Howe Street on the east side of Manchester, New Hampshire, is part of a tight-knit community of working-class families where neighbors commonly show up unannounced for a favor. So nothing seemed unusual to LoriAnn Silver when her new next-door neighbor walked onto her porch in the summer of 2004 and pressed the buzzer.
The woman at the door wore an African caftan, braided hair extensions, and a friendly smile. “I’m Bea,’’ she said. In a mix of French, Kinyarwandan, and American accents, she explained that she’d just moved into the adjacent home, a three-bedroom ranch with a fenced-in backyard and an above-ground swimming pool that was perfect for her three young daughters: Charlene, then 11, and twins Simbi and Saro, 10. The pool, however, was giving her trouble. LoriAnn happily sent her husband, Scott, over to help.
This first encounter sparked a routine of sorts. LoriAnn seldom saw Bea except when she needed a hand with something, usually the pool, the lawn, or shoveling the driveway. For the most part, Bea and her family kept to themselves. Once, when Bea was outside wearing a tank top, Scott noticed several ribbons of scar tissue running along her back. But Bea didn’t offer much about her past, and LoriAnn didn’t pry. What little their neighbor told them was enough: Bea’s full name was Beatrice Munyenyezi, and she said she had fled to the United States as a political refugee from her native Rwanda.
Located in central Africa, Rwanda is home to two ethnic groups, a Hutu majority and a Tutsi minority. After decades of violence reaching as far back as the early 1960s, Juvénal Habyarimana, Rwanda’s Hutu president and the leader of the MRND political party, was assassinated in April 1994. In the aftermath, extremist Hutus went on a rampage, using Habyarimana’s death to justify 100 days of genocidal slaughter. It was one of the bloodiest purges of the 20th century. Soldiers, gendarmes, politicians, and ordinary citizens murdered as many as 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
It wasn’t something Bea talked about. “She said [her husband] was a political prisoner of war,” LoriAnn says. “We didn’t know what that really meant. She came from a country that was having a lot of problems and wanted a better life here.”
A Hutu by birth, Munyenyezi had fled from Rwanda to Kenya by the time she applied for U.S. refugee status in 1995. On her application, she wrote, “Since April 1994 my home country is going through a very difficult time.… Given the scale of the killings, I don’t feel secure enough to return home.” The violence had been so bad that applicants from Rwanda were required to answer specific questions about the genocide, including “Did you have any involvement in the killing or injury to other persons since April 1, 1994? Did you in any way encourage others to participate in such killing or injury?” Munyenyezi wrote, “No.” Less than a year later, the United States welcomed her with open arms.
Granted sanctuary from the killing fields, Munyenyezi and her girls began to heal and flourish. Bea needed ongoing treatment for a chronic medical condition and was directed to the Catholic Charities New Hampshire Immigration & Refugee Services, which worked closely with a nearby hospital that specialized in her illness. Charlene, Saro, and Simbi attended Catholic schools. Munyenyezi secured a job with the Manchester Housing and Redevelopment Authority, where she became an advocate for refugees, and later enrolled as a politics and society major at the University of New Hampshire at Manchester. And then, on July 18, 2003, Munyenyezi took the oath of allegiance to the United States of America and was sworn in as a naturalized citizen inside the federal courthouse in Concord, New Hampshire.
As Munyenyezi grew into her new life in New England, she began to speak publicly about her experiences back home. In 2005, New Hampshire Public Radio invited her and Manchester Mayor Robert Baines to appear on a program called Finding Refuge in the Queen City, where she talked about the obstacles she had overcome. “I am a fighter,” Munyenyezi said. “I like to be independent. I worked so hard to be here. I do what I have to do to survive.”
Eventually, she began to collect her story into a memoir under the title Life in the Middle of Nowhere: Surviving Genocide in Rwanda and Zaire—an homage to the famous memoir Surviving the Slaughter: The Ordeal of a Rwandan Refugee in Zaire, written in 2000 by Hutu genocide survivor Marie Béatrice Umutesi. In her memoir, which was never published, Munyenyezi described surviving a Tutsi attack on her village in 1990, and claimed she had witnessed Tutsis massacring thousands of Hutus in the lead-up to April 1994, when the tables turned and Hutus began slaughtering Tutsis. She wrote of surviving the “100 days of genocide,” and then fleeing Rwanda for America.
The powerful story of a refugee’s survival impressed many of the advocates Munyenyezi encountered in New England. “What I know about Beatrice is she was a go-getter,” says Cathy Chesley, of the Catholic Charities program in New Hampshire. “She wanted a college degree. She wanted the best for her daughters.”
In January 2004, Munyenyezi’s older sister, Prudence Kantengwa, had arrived in Boston on a travel visa and applied for political asylum. Prudence had to answer the same question her sister responded to so many years earlier: Had she or any immediate family members participated in the killings during the Rwandan genocide? Prudence said she hadn’t, but admitted that her husband had been director of the Hutu-backed internal security forces. That confession sparked interest from U.S. Homeland Security, and her case landed three years later on the desk of Brian Andersen, a Boston-based war-crimes specialist. When Andersen noticed that Prudence had a sister living in New Hampshire, he began to wonder.
Thus began his investigation into a mystery that spanned more than seven years and three continents: Who really was the woman living at 630 Howe Street?
