In closing arguments of genocide case, both sides accuse witnesses of giving scripted testimony
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)
Beatrice Munyenyezi (center) turns to speak to reporters as she leaves the Concord Federal Courthouse after being released on bail; Thursday, April 12, 2012. Munyenyezi is facing a second trial on charges that she participated in the 1994 Rwandan genocide then lied about her involvement to seek asylum in the United States. The Manchester resident's first trial resulted in a mistrial though prosecutors are planning to retry the case.
(Alexander Cohn/ Monitor staff)
As Beatrice Munyenyezi’s trial closed yesterday, her lawyers accused the government’s witnesses of speaking from a script and adding the Manchester woman to the plot of well-known stories of the Rwandan genocide that she had no part in. The prosecutor, though, argued the narratives were too unique to be coordinated.
Not all of the witnesses placed Munyeneyzi at the roadblock where she is accused of separating Tutsis to be slaughtered or raped. Not all said they saw her wearing clothing of the party that had ordered the violence. Not all even said they knew her by name.
Instead, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Capin told the jury in his closing argument that they have heard deeply personal accounts – each in which Munyenyezi played a different role – of a tragedy that took place nearly two decades ago.
“If there’s a dominant narrative, shouldn’t the narrative be, ‘I know her.’? . . . Shouldn’t she be wielding a machete?” Capin asked at U.S. District Court in Concord.
After two weeks of testimony, the jury will begin deliberating this morning, charged with deciding whether Munyenyezi lied about her participation in the genocide on her path to U.S. citizenship. That process started with a refugee application filed in Kenya and ended with a naturalization ceremony in the very courthouse where she is now being tried. Her lawyers yesterday said she had nothing to hide, and they pointed to all the things that she had divulged but that didn’t concern immigration officials at the time.
In documents that span eight years, Munyenyezi identified the name of her husband (a man since convicted by an international court of genocide) and later said she had taken a trip to see him in Tanzania (where his trial was taking place). Defense attorney Mark Howard said she had listed the name of her mother-in-law and the fact that she was a cabinet minister in the government. (That woman has also been convicted in the international court.) And she said her father-in-law was head of the Rwandan university, also a politically appointed position.
Howard said U.S. officials had no problem with her various applications when they were filed. And he speculated that the government only became interested in Munyenyezi after she testified on her husband’s behalf in Tanzania. In fact, he said, U.S. agents requested access to Munyenyezi’s immigration file only three months after she spoke at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
“Somebody was watching. Somebody couldn’t wait to peg her,” Howard said. “Who do you think that was? The U.S. government? Nope. The Rwandan government. They’re the ones that had a stake at the ICTR.”
He said Rwandan officials were “beating down the door of the U.S. agents, who fall right into their hands.”
When investigators went to Rwanda to work on the case, they entered a society that has been trained by an authoritarian government to talk about the genocide in a certain way and to give the answers officials want to hear, said Howard. And while the case’s lead investigator has argued he never coached witnesses or even mentioned Munyenyezi’s name in interviews before the subject did, Howard said it’s ignorant to think everyone in the city of Butare didn’t know why the investigators were there.
“When big, bulky, white American agents come into your community and want to talk about Beatrice Munyenyezi, you better believe we’re going to talk about Beatrice Munyenyezi,” Howard said.
When the agents asked, the Rwandans lied, he argued, saying they added Munyenyezi to stories they already knew about the genocide.
“That’s what they do when they talk about the genocide. They give the stock answers,” Howard said. “Yes, there are roadblocks. Yes, Tutsis were being checked. . . . All those witnesses have to do is tell the story that everybody already knows and then for the first time in 19 years put Beatrice at the roadblock.”
‘A family script’
But Capin told the jury that if they really wanted to know what a script looks like, they should study the testimony of the defense’s witnesses.
Five members of Munyenyezi’s family and staff at the hotel where she lived all said she never left the compound during the genocide and described her as a young mother who was weak because she was again pregnant. As the genocide carried on in Butare, each of the witnesses said they never saw or heard any violence. (Several other witnesses and experts have described the field behind the hotel as a place where Tutsis were slowly and painstakingly killed.)
“That is what a family script looks like,” Capin said. “A family script looks like, ‘She never left the hotel. I never left the hotel for 100 days.’ . . . And the defendant had a baby ‘too old to be nursed.’ After the third witness said that, I thought the baby’s name was ‘Too Old To Be Nursed.’ ”
And while the defense has claimed Munyenyezi was in the midst of a difficult pregnancy, Capin pointed out that her twin daughters – who were seated in the front row of the courtroom yesterday – weren’t born until November 1994, meaning she was only two months pregnant when the hotel roadblock was built.
Capin also challenged the recollection of witnesses who swore Munyenyezi never left the hotel and reminded the jury that a final witness – a woman who was on the defense’s list but ultimately called to testify by prosecutors – confirmed that she had gone out of town for several weeks in the middle of the genocide.
While Munyenyezi said on one immigration form that she hadn’t witnessed any violence, she actually had “a front row seat to the most vicious roadblock in Butare,” said Capin.
When talking about the rest of those immigration documents, Capin said Munyenyezi had listed her husband’s name because she had to; he was applying for refugee status with her. And while she divulged that her family members were civil servants, Capin reminded the jury that she also told an interviewer that the family wasn’t politically active.
“Why lie if it doesn’t matter?” Capin asked. “She lied because she knew it mattered.”
This is the second time a jury has been sent to deliberate the case against Munyenyezi.
Last February and March another jury sat through a two-week trial but was unable to agree on Munyenyezi’s guilt or innocence after deliberating for more than four days.