CONCORD, N.H. — A federal courtroom in New Hampshire is about to become a laboratory for analyzing the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and what role — if any — a Manchester woman from Rwanda played.

Prosecutors say 41-year-old Beatrice Munyenyezi lied on applications to enter the United States in 1995 and obtain citizenship in 2003. They say she ordered the rapes and murders of Tutsis in Butare during the 3-month genocide of about 800,000 people. She denied any involvement.

Jury selection begins Wednesday. Most of the witnesses will travel from Rwanda and speak no English. Three Kinyarwandan interpreters have been hired and housed. Court officials will not reveal their names or how far they have traveled. The identities of the Rwandan witnesses also are sealed.

Lawyers on both sides of the case did not return calls seeking comment in the days leading up to the trial. Many court documents are sealed, including those showing how much court-appointed lawyers David Ruoff and Mark Howard have been paid in time and expenses, including multiple trips to Rwanda to prepare for trial.

To prove Munyenyezi lied on immigration and naturalization applications, prosecutors must establish that she played a role in the slaughter of Tutsis by extremist Hutus. If convicted, the mother of three teenage daughters faces deportation to Rwanda and the likelihood of spending the rest of her life in prison there.

In a recent court order, Chief U.S. District Judge Steven McAuliffe described the case as a “particularly complex” one that will involve “navigating through a sea of bureaucratic obstacles … at great expense in both time and money.”

Court documents show that elaborate steps have been taken to ensure the safety of Rwandan witnesses, including an agreement between both sides that passport applications of defense and prosecution witnesses be submitted together to the Rwandan government to mask who is testifying for which side.

Some of the witnesses arriving to testify are incarcerated or on parole in Rwanda. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents provide “constant supervision” of these witnesses, who will also be required to wear electronic monitors, according to court documents. An investigator for Munyenyezi’s defense team — a prominent lawyer in Kigali, Rwanda — will also be monitored by ICE.

Munyenyezi is married to Arsene Shalom Ntahobali, a commander in the former Rwandan army and one of the “Butare Six” tried before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Tanzania. Ntahobali and his mother, Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, were both sentenced by the ICTR to life in prison last June for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes of violence. Ntahobali was also convicted of rape.

Munyenyezi in 1994 lived in Butare, Rwanda, in a hotel owned by her husband’s family. Federal prosecutors say Munyenyezi brought supplies to extremists, checked identity cards at the roadblock in front of the hotel and ordered rapes and murders. The affidavit alleges she struck a young Tutsi boy so hard in the head with a wooden club that he died instantly. The indictment also states she took personal property belonging to those who were murdered.

The judges of the CRT wrote in June 2011: “The roadblock outside Hotel Ihuliro earned the reputation of being one of the most terrifying roadblocks in Butare, and the evidence established that it was the site of numerous beatings, rapes, and killings of members of the Tutsi ethnic group.”

The only other similar trial in the U.S. involving immigration fraud related to the Rwanda genocide ended in a hung jury last May in Kansas.

Although the jury did convict 84-year-old Lazare Kobagaya of making false statements on immigration forms about dates and places he lived, they deadlocked on whether he played a role in the genocide. Federal prosecutors moved to set aside the guilty verdict on the lesser charge and dismiss the indictment three months later because they failed to disclose information about a witness who would have benefited the defense, according to court documents.

Kobagaya’s 5-week trial featured more than 50 witnesses, most brought over from Rwanda. Munyenyezi’s trial is expected to last 4 to 6 weeks.

Munyenyezi has been in custody since her arrest in June 2010. Federal agents searched her Manchester home and seized numerous items. Court documents indicate the items seized include a computer hard drive, thumb drive, cellphones, documents, books, photo albums, suitcases and a photograph of Munyenyezi with her daughters at her naturalization ceremony. That ceremony took place in the same federal courthouse where she will stand trial nearly a decade later.

 


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