In genocide trial, defense damages credibility of witness placing Munyenyezi at roadblock
Beatrice Munyenyezi listens as witnesses testify on Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012, during her first trial.
A woman testified yesterday that before she escaped from the Ihuriro Hotel roadblock, she watched Beatrice Munyenyezi check identification cards for about two hours, separating out those who would be killed or raped. Consolee Mukeshimana spoke with confidence as she shared her story at U.S. District Court in Concord, saying she’s related by marriage to Munyenyezi and was sure she had seen her sending Tutsis to the side of the road.
But by the end of Mukeshimana’s testimony, a defense attorney had called her credibility into question by raising the possibility that one of the people she claimed to have seen with Munyenyezi had actually been in another country at the time.
Munyenyezi, a mother of three from Manchester, is facing charges of lying on immigration forms about her role in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, 100 days of turmoil in which an estimated 800,000 Tutsis were killed. Prosecutors say she failed to disclose her work at the roadblock and also didn’t identify her affiliation with the MRND, the political party in control at the time.
Her lawyers say she’s innocent, and they’re trying to prove during the trial, now in its eighth day, that witnesses who testify otherwise are relaying a story promoted by the Rwandan government.
The genocide started April 6, 1994, but Mukeshimana yesterday testified the violence didn’t spread to her community, one town over from Butare where Munyenyezi lived, until about two weeks later. On that day, Hutus organized a mass killing at the health center where Mukeshimana worked.
She said she survived by hiding among the dead bodies.
After, she fled to stay with her sister, who, like her, was a Tutsi but was married to a Hutu man. Mukeshimana said intermarriage was common at the time, and the family gave her refuge.
She said her brother-in-law, who was a member of the MRND youth militia, soon offered to help her escape the country by seeking the help of his aunt and uncle.
Munyenyezi is married to that couple’s only son, and witnesses have testified that their family was a prominent one in Butare before the genocide as the aunt was a cabinet minister in the Rwandan government.
So Mukeshimana’s brother-in-law took her to a roadblock outside the hotel owned by his relatives and asked if they could put her in a car and take her over the border into Burundi, she said.
“But (his aunt) replied that she would only bring me there if it is to drown me there,” the woman said through a translator, adding that there is a river between the two countries.
At that roadblock, Mukeshimana saw Munyenyezi checking identification cards and leading Tutsis into a group, she said.
“They would lead them towards, behind the hotel, going to kill them,” she said. “But girls and women would first be brought to a house that was next to the hotel, in the basement, and from there you could hear them screaming.”
She said that after about two hours at the roadblock, her brother-in-law told the other members of the youth militia that he planned to kill her himself. But after leading her down the path where Tutsis were taken to be killed, the man veered onto another trail and led her back to her sister’s house, she said.
Mukeshimana testified that she saw Munyenyezi once more during the genocide, when one of her sister’s children became ill and died. She said Munyenyezi along with her husband and in-laws came to a funeral at their home.
While she hid in a building on her sister’s property during their visit, Mukeshimana said she could see what Munyenyezi was wearing: a military uniform of the Rwandan government.
‘Bridget went to Germany’
Defense attorney Mark Howard asked who else came to the home that day, and Mukeshimana said Munyenyezi’s husband, Shalom Ntahobali, had been there with his parents and his sisters Bridget, Denise and Clarice.
“Do you remember what Bridget was wearing that day?” Howard asked.
The woman said she was wearing regular clothes, and when Howard asked again she said Bridget had been wearing a dress.
“Was it kind of like your dress, sort of an African dress?” he asked.
“Did you hear Bridget talk to anybody?” he said.
The woman said she hadn’t. And then Howard asked Mukeshimana whether she had seen Bridget standing with her sisters during their visit. She said she had.
“Were you aware that prior to the genocide Bridget went to Germany to study and she never returned to Rwanda?” Howard asked.
The question was translated, then the response.
“I don’t know,” Mukeshimana replied.
