Defense rests in Munyenyezi genocide case, closing arguments expected today
Beatrice Munyenyezi, right, leaves Federal Court Thursday April 12, 2012 in Concord, N.H. after a judge is released her as she awaits a second trial on whether she lied about her role in the 1994 Rwanda genocide to obtain U.S. citizenship. A federal jury deadlocked in March 2012 on whether Munyenyezi commandeered a roadblock during the genocide and designated Tutsis for rape and murder. She's been incarcerated since June 2010. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
While several Rwandans claimed last week that Beatrice Munyenyezi never left her family’s hotel during the genocide, another witness testified yesterday that Munyenyezi had actually gone on a trip for several weeks in the midst of the turmoil.
That woman, Anastasia Mukamwiza, was listed among the defense’s witnesses but was called to the stand by prosecutors when Munyenyezi’s lawyers rested their case yesterday without questioning her. Prosecutors wanted Mukamwiza to tell her story because they appeared to know what she would say. The woman had testified about the trip in Munyenyezi’s first trial last year.
On the stand yesterday at U.S. District Court in Concord, Mukamwiza said she wasn’t sure exactly how long Munyenyezi had left Butare – the city where prosecutors say she helped identify Tutsis who would be raped or killed – but that it could have been several weeks. Four other witnesses testified last week that they’d also been at the hotel during the genocide and that Munyenyezi rarely, if ever, left their sight.
The jury will hear closing arguments in the case this morning, then be responsible for deciding whether Munyenyezi, of Manchester, lied on immigration forms about her role in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide and her affiliation with the MRND party in control at the time.
Her lawyers say she’s innocent and that witnesses who testify against her have been pressured to lie by the Rwandan government. Yesterday, the defense attorneys also requested a mistrial and accused the prosecutors of trying to prove her guilt by association after Assistant U.S. Attorney John Capin suggested Munyenyezi’s brother-in-law was the head of Rwanda’s “secret police.”
Capin had presented that possibility Friday by asking a witness if she knew it to be true. While the woman said she didn’t, defense attorney Mark Howard argued yesterday that the damage had already been done.
“It makes it sound like she hobnobs with the Gestapo. . . . And it’s simply not true and they had no evidence to base it upon,” Howard said.
In his request for a mistrial, Howard also took issue with the fact that Capin had strongly implied that the same witness was lying when she said she hadn’t traveled to Boston last year to testify in a case involving Munyenyezi’s sister. Capin yesterday acknowledged that he had been confused, believing the woman was a part of the case in Boston when really she had come to Concord to testify in Munyenyezi’s first trial, a proceeding that ended with a hung jury.
Judge Steven McAuliffe denied the request for a mistral and decided to rectify the second problem by having Capin notify the jury of his mistake.
Capin then attempted to back up his assertion about Munyenyezi’s brother-in-law by asking Mukamwiza, the defense’s witness whom he called to the stand, about what the man had done for work. The woman had testified in Munyenyezi’s last trial that he was an “intelligence officer” with the Rwandan government.
Yesterday, she seemed more unsure of the details, saying he worked in the president’s office. So Capin showed Mukamwiza her testimony from last year, and the woman acknowledged what she had said before.
But Howard, arguing for the mistrial, said there is a substantial difference between being the head of the country’s “secret police” and an “intelligence officer,” as she testified. He called Capin’s assertion “highly prejudicial” and accused the prosecution of wanting the jury to believe the hotel was “crawling with MRND, so Beatrice must be one.”
At the time of the genocide, Munyenyezi’s mother-in-law was a cabinet minister in the government. She has since been convicted by an international tribunal of genocide, as has Munyenyezi’s husband, who was the head of the local youth militia.
Capin, presenting McAuliffe with a copy of Munyenyezi’s brother-in-law’s Rwandan personnel file, told the judge he had ample reason to ask the question in the first place.
“I asked an honest question to which she should have given an honest answer,” he said.
Rwanda’s genocide theory
Throughout the trial, the defense attorneys have promoted the theory that those testifying against Munyenyezi are lying to align themselves with the Rwandan government’s official theory about the genocide. A defense expert sought to define that theory yesterday, saying the Tutsi-led government – which came into power at the end of the genocide – doesn’t allow citizens to talk about the party’s own crimes.
While none of the Rwandan witnesses in this case have said they felt pressure to testify a certain way, Brian Endless of Chicago’s Loyola University said that in Rwanda “threats don’t have to be threats.” He said there is a widespread belief that people shouldn’t say things the government would disapprove of, while there are incentives for those who support the official narrative.
“You do say things that the government does want you to say and that might, not in all cases, but that might lead to benefits. Basically if you play ball and you say the right things you might be (rewarded),” he said.
Endless also said that he’s found Rwandans often speak of events they’ve heard about from others as if they experienced it themselves. Howard last week accused the prosecution’s witnesses of recounting “stock stories.”
Prosecutors, though, attempted to undercut Endless’s characterization as an expert yesterday, saying he has never set foot in Rwanda or published articles about the country that have been edited and vouched for by other scholars. Endless said that he works as an adviser with an organization that is highly critical of the current regime, so prosecutors accused him of informing his beliefs on Rwandans only through conversations with dissidents.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Aloke Chakravarty accused Endless of never talking to “an average Rwandan” about their experience in the country. And he went on to question the man’s basic knowledge about the genocide, pointing out that Endless misstated the name of the MRND when testifying in another trial. And when Endless yesterday referred to another political party in Rwanda as the MRD, Chakravarty made sure to correct him and say that it was actually the MDR.
“Acronyms are not something I’m very good with,” Endless said.