Munyenyezi guilty of lying on immigration forms about role in Rwanda genocide
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)
Beatrice Munyenyezi was stripped of her U.S. citizenship yesterday in the same courthouse where she received it, after a jury found her guilty of lying on immigration forms about her role in Rwanda’s genocide.
The Manchester woman now faces deportation back to the country where prosecutors say she aided rapists and murderers by identifying their victims, crimes two decades removed and sharply out of sync with the life she built for herself and her three daughters since moving to New Hampshire 15 years ago.
While the verdict was read, an already distraught Munyenyezi leaned her head farther toward the floor and began to sob. Munyenyezi, who has been on house arrest for the past year, was taken into custody and shuffled through a heavy wooden door, which did little to muffle her building cries. From another door at the back of the courtroom, her daughter Saro’s sobs also echoed through the space.
The prosecutors, who have pursued her case despite an initial mistrial last March, declined to comment after the verdict at U.S. District Court in Concord.
“She’s guilty,” Assistant U.S. Attorney John Capin said before turning to walk down the granite hallway.
Munyenyezi will be sentenced in June, and her lawyers asked Judge Steven McAuliffe whether he would consider letting her remain on house arrest until that time; the judge said they could make the request in writing. Munyenyezi is now facing 10 years in prison followed by deportation to Rwanda, according to defense attorney David Ruoff.
He said she is being held at the Strafford County jail. The lawyers plan to file an appeal once a sentence is imposed.
Munyenyezi didn’t speak to reporters yesterday, and Ruoff said even he hadn’t approached her after the verdict.
“She’s going to get sent back to Rwanda now. And they’ll kill her. What do you say to that?” he asked.
Over a two-week trial, Capin and Assistant U.S. Attorney Aloke Chakravarty presented Rwandan witnesses who shared their own stories of grief from the 1994 genocide, with Munyenyezi woven into each narrative in a distinct way.
One man said he saw her at a political rally before the genocide, then broke down in tears as he relived how his mother was beheaded once the violence began. Another said that as he hid from killing squads, he could see Munyenyezi checking identification cards at a nearby roadblock. And one woman said that it was, in fact, Munyenyezi who had demanded to see her and her sister’s cards at that barricade.
The woman said that after Munyenyezi sent her to the side of the road, a group of men walked them into the woods and stabbed a knife into her sister’s head.
In their own ways, though, the attorneys on each side asked the jury to temper their emotions.
The defense lawyers said Munyenyezi was being made a scapegoat for others’ crimes and said any part she played in the accounts was fabricated. The prosecutors said the jurors needed to hear stories of the genocide’s wider effect not because they proved Munyenyezi’s guilt but because they proved why her crimes mattered.
In each step of her eight-year process to citizenship – from applying as a refugee in 1995 through becoming a citizen in 2003 – Munyenyezi was asked whether she had been a member of or affiliated with any political parties. And in each case she said she had not.
At trial, prosecutors focused heavily on those questions, mentioning but not stressing the spots where Munyenyezi also said she hadn’t committed any morally reprehensible crimes.
To show her political affiliation, the lawyers repeatedly pulled out examples of the colorful clothing worn by members of the ruling party, then asked witness after witness whether they had seen her wearing something similar. The Rwandans also spoke at length about Munyenyezi’s family members, how her husband, Shalom, was head of the local youth militia and how her mother-in-law, Pauline, was a government Cabinet minister.
Knowing the jury would be instructed not to find Munyenyezi guilty by association, the prosecutors still stressed the connections – so much so that McAuliffe once harshly reminded them that, “Shalom is not on trial here.”
Munyenyezi’s lawyers believe those family connections led to her be falsely accused. They said the Rwandan government carefully watched as her husband and mother-in-law were prosecuted at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, then tipped off U.S. agents after Munyenyezi testified on her husband’s behalf.
Defense attorney Mark Howard argued that when agents began investigating the case in Rwanda, people added Munyenyezi to “stock stories” about the genocide under either direct pressure by Rwandan officials or indirect pressure to align themselves with the government’s dominant narrative about the genocide.
He said the government tightly controls how its citizens talk about the genocide through mechanisms like illegitimate courts and rewards for those who cooperate.
Capin called the notion that Rwandans are controlled by a dominant narrative, and that such a narrative would be detailed enough to implicate a specific person, “hogwash.”
‘They fixed it’
Between Munyenyezi’s two trials, prosecutors dramatically pared down the case against her.
In the first proceeding, witnesses described her rewarding rapists with food, shooting a nun and hunting down Tutsis. Many of those stories fell apart on cross-examination, though, leading the judge to write in an order that the defense had “effectively impeached” the main witnesses’ credibility.
This time around, an entirely new group of Rwandans depicted Munyenyezi as a political activist who proudly wore the clothing of the party that called for the violence and then worked at a roadblock once that group began carrying out its plan.
The new picture was clearly more believable to a jury. The last group deliberated for more than four days before telling the judge they were unable to reach a consensus.
Ruoff said yesterday the prosecutors knew the problems in their first case, crafted a new one and “executed it perfectly.”
“They knew what they were doing,” he said. “They fixed it.”
(Tricia L. Nadolny can be reached at 369-3306 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @tricia_nadolny.)