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Ripples spread from Munyenyezi immigration verdict

Last modified: 3/1/2013 12:21:32 PM
Rwanda’s ambassador to the United States wants Beatrice Munyenyezi to be immediately deported, while dismissing the notion that Rwandan officials fabricated the case against her, as her lawyers contend. On Friday, one day after the Manchester woman was convicted of immigration fraud connected to her actions during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, Ambassador James Kimonyo called the verdict “justice.”

But while he acknowledged that Munyenyezi has not been found guilty of the crimes implied during her trial at U.S. District Court in Concord – that she helped identify Tutsis who would be raped or killed – Kimonyo nevertheless said her deportation would bring comfort for those who witnessed her taking part in the violence.

“My expectation is that once the jury has pronounced itself, I think it would be in the best interest of the U.S. justice system and the favor of the survivors of genocide to extradite, to make sure the woman is brought to justice,” he said. “There are people who saw what she did who would like to stand in front of a judge and let them speak out what they saw during the time of genocide.”

One of Munyenyezi’s lawyers, though, said the ambassador is getting ahead of himself.

“Until yesterday she was a U.S. citizen. She is entitled, having been subjected to the legal process here in the U.S., to all of the rights and privileges that either a citizen or a non-citizen being prosecuted has in this country,” attorney Mark Howard said Friday. “I know those are rights and processes that Rwanda doesn’t afford its citizens. But we do.”

Munyenyezi was arrested in 2010, 12 years after she moved to Manchester as a refugee with her three young daughters. The first trial in her case ended with a hung jury in March. She’s now facing 10 years in prison and will be sentenced in June.

Howard said he plans to file an appeal shortly after her sentencing that will likely raise concerns with several factors of her trial, including whether her rights were violated when prosecutors implied that one of her close relatives was the director of Rwanda’s “secret police.” The implication led the defense to request a mistrial; Judge Steven McAuliffe dismissed the claim.

If an appeal is unsuccessful, the U.S. government could then start the deportation process, which according to Howard includes hearings that are also subject to appeals.

Howard and his law partner, David Ruoff, have been highly critical of the Rwandan government, saying officials engineered the case against Munyenyezi in part because her husband and mother-in-law are among a small group prosecuted in an international court for taking part in and orchestrating the genocide. (Their cases are being appealed.)

Reacting to Kimonyo’s request for a speedy extradition, Howard wondered why “they’re so eager to have her back.”

“She’s not charged with anything there,” he said.

Howard said he has no doubt, though, that Munyenyezi would be quickly convicted and sentenced to life in prison if sent back to Rwanda. He worries she might not even receive a fair trial. While Rwanda does not have a death penalty, he said, there have been “documented incidents of extra-judicial human rights violations.”

After the verdict was read Thursday, and Munyenyezi was taken slumped and sobbing out of the courtroom, Ruoff delivered their concerns bluntly.

“She’s going to get sent back to Rwanda now. And they’ll kill her,” he said.

Kimonyo said that simply isn’t the case, and he noted that many people convicted of taking part in the genocide are being well cared for in Rwandan prisons. He said that it would strain Rwanda’s relationship with the United States if officials mistreated individuals who were deported, and it would make it more difficult to have “others who are still hiding in this country” brought to justice.

And he grew angry at the suggestion that Rwandan officials put pressure on those who testified against Munyenyezi.

“Every time a survivor says something against someone, (people say), ‘Oh this is a government agent,’ ” Kimonyo said. “But we have survivors. If we have survivors, can they say something about someone who committed a crime? And when they do, why is it twisted to be government administration?”

No forgone conclusions

Timothy Longman, a scholar on the genocide and Rwandan politics who was the prosecution’s lead expert during the trial, said Friday that Munyenyezi’s lawyers are right to be concerned about her safety if she is sent back to Rwanda, but that it’s highly unlikely she would be in immediate danger.

He said only high-profile individuals on rare occasions have been subjected to the kind of unjust treatment that Howard referenced.

Longman, a self-proclaimed critic of the Rwandan government, said most trials there are fair but noted that officials will occasionally intervene. Though Munyenyezi has notorious family members, he questioned whether she is personally important enough to warrant that kind of treatment.

“She’s not a major perpetrator. She’s someone who was married to someone who was important and was the daughter-in-law of someone who was important. She herself was young at the time of the genocide, and she’s not accused of being a mastermind in any way,” Longman said.

Longman said that while Munyenyezi would likely be prosecuted in Rwanda it’s also possible the government could decide not put her on trial. He said Rwanda has formally finished prosecuting genocide cases and is in the midst of a major public relations campaign aimed at shifting the focus from the nation’s violent past.

“They want to present this future, forward-looking image,” Longman said. “So it’s not clear to me that, unless someone is really a major perpetrator, it’s not clear that you’re going to want to bring the case up and focus on it as much as putting it on trial would. But they may.”

Longman also said the U.S. government will extradite only if it believes the person will receive a fair trial.

In 2011, Jean-Marie Vlanney Mudahinyuka was turned over to Rwandan officials who had issued a warrant for his arrest accusing him of genocide and war crimes. Mudahinyuka had gained access to the United States in 2000 by concealing his identity and giving a false name to an immigration officer, according to a press release issued at the time by U.S. immigration officials. He was convicted in the United States of immigration fraud and sentenced to serve 51 months in prison.

After finishing his sentence Mudahinyuka fought his deportation until the U.S. Supreme Court denied his request in 2010. The New Times, Rwanda’s daily English newspaper, wrote last May that the case against Mudahinyuka had not yet gone to trial.

(Tricia L. Nadolny can be reached at 369-3306 or tnadolny@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @tricia_nadolny.)


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