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Lawyer: Client not part of genocide
CONCORD — Beatrice Munyenyezi returned Thursday to the same federal court where she became a U.S. citizen in 2003, to stand trial on charges her role in the 1994 Rwandan genocide made her ineligible for citizenship.
It is alleged that she repeatedly lied about it to gain entry to the United States, a federal prosecutor said Thursday.
Munyenyezi, 41, knew that disclosing she belonged to the ruling Hutu political party, was a ring leader of the extremist youth militia and participated in the rapes and murders of mostly Tutsis likely would trigger an inquiry into her past, Assistant U.S. Attorney John A. Capin said in opening arguments. It also likely would block her entry to the United States, Capin said of Munyenyezi allegedly lying on her 1995 refugee application and subsequent government forms.
The mother of three who lived in Manchester from the early 1990s until her arrest in 2010 is accused of ordering killings and gang rapes of mostly Tutsis from a road block she worked outside the hotel her husband's family owned in the Butare province of Rwanda, a hilly country in central Africa about the size of Vermont.
“In the (hotel's) basement there was a rape room where men took women from the roadblock ... and raped them over and over again. You will hear this defendant encouraged them as she encouraged the killings,” Capin said in U.S. District Court.
But defense attorney Mark E. Howard said Munyenyezi never was involved in the Mouvement Republicain National pour le Developpement (MRND) ruling political party or ever participated in the persecution of Tutsis in what is commonly known as the Rwandan genocide. An estimated 800,000 people were killed during the three-month period that began in April 1994.
“She was actually staying in that hotel where she was safe, where she was sick with her pregnancy and taking care of her young daughter,” Howard said, referring to her now 19-year-old daughter, Charlene, and 17-year-old twins, Simba and Saro, who sat in the front row of the crowded courtroom.
Munyenyezi fled her war-torn homeland ahead of invading Tutsi rebel forces who committed equal atrocities against Hutus as they swept southward toward Butare, Howard said.
Munyenyezi had never been implicated in the crimes despite a 10-year trial of her husband and mother-in-law before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, Howard said.
Witnesses coming forward now are motivated by the current authoritarian Rwandan regime intent on perpetuating the official version of the genocide and promises of reduced prison terms for convicted genocidaires who identify and testify against others, Howard said. “That is what this case is about. This case is about lies. It's about the lies that are told about Beatrice Munyenyezi,” he claimed.
Rwandan native and genocide victim Esperance Kayange gave detailed testimony before the ICTR and other occasions, but never mentioned Munyenyezi, Howard said. It was only when Kayange was approached by a U.S. agent last March that she said Munyenyezi was present, he added.
Kayange, a Tutsi who is the government's first witness, testified she was 20 years old when Hutus invaded her neighborhood and slaughtered her mother, siblings and neighbors with machetes, hoes and clubs studded with nails.
She said she escaped the massacre, but was gang raped and beaten at road blocks as she made her way to an Episcopal school in Butare, known as “the EER.”
During her two weeks at the school, Kayange said she saw militia youth and a woman named “Beatrice” manning the roadblock at the nearby hotel where Tutsis where singled out and killed. They also came to the school to take Tutsis who sought refuge there away.
“They would take people to be killed and also they would take women and young girls to be raped,” Kayange said through an interpreter during more than two hours of direct questioning.
Kayange returns to the witness stand today.
The day began with an emotional reunion between Munyenyezi and her daughters, who wiped tears from their eyes when they first saw each other in the courtroom.
After trial adjourned for the day, U.S. Marshals allowed Munyenyezi to remain in her seat at the defense table for several minutes while she listened to her daughters excitedly update her about school and other events in their lives.
“Bye, mom,” they waved when marshals led her from the courtroom.
Trial is expected to last four weeks.
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