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

While he acknowledged that Munyenyezi's husband and mother had been indicted on genocide charges, he described Munyenyezi as a homebound mother who had spent the genocide months inside the family hotel caring for an infant daughter while pregnant with twins. The fact that Ntahobali and Nyiramasuhuko were convicted of crimes against humanity in 2011 is not allowed to be mentioned in Munyenyezi's trial. But each is serving a life sentence -- Ntahobali for committing murder and rape while leading a ruthless militia, Nyiramasuhuko for helping to organize the genocide, including systematic rape, as a cabinet minister in the Rwandan government.

Ruoff also held out a copy of Leave None to Tell the Story, a definitive account of the genocide written in part by one of the prosecution's expert witnesses. The book mentions Ntahobali and Nyiramasuhuko and their acts of genocide. It does not mention Munyenyezi.

As he continued, Ruoff painted Munyenyezi's 2010 indictment as part of an uncertain conspiracy that reached from the United States to Rwanda. After all, he pointed out, Munyenyezi was never accused of anything by anyone during more than a decade of investigations about Butare, the Hotel Ihuriro, and a roadblock that stood before it. After making numerous trips to Rwanda, how were U.S. investigators only now able to find eight "new perfect witnesses" for this trial? He urged the jury to be more skeptical of the accounts the Rwandans would give.

"They did what you can't," Ruoff said of the U.S. investigators and prosecutors. "[They] let their emotions cloud their judgment."

He told the American jurors that only they could guarantee justice.

"One of the greatest protections in our country," Ruoff said, "is that this is not a Rwandan kangaroo court."


During the two weeks of testimony that followed, Munyenyezi, 43, sat quietly at the defense table, often staring ahead into the middle distance. She dressed sharply and wore black-framed glasses. On some days, her hair was pulled back tight. When Timothy Longman, an expert on the Rwandan genocide called to testify by the prosecution, described Ntahobali as a "vicious leader of the killing crews," Munyenyezi discreetly wiped tears from her eyes.

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."

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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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