Winnipeg Free Press
Jan 28 2012

CLOSE to one million people died in the Rwandan genocide in the 1990s,
and this week, after a 17-year legal battle in Canada, Leon Mugesera,
who is accused of inciting that slaughter, was finally handed over to
Rwandan authorities for trial. Canadian authorities apparently believed
this alleged author of that tribal massacre might be mistreated in
Rwandan jail and so he lived comfortably in Montreal while his appeal
ran its seemingly endless course.

Had he been accused of robbing a convenience store in Kigali, Mr.
Mugesera might have been sent back years ago, but somehow the enormity
of the crime of genocide seems to be beyond our grasp unless it is
useful for political reasons. There are, for example, about 500,000
Armenians in France, many of them eligible to vote in next year's
presidential election.

It may be then, as some French commentators are suggesting, that is
not just coincidence or a pure act of historical humanitarianism on
the part of President Nicholas Sarkozy's government that France this
week made it a criminal act to publicly deny the killing of as many
as 1.5 million Armenians was an act of genocide.

The Armenian genocide, as Armenians, at least, refer to it, took
place in 1915, one of the last ugly death rattles of an Ottoman
Empire that would soon be transformed into the modern, secularist,
democratic Turkey that we know today, a staunch Western ally and a
prominent member of NATO.

Armenians say the killings were deliberate and systematic. The Turks
say otherwise. The Turkish government, in condemning France's decision,
argues the killings were the result of the chaos that accompanies
the collapse of empire, that the deaths of hundreds of thousands
of Armenian Christians and Turkish Muslims were caused by communal
violence and disease.

In a sense, it hardly seems to matter anymore. The Armenian genocide
-- Canada risked the wrath of Turkey by officially recognizing it as
such in 2004 -- is just one of many in 100 years of slaughter that
marked the 20th century as the Age of Genocide.

What happened in Armenia, however, did set the pattern for what would
follow in Germany, in Ukraine, in Cambodia, in Rwanda and so many
other places. And just as most of the world refuses to acknowledge
the Armenian genocide -- only about 20 nations recognize it for what
it was -- the Canadian immigration system refused to acknowledge the
gravity of the crimes committed in Rwanda for 17 years as Mr. Musegera
enjoyed life in this country.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney now promises to reform the
immigration appeal system for people charged with serious crimes. Most
Canadians say it's about time, although, curiously, Musegera still
has some supporters in this country, which perhaps goes to prove the
more monstrous the crime, the more difficult it is to comprehend. A
mugging we can understand, a massacre may elude us.

...by Tom Oleson Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print
edition January 28, 2012 J2