Tan­gled case of for­mer Goucher pro­fes­sor ac­cused of geno­cide

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Tim Pru­dente

Un­cer­tainty sur­rounds the sta­tus of pro­fes­sor Leopold Mun­yakazi, who briefly taught French at Goucher Col­lege and was de­ported to Rwanda un­der in­ter­na­tional charges of geno­cide.

His at­tor­ney in North­ern Vir­ginia, Ofe­lia Calderon, doesn’t know where he is be­ing held in Rwanda and whether he has an at­tor­ney or trial date.

“If there are not pub­lic eyes, then he’ll dis­ap­pear like so many,” she said. “I doubt in a pleas­ant man­ner.”

Of­fi­cials at the Rwan­dan Em­bassy in Wash­ing­ton did not an­swer ques­tions about Mun­yakazi, 67, who is ac­cused of stok­ing eth­nic violence in the geno­cide of 1994.

The lin­guist had sought asy­lum in the U.S. and chal­lenged the de­por­ta­tion rul­ing against him for nearly a decade. He ex­hausted his last ap­peal to re­turn to his fam­ily in Baltimore County and was de­ported Sept. 28, well after he was sus­pended from teach­ing at Goucher.

Fed­eral au­thor­i­ties also were un­able to say where Mun­yakazi is be­ing and when he is sched­uled for trial.

“We ex­pect the gov­ern­ment of Rwanda to en­sure his hu­man rights are pro­tected while in de­ten­tion,” said Noel Clay, a spokesman for the U.S. State Depart­ment.

Mun­yakazi’s de­por­ta­tion has not set­tled lin­ger­ing un­cer­tain­ties among his for­mer col­leagues at the lib­eral arts col­lege in Tow­son.

“I don’t have a lot of con­fi­dence he will nec­es­sar­ily get a fair trial in Rwanda,” said San­ford Un­gar, for­mer Goucher pres­i­dent. “The more you look at it, the more Leopold Mun­yakazi, who briefly taught at Goucher Col­lege, was de­ported to Rwanda in Septem­ber. His U.S. lawyer says she doesn’t know where he is be­ing held.

con­fus­ing it gets. I wish I had the an­swer, but I don’t have it. I don’t think I ever will.”

The events that led to Mun­yakazi’s de­por­ta­tion be­gan 22 years ago, when an air­plane car­ry­ing Rwan­dan Pres­i­dent Ju­ve­nal Hab­ya­ri­mana was shot down over the cap­i­tal, Ki­gali, on April 6, 1994, set­ting off eth­nic violence. Ex­trem­ist Hu­tus waged a 100-day mas­sacre and killed be­tween 750,000 and 1 mil­lion Tut­sis, ac­cord­ing to State Depart­ment es­ti­mates.

When the bru­tal­ity ended, thou­sands of peo­ple were ar­bi­trar­ily ar­rested, ac­cord­ing to Hu­man Rights Watch. Among those im­pris­oned was Mun­yakazi, a Hutu scholar with a Tutsi wife and five chil­dren. He would tes­tify that he was beaten and held five years with­out charges.

Rwan­dan of­fi­cials re­leased Mun­yakazi for lack of ev­i­dence in 1999. He would be dogged for nearly a decade af­ter­ward by ques­tions over his where­abouts dur­ing the geno­cide.

Mun­yakazi was a pro­fes­sor at a na­tional univer­sity in Rwanda when he flew to the U.S. for a con­fer­ence on French lit­er­a­ture in July 2004 and ap­plied for asy­lum with his fam­ily. He was teach­ing French at Mont­clair State Univer­sity in New Jer­sey in Oc­to­ber 2006 when he gave an ex­plo­sive talk in Delaware about the Rwan­dan geno­cide.

“I re­fer to it as civil war, not geno­cide; it was about po­lit­i­cal power,” he said, ac­cord­ing to a Univer­sity of Delaware news re­lease. “Eth­nic­ity is not re­ally un­der­stood about Rwanda; in Rwanda, there are no tribes, there are so­cial groups, they are one sin­gle peo­ple.”

The mas­sacre was frat­ri­cide — brother against brother, he said. Mun­yakazi would re­peat his be­liefs at Goucher Col­lege two years later.

Rwan­dans ac­cused Mun­yakazi as a geno­cide de­nier, a la­bel that car­ried the po­lit­i­cal weight and con­tro­versy of a Holo­caust de­nier.

One month after his talk at Delaware, the Rwan­dan gov­ern­ment is­sued an in­ter­na­tional ar­rest war­rant charg­ing Mun­yakazi with geno­cide, con­spir­acy to com­mit geno­cide and nega­tion of geno­cide. He con­tin­ued teach­ing and ar­rived at Goucher Col­lege in the fall of 2008 through the Scholar Res­cue Fund, which places per­se­cuted teach­ers at uni­ver­si­ties.

