Prosecution rests in genocide trial after another witness places Munyenyezi at roadblock
While the man was too young to have a national identification card when Rwanda’s genocide began, he testified yesterday that Beatrice Munyenyezi still recognized him as a Tutsi and sent him to sit beside the roadblock where she was deciding who could pass. Vincent Sibomana said that as he waited, more Tutsis were added to the group.
“Beatrice said they should take us to go get killed. And when they took us, I managed to run away,” the man testified through a translator at U.S. District Court in Concord.
Munyenyezi, of Manchester, is accused of lying on immigration forms about her affiliation with the controlling political party during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. Prosecutors said she also took part in the violence by identifying Tutsis at a roadblock outside her family’s hotel.
Sibomana was the final Rwandan witness to testify during the government’s case, which the prosecutors finished presenting yesterday afternoon. Over about seven days of testimony, they called seven Rwandans to the stand, but six others listed as potential witnesses, including three who testified during Munyenyezi’s first trial in 2012, were not called.
That first proceeding ended with a hung jury.
Munyenyezi’s defense attorneys, who are trying to prove that the witnesses are lying under pressure by the Rwandan government, began presenting their case yesterday.
First, though, Sibomana told his story.
The man said he was about 14 years old when the genocide started, two years shy of the age when Rwandans were issued cards that identified them as either members of the Tutsi or Hutu ethnic groups. When the killings started in Butare, the man said he decided to leave the city but was stopped at the roadblock outside of the Ihuriro Hotel.
Sibomana said he already knew who Munyenyezi was when she asked for his identification card because she had once come to the store where he worked and purchased alcohol to bring to the hotel bar. Sibomana said that he didn’t know her well but that he had seen her around the town a few times before the genocide.
He said that after Munyenyezi sent him to the side of the road, a member of the Interahamwe, the youth militia of the controlling MRND party, hit him with his gun. When he and other Tutsis were taken to be killed, Sibomana said he escaped, though he didn’t describe how.
The man said he sought refuge at a school next to the hotel, a place where many Tutsis were hiding. Behind the school, he said there was a wooded area where Tutsis were taken from the roadblock.
“What could you hear?” Assistant U.S. Attorney John Capin asked.
People “being killed,” he said. “Being cut by machetes and being beaten by clubs.”
“Could you hear human voices,” Capin asked, seemingly to show that Sibomana had heard the sounds himself.
Sibomana said he could, and Capin asked him what they sounded like.
“They were screaming,” he said through the translator. “And sounded very sad.”
Witness credibility again questioned
The defense attorneys have attempted to question the credibility of several Rwandan witnesses by comparing statements they previously made about the genocide to their current testimony. Yesterday, it appeared attorney Mark Howard planned to take the same approach with Sibomana when he asked the man whether he was aware of a statement that had been made to Canadian investigators.
But Capin quickly objected.
“Counsel knows it’s a different Vincent Sibomana,” he said.
“I haven’t asserted for a moment that it was his statement, nor do I intend to,” Howard said.
Judge Steven McAuliffe had a short discussion with the lawyers at the bench, after which Howard confirmed with Sibomana that he was not the person who spoke with Canadian officials.
Howard did question Sibomana about how American investigators knew to speak to him, a query he’s posed to all the Rwandan witnesses. The man, who testified that he had never spoken about being stopped at the Ihuriro Hotel before he told that story to the American agents, said he didn’t know how they got his name.
“And in the last 19 years you have heard lots of stories about what happened in Butare, haven’t you?” Howard asked.
Sibomana said he had.
“People around Butare have talked a lot about the hotel and the roadblock that was there, haven’t they?” Howard said.
“I don’t know about that,” Sibomana responded. “I’m saying what I know.”
As the trial opened last week, defense attorney David Ruoff told the jury that prosecutors have refused to divulge why agents first began investigating Munyenyezi in 2008.
“They won’t tell us, and they probably wont tell you,” Ruoff said.
Yesterday, Capin asked the lead investigator on the case to answer that question. But ultimately it remained unexplained because the defense attorneys repeatedly objected during agent Brian Andersen’s testimony.
Andersen did tell the jury that he was actually investigating Munyenyezi’s sister before he began investigating her. That woman, Prudence Kantengwa, was convicted last May in Boston of lying about her affiliation with the MRND when she came to the United States.
Anderson said that when he began working on Kantengwa’s case he spoke with Alison Des Forges, a leading scholar on the Rwandan genocide who died in a plane crash in 2009.
“I learned that Prudence Kantengwa had spent roughly half of the genocide period living – ” Andersen said before one of the defense attorneys objected.
McAuliffe sustained the objection.
“Did Mrs. Des Forges tell you there was a notorious roadblock in front of the Ihuriro during the genocide?” Capin asked.
Andersen said she did.
“Did she tell you Prudence Kantengwa told her – ” Capin said before another objection was voiced.
McAuliffe didn’t let Andersen answer.
“She’s not here to testify,” the judge said.
The defense is expected to take about two days to present its case.