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02/08/2013

Could Canada prosecute Libyan and Syrian war criminals?

The University of Toronto conference on sexual violence in Libya and Syria:

Here’s an intriguing prospect. Could Canada bring Syrian or Libyan war criminals to justice? Could the cases even be heard in our domestic criminal courts?

Canada may not always be at the forefront of global affairs but it is often a critical player, notably in international justice.  Canada played a leading role in the drafting of the Rome Statute that created the International Criminal Court.

The domestic law that was required for Canada to ratify the Rome Statute, could be used to prosecute war criminals in Libya and Syria.

The Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act allows for prosecution no matter where or when an alleged war crime may have been committed. 

Rwandan Desire Munyaneza was prosecuted here under the act for his role in the Rwandan genocide and sentenced to life in prison in 2009. He had been living in Toronto. A second Rwandan man Jacques Mungwarere, a former schoolteacher, is also on trial on war crimes charges. 

The same legislation could also be applied to the recent conflicts in the Middle East, but as Robert Petit prosecutor in the war crimes section of the Department of Justice told the conference, there are limitations. The person must be “present in Canada,” Petit said, or a Canadian citizen or under the orders of a Canadian. 

“There must a Canadian link,” he said and added “so it is not total universal jurisdiction.” 

Hamida Ghafour is a foreign affairs reporter at The Star. She has lived and worked in the Middle East and Asia for more than 10 years and is the author of a book on Afghanistan. Follow her on Twitter @HamidaGhafour 

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