Did This New Hampshire Woman Take Part in the Rwandan Genocide?

During some courtroom recesses she wandered into the main hallway, near the painting of Lincoln. There, on the first days of the retrial, she stood with her three daughters - the oldest in college, the twins now high school seniors - and a brother, Jean-Marie Higiro. Higiro, who earned a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin in the 1980s, was an opposition member of the Rwandan government when President Juvenal Habyarimana's plane was shot down over Kigale on April 6, 1994. That event triggered the genocide, and Higiro and his family were shuttled to safety in neighboring Burundi in a convoy flying U.S. flags.

Higiro is now a tenured professor of communication in western Massachusetts, but he also is a political leader who has been affiliated with Rwandan rebel groups in the Congo. He is a critic of the Kagame government, and he has said that Munyenyezi and another sister, Prudence Kantengwa, who was convicted of immigration fraud in Boston last year, are being targeted because of his activities.

Back in the courtroom, prosecutors called three types of witnesses against Munyenyezi: experts on the genocide, who gave details of the violence; residents of Butare, who said they saw Munyenyezi do certain things before and during the genocide; and U.S. government officials, who explained the immigration process and Munyenyezi's statements while seeking refugee status in 1995 and gaining U.S. citizenship in 2003.

This last group of witnesses detailed how Munyenyezi consistently answered "no" when asked on forms whether she had committed any crimes in Rwanda, or persecuted anyone based on their ethnicity. Officials emphasized that the U.S. immigration process relies heavily on trust, as the government doesn't have the resources to fact-check all applications. "The system is really built around answers to these questions being honest," said Donald Heflin, director of the Visa Office for the U.S. Department of State.

Another immigration official, Maurice Violo, told the jury in great detail how in 2003 Munyenyezi again answered "no" to questions on her naturalization application asking whether she had ever been affiliated with a political party, or committed a crime. But on the same form, she again listed that her husband was Ntahobali. She gave his location as "Arusha, Tanzania," home to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. She told Violo about trips she'd made to Kenya and Tanzania.

Defense Attorney Mark Howard challenged Violo about why he didn't inquire about who Ntahobali was or what he was doing in Tanzania. "She gave you the information," Howard said. "All you had to do was compare it to what else is known about her."

Violo, visibly agitated, told Howard that his main focus was to ask the list of questions to Munyenyezi, and assess whether she could speak English and score at least 6 out of 10 on a citizenship quiz. He said he relied on prior approvals of applications for refugee status and permanent residence. "All these questions you're asking right here," he told Howard, "should have been addressed at the refugee process."

Howard returned to the heart of the matter: What if Munyenyezi had not been lying when she said she had not been politically affiliated or committed any crimes in Rwanda? "If 'no' is a truthful answer," Howard said to Violo, "then we're good to go."

***

On the second day of testimony, prosecutors called their first witness from Rwanda. This time, it was a man named Thierry Sebaganwa, who said he had seen Munyenyezi wearing colors of the ruling MRND political party at a rally in a soccer stadium in 1993. The next witness, Bruno Nzeyimana, said that while serving as a soldier, he had passed through a roadblock in front of the Hotel Ihuriro. Nzeyimana said that he did not know Munyenyezi, but that his friend Pascal had greeted a woman at the roadblock who responded to the name Beatrice. That woman had checked his identification card, Nzeyimana said. Consolee Mukeshimana, a woman who claimed to be related to Munyenyezi through marriage, testified that she had been detained at the roadblock and then watched as Minyenyezi checked identification cards and singled out more Tutsis to be sent for execution.

Defense attorneys questioned the witnesses on how U.S. investigators had tracked them down. And hoping to find inconsistencies, attorneys probed the details each witness had given to investigators during meetings in Rwanda.

Each exchange passed through one of four courtroom interpreters, who relayed words spoken in English to Kinyarwanda, and Kinyarwanda to English. Interpreters took turns standing alongside the witness stand, and each had a different manner of working. A tall woman with close-cropped hair smiled broadly at attorneys and witnesses, leaning in to converse further with a witness if confusion arose. A somber man in a gray suit cast a stoic gaze straight ahead, raising a rigid hand in front of his chest if he wanted one party or another to pause or repeat.

Often these exchanges got tangled. Chakravarty spent more than forty minutes questioning Richard Kamanzi, a Butare resident who said he saw Beatrice wearing an MRND shirt before the genocide. At one point, as the prosecutor tried to get Kamanzi to locate his home and a nearby mosque on the satellite photo, Kamanzi said, "I don't understand." McAuliffe intervened. "You've taken eight shots at it," the judge said to Chakravarty. "Let's move on."

On the fifth day, after dismissing the jury, McAuliffe chastised the prosecution for asking witnesses too many questions about Munyenyezi's husband, Shalom Ntahobali. "Shalom is not on trial here," McAuliffe told prosecutors. "You don't seem to recognize that."

A few days earlier, confusion had already reached a gentle crescendo at the close of testimony by Nzeyimana, who said he had passed a woman who answered to the name Beatrice at the roadblock. Nzeyimana, 53, maintained a pensive air no matter the question, often pausing for four or five seconds before affirming something he'd already said. On cross-examination, Ruoff asked whether Nzeyimana had mentioned his friend Pascal in his first meeting with U.S. investigators. On re-direct, Chakravarty asked him to explain when he first mentioned Munyenyezi. The exchange halted along, as Nzeyimana confirmed elements of his earlier accounts. Finally, he spread his hands open before him. He turned his gaze from Chakravarty to the jury, as though to emphasize the point he had made at the outset.

"I didn't know Beatrice," he said. "I didn't know her."

***

Last Friday, a line of visitors crowded the security checkpoint on the first floor of the courthouse. A routine swearing-in of new citizens was about to take place in Courtroom 3, just down the hall from the Munyenyezi retrial.

Inside Courtroom 5, defense attorneys called two Rwandans to testify on Munyenyezi's behalf. Gilbert Hitimana, a Tutsi who was related to Munyenyezi's father-in-law, Maurice Ntahobali, said that the family had given him shelter in the Hotel Ihuriro during the genocide. Munyenyezi, he said, had stayed indoors and in an enclosed yard, caring for her baby and resting. Marie Alice Ahishakiye, who worked as a cook in the hotel, said she had only seen Munyenyezi inside the hotel compound, supervising the kitchen staff and tending her baby.

Prosecutors challenged these witnesses' claims that they had not seen or heard any signs of all the documented atrocities that occurred near the Hotel Ihuriro during that time. And they questioned the witnesses to demonstrate that they did not know what Munyenyezi had been doing doing all of the time.

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Tom Haines is a journalist and an assistant professor of English at the University of New Hampshire.

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