Tangled case of former Goucher professor accused of genocide
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.