Two witnesses detail Rwanda genocide during trial of Manchester woman
Prudence Kantengwa walks out of the Concord Federal Courthouse with her sister, Beatrice Munyenyezi, after Munyenyezi was released on bail; Thursday, April 12, 2012. A Massachusetts jury found Kantengwa guilty of immigration fraud. (Alexander Cohn/ Monitor staff)
Before the Rwandan genocide, a crowd filled the Butare soccer stadium to sing, chant and call for murder, a man testified yesterday in court. Beatrice Munyenyezi was at that rally, according to Thierry Sebaganwa, who said she was dressed in the multicolored fabric of the MRND, the political party whose youth militia would soon carry out the order with relentless force.
“The leaders of the party would start speaking,” Sebaganwa said, talking through a translator at U.S. District Court in Concord. “They would say that even the cockroaches, they will annihilate them and exterminate them.”
Munyenyezi, a 43-year-old mother from Manchester, is charged with lying about her association with the MRND when she applied for U.S. citizenship. But prosecutors, who are trying her case for a second time after their first attempt ended with a hung jury last year, say Munyenyezi didn’t just associate with the group. They’ve accused her of taking part in the systematic slaughter of Tutsis during the 1994 genocide by manning a roadblock outside her family’s home, checking identification cards and separating out those who would be killed or raped.
Experts say 800,000 Tutsis died during the 100 days of turmoil.
But 40-year-old Sebaganwa testified yesterday that when the genocide first spread to his home of Butare in the southern part of the country, he and others thought only the men would be targeted, not realizing children, women and the elderly would also be killed.
“Because I knew how to take care of myself, I was the one asked to go ahead and find a path to which we could all escape. And that’s when I came back from looking for a way to escape. . . . I saw that everybody at home had been killed. There was a woman who lived near me,” he said. “She told me that they had just cut off my mother’s head.”
None of his family survived, and as the man spoke of his mother, he cradled his face in his hands and sobbed.
Influenced by media?
Judge Steven McAuliffe took a break so Sebaganwa could compose himself. When the proceeding continued, defense attorney David Ruoff – who warned the jury when the trial opened Wednesday not to let their emotions impair their judgement – brought the discussion back to Munyenyezi.
The woman says she’s innocent.
Her lawyers claim witnesses who testify otherwise are lying to align themselves with the Rwandan government’s official theory about the genocide. Because most of the Rwandan witnesses expected to testify in this trial did not participate in last year’s proceeding, the lawyers also argue that they may have fabricated their stories based on what they read in Rwandan newspapers.
Yesterday, Sebaganwa testified that he had heard about Munyenyezi’s case in the media.
“I wasn’t really the one who had the newspaper,” he said. “It was one of my co-workers, Alice. She was reading something on the internet and that’s when they mentioned the name of Beatrice.”
Ruoff asked whether he had already seen that article when U.S. investigators first interviewed him in June, and Sebaganwa confirmed that he had.
So Ruoff then asked Sebaganwa – who testified that he met Munyenyezi through her husband, Arsene Shalom Ntahobali – what he and the investigators talked about.
“Did you tell federal agents that you recognized Shalom’s wife by her face but did not know her name?” Ruoff asked, reading from a piece of paper.
The man said he hadn’t.
“And then throughout the rest of the interview you just referred to the wife of Shalom and did not use her name?” the lawyer continued.
“I was speaking of a wife but I knew her,” Sebaganwa said.
“So you’re denying that you told U.S. agents eight months ago that you did not know that woman’s name, correct?”
“I said that I knew the name,” the man said as he looked to the translator and shrugged.
A crooked path
Neither Sebaganwa nor a second Rwandan witness who testified yesterday said they saw Munyenyezi partake in any violence, either by ordering Tutsis be killed or by committing the acts herself. But prosecutors did attempt to place her at the roadblock outside the hotel owned by her husband’s family.
Bruno Nzeyimana, 51, said that as a member of the Rwandan military stationed in Butare he traveled past the hotel about four times during the genocide to visit family south of the city. He described the roadblock in front of the hotel as a series of trees creating a crooked path that vehicles had to turn through.
On three of his trips, Nzeyimana said he saw a woman stationed there. And while he didn’t know her name, on one occasion she checked his identification card, he said.
“(My friend) Pascal greeted a woman and said, ‘How are you Beatrice?’ ” he said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Aloke Chakravarty asked how the woman responded.
“She also replied, ‘How are you?’ ” Nzeyimana said.
But Ruoff questioned Nzeyimana, who also didn’t testify in the last trial, about when he first shared that story with U.S. investigators.
“Now, when you met with the American investigators, you didn’t tell them the little story about your friend Pascal did you?” he asked.
After the question was translated, the man said he didn’t understand. So Ruoff rephrased and then rephrased again but the witness still was confused.
“I think the question is complicated,” Nzeyimana said.
“When you spoke to the U.S. Americans . . . did the name Pascal come out of your mouth?” Ruoff said.
“I said that,” the witness responded.