Léon Mugesera, the long-time Quebec City resident accused of genocide in Rwanda, is expected to land in Kigali late on Tuesday, according to Rwanda's Minister of Foreign Affairs and Co-operation Louise Mushikiwabo.
Mugesera lost his final bid to avoid deportation on Monday when the Federal Court dismissed a motion for a stay of deportation, and by late afternoon, he was put on a plane headed for Rwanda's capital city.
"Léon Mugesera is now airbound for Kigali!" Mushikiwabo tweeted late Monday night, Kigali time. "Thank ordinary people in Canada who saw through confusion in [the] international legal labyrinth and said, 'he must go.'"
A sense of relief
Word of Mugesera's deportation had already spread like wildfire throughout the East African country, even before his plane had left the ground in Montreal.
"Never before have I seen people following so closely the court process as they have been following the Mugesera case," said Martin Ngoga, Rwanda's prosecutor general, in a telephone interview from Kigali. "It's unprecedented.
"It's a sense of excitement. It's a sense of relief."
But even Ngoga seemed reluctant to believe Mugesera had finally lost a legal battle to stay in Canada that began when the one-time university professor was first ordered out of the country 16 years ago.
"Until he lands in Kigali, we can't believe it," said Ngoga. "Until we see him in Rwanda, there is nothing that can make us conclude for certain that this is the end of the journey."
A long court battle
Indeed, the Mugesera case took legal twists and turns right up until his departure — winding up in three different tribunals on his last day in Canada.
On Monday morning, a Quebec Superior Court judge rejected the Rwandan man's bid to avoid deportation, while the United Nations committee on torture examines the risks Mugesera would face if he's returned to the East African nation. The court ruled that even if Canada is a signatory to the UN convention against torture, it is not legally bound to heed the committee's requests.
"They subscribe to a convention, and apparently they're allowed to disregard that convention," said a disgruntled member of Mugesera's legal team, Martin-André Roy. "Is that the state of law? Is that the kind of government we want."
With that ruling, Mugesera's case returned to the Immigration and Refugee Board, but at an afternoon hearing Mugesera was conspicuously absent. A lawyer for the federal Immigration department said he'd already been taken to the airport. At that point, Mugesera's lawyers launched a final, failed bid for a stay of deportation — by telephone before a Federal Court judge in Ottawa.
20 years later
Mugesera, 59, is wanted in Rwanda on charges of inciting genocide and crimes against humanity stemming from an inflammatory anti-Tutsi speech he gave in 1992.
The speech by the university professor and one-time Rwandan political operative was considered a key propaganda tool during a 100-day massacre of Tutsis and Hutu moderates some two years later. Between 800,000 and one million Rwandans died during the three-month slaughter in 1994.
Mugesera came to Canada as a refugee in 1993 and was initially ordered deported in July 1996. That triggered a legal battle that took him all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada where he ultimately lost in 2005.
Federal officials had been unwilling to deport him because he faced death.
But they now say they've been reassured by Rwandan officials that the situation has changed in that country, with the 2007 abolition of the death penalty for convicted war criminals.
Rwanda promises to respect Mugesera's rights
Mugesera and his supporters insist it will be impossible for him to have a fair trial in Rwanda where he is considered an enemy of the current government
But the Rwandan chief prosecutor promised Mugesera's rights will be respected.
"It's mandatory that we have to hear his point of view," said Ngoga. "It doesn't matter how obvious the evidence we have against him is, he has to be given an opportunity to make his case."
Ngoga said legal proceedings will begin as soon as Mugesera's plane touches down on Rwandan soil.
"The first step we take at the airport will include reading out his rights and getting him to start facing his case with the lawyers of his choice," Ngoga said. "Certainly we will not take for granted the obvious nature of the evidence we have against him."