Leon Mugesera

25.04.2016 ( Last modified: 01.06.2016 )
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Léon Mugesera was born in 1954 in Kibilira, Gisenyi Prefecture in Rwanda. His main occupation was lecturer at the National University of Rwanda, but he was also a political advisor to the MRND (National Republican Movement for Development and Democracy). Additionally, he served as Vice-President of the MRND in Gisenyi prefecture.

Léon Mugesera is accused of being one of the representatives of “Hutu Power” (linked with the MRND), an extremist Hutu movement founded by relatives of former president Juvenal Habyarimana, which claimed exclusive Hutu authority over a Rwanda purged of Tutsi.

On 22 November 1992, whilst he was Vice-President of the MRND in Gisenyi prefecture, Léon Mugesera gave a speech before 1,000 people in Kabaya in which he threatened that Tutsi would be forcefully returned to Ethiopia which, according to Hutu propaganda, is the country of origin of Tutsi.

Mugesera is considered to be one of the senior politicians responsible for planning the genocide.

The Rwandan authorities therefore issued an arrest warrant against him.

legal procedure

The Rwandan authorities therefore issued an arrest warrant against him.

In response, Léon Mugesera and his family fled from Rwanda to Canada. He was initially a political refugee until his application for permanent residence was granted in 1993. From autumn 1993 to winter 1994 he was a lecturer at the prestigious Laval University in Quebec.

However, Mugesera’s speech in Kabaya in 1992 came to the attention of the Canadian authorities who accused him of withholding information from officials when he had applied for permanent residence. In 1995, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration began deportation proceedings against Mugesera on the grounds that, in delivering his speech, Mugesera had incited murder, genocide and hatred and had committed a crime against humanity. An arbitrator concluded that the allegations were made out against Mugesera and ordered his deportation. This decision was upheld by the Immigration Appeal Division of the Immigration and Refugee Board.

Legal proceedings then followed. In 2001, the Canadian Federal Court dismissed an application for judicial review in relation to the alleged incitement to murder, genocide and hatred, but allowed it in respect of the alleged crime against humanity.

In September 2003 the Federal Court of Appeal set aside the deportation order, finding the allegations against Mugesera to be unfounded.

On 28 June 2005, the Canadian Supreme Court ultimately found that there were reasonable grounds to believe that Léon Mugesera had committed a crime against humanity and concluded that he was inadmissible to Canada and that the deportation order was therefore valid.

Despite the court’s ruling, Mugesera continued to reside in Canada whilst the authorities determined whether his deportation would pose any risks to his safety.

In May 2006 the Rwandan government issued a list of persons suspected of involvement in the 1994 genocide and living overseas. The Rwandan government maintained that these persons were, from then on, covered by international arrest warrants. It called on countries that harboured them to question them, try them or transfer them to Kigali. The arrest warrant issued by Rwanda accused Mugesera of genocide.

During the summer of 2007, Mugesera requested to be tried before a Canadian court, arguing that, if deported to Rwanda, he would be killed and would not be granted a fair trial. Moreover, his lawyer reported that 22 of Mugesera’s family members had been killed since 1994.

When Rwanda abolished the death penalty, an essential factor in Canada’s decision not to deport Mugesera earlier, the likelihood of him being deported increased.

The Canada Border Services Agency had to determine whether Mugesera was at risk of being subjected to torture or other ill-treatment if deported to his home country. Indeed, the international conventions signed by Canada prohibit it from proceeding with the deportation of Léon Mugesera if the government finds a real risk.

On 5 January 2012, Mugesera received notification that he would have been extradited on 12 January 2012. On 6 December 2011, the department of immigration had issued a report indicating that Mugesera’s life would not be in danger should he return to Rwanda.

On 9 January 2012, Mugesera tried, once again, to oppose his extradition before the Federal Court. He indicated that the guarantees of having a fair trial and not being mistreated would not suffice.

