Changes needed to help Canada prosecute war criminals, Amnesty International says

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OTTAWA — A prominent human-rights organization says Canada is failing to bring suspected war criminals to justice.

In a newly released report, Amnesty International Canada depicts the federal Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Program as underfunded and underused.

Twenty years ago, Canada enshrined in federal law universal jurisdiction for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, meaning these offences are considered criminal acts in Canada even when they are committed abroad.

But only two people, both linked to the Rwanda genocide of 1994, have been prosecuted under the legislation.

Amnesty points to the case of Bill Horace, a former Liberian warlord, as evidence of Canada’s poor record in the years since.

It notes that Horace, who was shot to death in June in London, Ont., had been widely accused of committing mass murder, rape and torture in Liberia during the 1990s.

“Despite a mountain of evidence against him, Canadian officials never charged Horace, allowing him to live freely in this country since he first arrived in 2002,” Amnesty Canada said in releasing the report today.

More often than not, Canada washes its hands of its responsibility, failing to take any action to prosecute alleged war criminals or opting to deport them without any guarantees they will be investigated for their misdeeds, said Alex Neve, secretary-general of Amnesty Canada.

The $15.6-million budget for the war-crimes program has remained static over the years, but the costs of conducting investigations “have risen significantly,” the report says.

It urges the Canadian government to boost the resources of the federal program, improve the protection of victims and witnesses, and remove various legal and political obstacles to prosecution.

The report was co-ordinated by Sebastien Jodoin, Canada Research Chair in Human Rights and the Environment at McGill University, and developed with the input of lawyers, legal scholars, and law students.