‘She still hasn’t told
me what happened’
Howard prodded at other parts of Mukeshimana’s story, too, asking the woman whether her current testimony matched what she had told a person who was working on a book about the genocide in 1995.
Howard asked Mukeshimana whether her brother-in-law had actually tried to kill her and whether her sister had hid her from the man in neighbors’ homes.
Howard went on to question whether Mukeshimana’s husband had been there, too, and whether he had fled on a night that her brother-in-law came home angry about having Tutsis there.
“And the next day (your brother-in-law) came home and he was wearing your husband’s clothes and he had a club in his hand?” Howard asked.
“Well if you want me to explain, I can tell you when that happened,” she said.
Mukeshimana said that one night someone came to her sister’s home and said it was going to be searched. She fled but her husband did not, and when she returned the next day her husband was gone. Her sister said he had run away, she said.
“Then shortly after, (my brother-in-law) came back and he was wearing a jacket and shoes,” she said. “And he also had a club filled with blood, dirty with blood. Up to this day I have asked my sister what happened, and up to this day she still hasn’t told me what happened.”
But Howard found it strange that the man who she believed to have killed her husband also offered to help her escape the country.
“Ma’am, what you told the people who are writing this book was that your sister hid you from (her husband) so that he wouldn’t kill you, correct?” Howard asked.
“No,” she said. “They wrote what they wanted.”
‘Definitely stick out’
During the trial the jury has witnessed the raw grief still carried by those who lived through the genocide as witness after witness shares their story. But in the end, prosecutors must prove a simple, emotionless point: that Munyenyezi lied on immigration forms when she applied for U.S. citizenship.
The documents in Munyenyezi’s immigration file – detailing her journey from a refugee to a legal resident of the United States to a citizen – have been shown and described in detail by multiple witnesses.
Prosecutors direct questions at what she didn’t list: any political affiliations or crimes she committed but never had been charged with. And they point out a page where she wrote that her family hadn’t been politically active.
But the defense has called the jury’s attention to all the things Munyenyezi did divulge. Yesterday, in questioning an immigration service officer who reviewed Munyenyezi’s naturalization application when she applied for citizenship in 2003, Howard asked the man whether he read her forms from every step of the process.
Maurice Violo, though, said that when someone gets to the citizenship step, the expectation is that many questions about their right to be in the country have already been answered during the refugee and resident processes.
Violo said that it isn’t procedure to read through each document in an applicant’s file, only the ones related to citizenship.
Howard said, though, that if Violo had taken the time to look through Munyenyezi’s whole file he would have gleaned, from various forms, the following information:
∎ She was a Hutu from Rwanda.
∎ Her husband was Shalom Ntahobali.
∎ He was living in 2003 in Arusha, Tanzania. (At the time, he was being prosecuted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda on charges he participated in the genocide. That detail was not given by Munyenyezi on the documents. But her husband’s name and location was listed.)
∎ Her mother-in-law was a cabinet minister in the Rwandan government at the time of the genocide. (That woman was also being prosecuted by the ICTR at the time Munyenyezi was applying for citizenship.)
Violo said if he read every document, he would never get through his case load, and he repeated that he is trained to trust that an applicant was properly vetted at each step of the process.
Yesterday, Violo said he completed Munyenyezi’s naturalization interview but didn’t remember it. Nonetheless, Howard directed his attention to where Munyenyezi had listed her husband’s current location as Tanzania.
“Do you recall her saying to you, ‘He’s being prosecuted by the ICTR?’ ” Howard asked.
“Never said that. Never,” Violo said. “That would have triggered something in me if she said, ‘He’s being prosecuted over there.’ ”
Howard asked whether the man had remembered responding to her, “Your husband’s being prosecuted and you’re applying for citizenship?”
Violo, visibly agitated, denied having ever said that.
“You have no recollection of ever meeting with her,” Howard said. “But you have a specific recollection that conversation never happened.”
Violo responded that a conversation like that “would definitely stick out.”