Mun­yakazi and his fam­ily moved into a col­lege-owned house in Tow­son. He taught in­ter­me­di­ate French. That De­cem­ber, he was con­fronted over the charges in his class­room by an NBC News film crew and a Rwan­dan pros­e­cu­tor.

Un­gar de­cided to sus­pend Mun­yakazi while col­lege ad­min­is­tra­tors tried to sort things out.

“It was un­wise to have some­body un­der that cloud teach­ing,” Un­gar said.

Goucher ad­min­is­tra­tors said they re­lied on the Scholar Res­cue Fund to vet the pro­fes­sor. Mun­yakazi re­peat­edly de­nied the charges.

U.S. im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials be­gan de­por­ta­tion pro­ceed­ings against Mun­yakazi the fol­low­ing month be­cause he had over­stayed his visa. Mean­while, a Rwan­dan pros­e­cu­tor called pub­licly for his ex­tra­di­tion.

His le­gal fight to re­main in the U.S. con­sumed the next seven years as he chal­lenged the de­por­ta­tion and ap­pealed in fed­eral court.

“I sus­pect there was pres­sure from the Rwan­dan gov­ern­ment to get him back,” said his at­tor­ney, Calderon. She worked for free on his case for nearly a decade.

Fed­eral law pro­hibits asy­lum to any­one who“or­dered, in­cited, as­sisted or oth­er­wise par­tic­i­pated in the per­se­cu­tion of any per­son on ac­count of race, reli­gion, na­tion­al­ity, mem­ber­ship in a par­tic­u­lar so­cial group, or po­lit­i­cal opin­ion.”

With de­por­ta­tion pro­ceed­ings un­der­way in June 2009, fed­eral agents in­ves­ti­gated the geno­cide charges over three weeks in Rwanda and in­ter­viewed 22 wit­nesses, ac­cord­ing to court records.

“They were care­ful to en­sure that the Rwan­dan au­thor­i­ties did not in­ter­fere with their in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice of­fi­cials said in court records. A depart­ment spokes­woman de­clined to com­ment fur­ther.

Agents dis­cov­ered that Mun­yakazi and his fam­ily had fled east from the Rwan­dan cap­i­tal to his na­tive vil­lage, Kirwa. The killings started in Kirwa after a rally at a soc­cer sta­dium. Rally lead­ers urged Hu­tus to iden­tify them­selves by wear­ing ba­nana leaves.

Mun­yakazi, wear­ing ba­nana leaves, ad­dressed the crowd and in­cited violence, wit­nesses told the agents.

He led a band of Hu­tus to find and kill an ed­u­cated Tutsi, and he or­ches­trated night raids on Tutsi homes, they said. Wit­nesses told in­ves­ti­ga­tors they feared ret­ri­bu­tion from Mun­yakazi.

“You can’t tell me the en­tire in­ves­ti­ga­tion wasn’t tainted from the frickin’ start,” Calderon said. “You’re there and you have help from the Rwan­dan spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor. They’re go­ing to pro­duce the wit­nesses they want to pro­duce.”

Mun­yakazi tes­ti­fied that he re­mained in his home for three days be­gin­ning April 19,1994, ac­cord­ing to court records. The dates mat­tered be­cause after the April 19 rally, nearly ev­ery Tutsi was killed in Kirwa.

Mun­yakazi said he saw lit­tle or no Leopold Mun­yakazi briefly taught French at Goucher Col­lege in 2008. violence. Rwan­dan au­thor­i­ties had co­erced the wit­nesses, he ar­gued. Mun­yakazi’s wife, Cather­ine Mukanta­bana, tes­ti­fied that her hus­band helped five Tut­sis re­ceive Hutu ID cards for pro­tec­tion.

In No­vem­ber 2010, an im­mi­gra­tion judge de­nied asy­lum, writ­ing that ev­i­dence in­di­cated Mun­yakazi may have par­tic­i­pated in the geno­cide and that he failed to prove his in­no­cence. The judge found his tes­ti­mony was not cred­i­ble.

“Mun­yakazi is a col­lege pro­fes­sor, and it strains credulity to be­lieve that he was un­aware that ev­ery Tutsi in his small vil­lage was be­ing butchered even as he sat at home,” U.S. Court of Ap­peals judges af­firmed in a ma­jor­ity opin­ion July 11, 2016.

By then, he had spent al­most a year im­pris­oned in Mary­land, Alabama and Louisiana, Calderon said.

Mun­yakazi was flown to Ki­gali in late Septem­ber and turned over to Rwan­dan au­thor­i­ties to stand trial.

His fam­ily has been granted asy­lum, and Mun­yakazi’s wife works at a nurs­ing home. She de­clined to dis­cuss his case.



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