Lawyer of war crimes convict gives lecture

Megan McKay – The Aquinian

Richard Perras has done one of the hardest things a lawyer can do. He was a defense counsel for a man accused of committing genocide.

In his lecture entitled “International Criminal Law: The Practice,” he outlined some of the problems facing international defense lawyers today.

Perras was the defense counsel for Desire Muyaneza, the first person arrested and convicted under Canada’s new Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act for his role in the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. Muyaneza was arrested in Toronto in October of 2005, and his two-year trial began in March 2007.

Perras’ lecture focused on the difficulties he encountered in preparing a defense for his client.

Had he been the defense during a UN tribunal, accessing his witnesses, crossing borders, negotiating with other countries courts, would be far simpler. But under the new Canadian war crimes act, he found himself struggling through “red tape’” dealing with lack of access to clients, and traveling to unstable countries not under the UN umbrella. Perras spoke of colleagues who had been incarcerated for attempting to visit their clients.

He said there are uncertainties when you travel to some developing countries.

“When you’re in Canada, you’re aware of your rights,” Perras said. “When you’re abroad, there is the hope of the existence of the rule of law in other countries.”

Muyaneza is currently serving 25 years after having been convicted in 2009.

Munyaneza was accused of leading a militia that raped and killed dozens of people, and of planning a massacre of 300-400 people in a church. Munyaneza arrived in Canada in the 1990s.

Perras, a Montreal-based lawyer, was the keynote speaker for the 2010 International Humanitarian Law Conference held at UNB on Friday

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