N.H. Woman Allegedly Had Role In Rwanda Genocide
A woman born in Rwanda is awaiting trial in New Hampshire on charges that she lied about her role in that country's genocide when seeking to become a U.S. citizen. If convicted of falsifying her paperwork, Beatrice Munyenyezi could lose her citizenship, spend up to 10 years in prison and be deported to Rwanda, where supporters fear for her life.
In the case against Munyenyezi, federal prosecutors have seven eyewitnesses who claim she committed atrocities during the 1994 genocide. But experts say the political realities in Rwanda may have complicated evidence-gathering.
Munyenyezi is Hutu, part of the majority that led a campaign to exterminate the Tutsi minority. As many as 800,000 people died in the genocide.
One technique used to capture Tutsis was to create checkpoints, or roadblocks. The U.S. government's affidavit claims that Munyenyezi lived in a hotel next to one of those roadblocks, and according to one witness, she ran it.
The sworn affidavit from a U.S. immigration agent reads: "Munyenyezi participated, committed, ordered, oversaw, conspired, aided and abetted, and assisted in and directed the persecution, kidnapping, rape and murder of numerous individuals."
The witness, who was not a victim, recalled one particular incident.
"Munyenyezi, while out on an expedition with her husband, pushed a boy to the ground and then hit him in the head with a wooden club, killing him instantly," the witness said.
Munyenyezi strongly denies committing any such acts.
In a 2005 interview with New Hampshire Public Radio, she said she had to flee her native country for her own safety.
"I escaped. I locked up my house. At some point I thought I would go back in a few weeks, and I never knew that it was for good. And, you know, I left everything -- especially my wedding dress that I wish I could have," Munyenyezi says.
On the advice of her lawyer, Munyenyezi is not speaking with reporters.
Munyenyezi first applied for refugee status in 1995 and ultimately came to this country four years later.
It was in those documents that prosecutors allege she lied about her past.
Other Family Members On Trial
Over the past decade, she has raised her three school-age daughters alone in New Hampshire. Her husband and mother-in-law are on trial in Africa; both have been charged with genocide in the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
Leslie Haskell, a lawyer for Human Rights Watch, says the case of Munyenyezi's mother-in-law, in particular, is high-profile.
"She may be the only woman that's come before the court and is actually charged, in part, in connection with rapes," Haskell says of the mother-in-law. "And there seems to be quite a bit of evidence against her."
David Ruoff, Munyenyezi's lawyer, says Munyenyezi's case should not be influenced by her mother-in-law's.
"We have to be careful to not say she is guilty by association," Ruoff says. "What happened in Rwanda has been the subject of years of the International Criminal Tribunal testimony. You would think in all of that, if my client was involved, that someone would have been looking for her before 2010."
Ruoff questions the veracity of the government's evidence.
He says he has come across tribunal witnesses who testified to one thing, and only two months later recanted it, saying they were coerced by the Rwandan government.
Haskell says investigators must be attuned to the political realities in Rwanda.
"People that might have relevant information may not be willing to come forward for fear of the consequences for them inside Rwanda," Haskell says.
U.S. prosecutors have declined to comment on how they gathered their evidence. And they won't say what role Rwandan officials played, if any.
Munyenyezi's brother, Jean-Marie Higiro, believes the government is going after his sister because they can't get him.
Higiro is a U.S. citizen and a professor at Western New England College. For several years, the Rwandan government has been seeking Higiro's extradition from the United States for allegedly financing militias.
"The Rwandan regime is going after Rwandan Hutu elites. It is a broader strategy to silence Rwandan opposition," Higiro says.
A 'Very, Very Difficult' Case
U.S. District Attorney Aloke Chakravarty says Munyenyezi's case is unique, but was not brought as a result of pressure from the Rwandan government.
"I am not aware of a case in which a foreign sovereign has pressured a criminal prosecutor in the United States," Chakravarty says.
He points out that an indictment has been made, which he says carries significant weight.
"There has been a determination by the Department of Justice and a grand jury that there is probable cause based on competent evidence that the person has committed the crime," Chakravarty says.
Haskell says Munyenyezi's case is one of dozens or perhaps hundreds where what really happened is not really clear at all.
"These cases are very, very difficult. And, you know, unfortunately for the countries where these people find themselves, they are faced with a situation where, you know, they have to evaluate a criminal file without much context," Haskell says.
She says it may be difficult for the court to ever determine Munyenyezi's guilt or innocence. Meanwhile, Munyenyezi remains in detention as she awaits trial.
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