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Editorial: Munyenyezi’s fate far from decided

We are not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that Manchester resident Beatrice Munyenyezi received justice. Munyenyezi is the Rwandan refugee convicted this month by a federal court in Concord of lying on her U.S. immigration forms and stripped of her U.S. citizenship. She may or may not have lied on federal immigration forms. She may or may not have been a participant in the genocide that claimed the lives of an estimated 1 million people. She may or may not have had an affiliation with a political party. We don’t know because, though the jury was convinced, we don’t believe the testimony of the witnesses on either side was credible.

One side, which included Munyenyezi’s relatives, claimed that the young mother closeted herself in her family’s hotel and played no role in the massacre. The other side said she was at a barricade checking identity papers and determining who would be raped or killed. That side may have been acting, if not at the direction of the Rwandan government, then in ways that would wins its favor and avoid its enmity.

Munyenyezi’s first trial ended in a hung jury because the charges against her were almost comically horrific – shooting a nun in the head as a cheering crowd watched – and the witnesses unbelievable. They included inmates freed in order to come to the United States who, her defense attorneys argued, could have their sentences reduced in exchange for favorable testimony.

That the prosecutors would go to court with such a slate of charges and cast of characters in itself raises questions. That they would return with drastically reduced allegations of Munyenyezi’s actions and an entirely new cast of Rwandan witnesses raises more questions still. Atop those is the big mystery. Mun-
yenyezi’s husband and mother-in-law, a Cabinet member, were prominent party officials convicted by an international tribunal of playing an active role in the genocide. If Munyenyezi played a role herself, why, during proceedings and investigations spanning some 16 years, did her name not come up? Why were no charges filed against her?

Last week, Rwanda’s ambassador to the United States immediately issued a farcical call for Munyenyezi’s summary extradition to Rwanda. Doing so would violate her rights under U.S. law and, since she has never been charged with a crime under Rwandan law, she can’t be extradited. It also suggests that politics played a role in the trial’s outcome.

Munyenyezi will be sentenced in June, and her lawyers will then appeal her conviction to a three-judge panel in Boston. The appeals court will not hear witnesses or consider new evidence but will decide whether a legal error occurred that might have jeopardized the outcome of the case. The appeal is a long shot, but it’s one for justice’s sake we hope Munyenyezi wins. Unlike the jurors, we’re not convinced the prosecutors made their case.

If Munyenyezi’s appeal succeeds, her U.S. citizenship law can, upon application, be reinstated. If her appeal fails, she will serve up to 10 years in prison, minus credit for pre-trial detention. At the end of her sentence, unless a federal immigration judge rules otherwise, she will be deported. That judge, some years down the road, could refuse to deport her if he determined that in Rwanda she would be tried under a corrupt legal system or face human rights abuses. That would likely be the case were she deported now – but who knows what’s in store for Rwanda, whose president has hinted that he might not step down in 2017 as called for, and whose administration stands accused of fostering rebellion in a neighboring state.

Despite her conviction, the fate of Beatrice Munyenyezi is a long way from decided.

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