On 11 January 2012, this claim was rejected by the Federal Court. On the same day, Mugesera was hospitalised after falling ill; according to his family, he was said to have been in a critical condition. He left hospital on 14 January 2012 and was placed under detention.

Also on 11 January 2012, the day before his anticipated extradition, the United Nations Committee against Torture asked Canada to temporarily suspend Mugesera’s expulsion. This followed a request from his solicitors to review the risk of torture that he may be subjected to in Rwanda.

On 13 January 2012, a Quebec tribunal awarded him an eight day suspension until 20 January to allow the United Nations Committee against Torture time to review his claim. The Committee had asked for a suspension of six months.

On 23 January 2012, the Quebec tribunal declared that it did not have jurisdiction. Mugesera’s solicitors again referred the case to the Federal Court which declined the petition after having already made a similar decision on 11 January. That evening, Léon Mugesera left Canada for Rwanda.

On 25 January 2012, the Rwandan authorities indicated that Mugesera would have been tried within seven days. The tentative date for his trial in front of the Kigali High Court was set for 2 February 2012, but Mugesera asked and obtained to have more time in order to prepare his defence.

The trial was scheduled to commence on 17 September 2012 but Mugesera requested the High Court to postpone the start of the trial in order to prepare his defence. The High Court granted the request and set the start of the trial on 19 November 2012. The trial was again postponed for 27 days and resumed on 17 December 2012. Mugesera was read the five charges against him, which include incitement to genocide, planning and preparing of genocide, conspiracy in the crime of genocide, torture as a crime against humanity and incitement to hatred among citizens. The accused refused to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty and instead invoked the invalidity of his trial. This claim was rejected by the High Court on 24 December 2012. Later, Mugesera asked for disqualification of two of the three judges, but this request was again rejected by the High Court.

The trial finally commenced in substance on 17 January 2013 although the Accused refused to enter a guilty or not guilty plea. On 31 January 2013 Mugesera requested the Minister of Justice to provide him with legal aid to finance his defence. On 15 February 2013 Mugesera pleaded not guilty to all the charges.



Rwanda has been historically inhabited by three distinct social groups, known as Hutu, Tutsi and Twa. Between April and July 1994 the country was torn apart by a bloody genocide, during which extremist Hutu people targeted Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) was powerless against those committing the genocide, as the peacekeeping troops were outnumbered.


In hopes of facilitating the process of national reconciliation and to promote peace in the country, on 8 November 1994 the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 955, establishing the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), located in Arusha, Tanzania.

The Tribunal’s function is to prosecute perpetrators of crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed between 1 January and 31 December 1994 in Rwanda. Since its inception, 92 persons have been indicted in front of the ICTR. Some proceedings are however still ongoing.

The ICTR is primed to close down in 2015.

Regarding what will happen to the functions and activities that will outlive the ICTR, the UN Security Council established the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (or “the Mechanism”), in Resolution 1966 (2010), to take over the remaining functions of both the ICTR and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The Mechanism, which has been functioning since 1 July 2012, has already taken over some of the ongoing functions of the ICTR, including the enforcement of sentences of those convicted and sentenced by the Tribunal, the tracking, arrest and prosecution of fugitives earmarked for trial at the Mechanism, and the care and protection of witnesses.


In 1998, discussions began under the direction of the President of the Republic of Rwanda about the possible use of traditional courts to support the ordinary Rwandan judicial system and the ICTR. A commission was created to study this possibility, and its report provided the basis of the Organic Law of 26 January 2001, which created the Gacaca Courts.

These courts were in charge of trying the low and middle-level perpetrators of the genocide, apart from the “planners” who should have been tried before national courts. The Gacaca courts were composed of elected popular assemblies, made up of non-professional judges. The composition and functioning of such courts raised several concerns about the respect of fair trial guarantees.

According to Rwandan authorities, during their functioning, the Gacaca courts tried almost two million people. On 18 June 2012 Rwandan President Paul Kagameannounced the official end of Gacaca courts’ activity.

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