': Rwandan gets life in jail’,, 30 October 2009.

‘Prosecution of Désiré Munyaneza’, Canadian Lawyers for International Human Rights, 15 January 2011.

F. Lafontaine, ‘Universal Jurisdiction in Canada: Quebec Court of Appeal Judgement in Munyaneza Clarifies the Law and Paves the Way for Future (Unlikely?) Cases’, Blogue, 19 May 2014.

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Social media links

I. Burke, ‘Rwandan Hutu first to be convicted under Canada war crimes act’, Jurist, 22 May 2009.

S. Nagpal, ‘Canadian court finds Rwandan refugee guilty of war crimes’,, 23 May 2009.

N. Norberg,‘Québec court finds Rwandan Désiré Munyaneza guilty’, ICC Observers, 24 May 2009.

Universal jurisdiction exemplified’, normblog, 24 May 2009.

‘Rights & Democracy welcomes the conviction of Désiré Munyaneza’, Appa Blog, 26 May 2009.

J. Lemieux, ‘Canadian court convicts Rwandan of genocide’, M G Jack, 28 May 2009.

K.J. Heller, ‘Guest Post: Bidding for Justice’, Opinio Juris, 14 November 2009.