Since around the time that Josef Mengele secretly escaped from Germany in 1949 and eluded prosecution, the U.S. government has been on the lookout for war criminals hiding in our midst. In 1979, the efforts were formally organized under the Department of Justice’s Office of Special Investigations unit. Known as the most active and aggressive so-called Nazi hunters in the world, for more than 30 years the OSI successfully found and removed more than 100 war criminals from the country. After 9/11 and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, however, there was a push to catch war criminals before they crossed into U.S. territory. This task landed squarely under the jurisdiction of the agency’s border protection division, known as ICE, and soon agents outside of OSI began to take on many of these unique cases. So much so that in 2008, the government created a Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center specifically to target accused genocidaires, torturers, and war criminals hiding out in the suburbs or living as anonymous immigrants in the United States. Now known as Homeland Security Investigations, it still prosecutes these criminals, but every DHS field office in the country has federal agents assigned to investigate possible Nazis, Bosnian soldiers, Latin-American military leaders, and Rwandan executioners. In Boston, that unit includes Special Agent Brian Andersen.
At 6-foot-3 with ash-blond hair cut close to his scalp, Andersen is an accidental cop. He grew up in the picturesque town of Essex, Vermont, a suburb of Burlington. To rebel against his father, a professor at St. Michael’s College, a small Catholic school in his home state, Andersen joined the Marines following high school, only to end up on his dad’s leafy campus years later as a student. Afterward he spent six uneventful years teaching high school, the last three of which he worked part-time as a police officer. “Being a teacher was a great intellectual challenge,” he says, but “what I found I was lacking was any physical challenge.” Bored, he joined the force in Bellows Falls, Vermont. Several years later, the hard-charging former teacher went undercover with the Vermont State Police Drug Task Force.
Gone were the coordinated khakis and button-down shirts. His close shave turned into a goatee, and he pierced his ear. He began wearing a Carhartt jacket, flannel shirt, and boots to blend in with drug dealers in a state that has seen a staggering increase in narcotics crimes and heroin overdoses. Two years later, in 2006, he fulfilled his ambition to work for the feds and joined the Boston division of ICE. No longer working undercover and stuck behind a desk each day, Andersen’s job was decidedly slower paced, and he worried he was not cut out for a career within the federal bureaucracy. He even toyed with the idea of going back to Vermont as a drug cop. “It’s a big machine that I work for,” he says. “It takes some time to find your place in that machinery.” Then Prudence’s case fell in his lap, and he stumbled into investigating war criminals by chance.
From the start, Andersen thought Munyenyezi looked suspicious. For one thing, her husband, Arsène Shalom Ntahobali, stood accused in Africa of being a genocidal madman. When Andersen began working on the case in 2007, he discovered that Munyenyezi had flown to Tanzania the previous year to give testimony in her husband’s defense at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), a court established by the United Nations Security Council in November 1994 to prosecute war criminals. Munyenyezi, he found, had a recent paper trail, and it told a startling story.
Pretty and privileged, Munyenyezi was the product of a private boarding school in Gitwe, Rwanda, where she met her husband. In 1993, they married and moved to Butare. The couple lived at the Hotel Ihuriro, a three-story complex complete with numerous guest rooms and a bar that was owned by Ntahobali’s parents. Within a year, Ntahobali followed in his family’s footsteps and became a leader in the Interahamwe, a paramilitary group formed by young members of MRND, the Hutu political party. His mother, Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, a powerful and outspoken MRND cabinet minister, was the bureaucrat responsible for the “pacification” of Butare, and would soon order her fellow Hutus to rape and murder the Tutsis.
Over the course of a year, Andersen learned that Munyenyezi and her husband’s family had joined a mass exodus of Hutus into the Democratic Republic of Congo, and then into Kenya, following the murderous “100 days.” In January 1995, Munyenyezi and her husband applied for asylum together. But Ntahobali’s and his mother’s high-profile political involvement made them easy targets for the international courts, and before the couple could fly to the United States, investigators arrested Ntahobali at a small convenience store in Kenya on charges of genocide. Police in Kenya also arrested his mother.
Ten years later, after Munyenyezi had settled in New Hampshire, she returned to Africa to testify in her husband’s defense at the ICTR. International authorities accused Ntahobali and his mother of ordering rapes and murdering scores of Tutsis during the genocide. But according to Munyenyezi, Andersen discovered as he pored over court testimony, her husband was a great guy. “Your honor,’’ Munyenyezi told the court, “if there is a person, a nonviolent person that I have known in my life is Shalom. I’ve never seen him carrying a gun or grenade or any such thing like that.” Her husband, she later added, had never targeted Tutsis and did “nothing other than giving them love.”
A world away, reading testimony in an office with a view of the TD Garden, Andersen wasn’t buying it. “She is describing Disney World and I am hearing horror in the street,” he says. “She’s a liar. I knew we have to do something about this.”
The more he picked and scraped away at the edges, the more Andersen believed Munyenyezi wasn’t just lying about her husband. She was covering up something about her own past. Was she a member of MRND? he wondered. Could she have killed someone? If Munyenyezi’s husband was accused of murdering Tutsis, Andersen thought, perhaps she was not simply an innocent bystander. But even if he could prove it, Anderson knew he faced another hurdle: the law.
At one time, only U.S. citizens could be charged with federal genocide, but after the atrocities in Rwanda, that law was modified by Congress to include anyone hiding in the United States. Still, the statute would not apply to Munyenyezi because any human rights violations she may have committed in Rwanda would have taken place before the law was changed. What Andersen and his colleagues were left to work with had never been attempted in a United States court. The only charge they could bring was that Munyenyezi had lied on her naturalization forms—the equivalent, put simply, of nailing Al Capone on tax evasion. After spending a year investigating Munyenyezi, Andersen knew he needed witnesses and additional evidence if he was going to catch her in that lie, so he packed his bags, kissed his seven-year-old son goodbye, and boarded a flight to Rwanda.
The first thing that struck Andersen in August 2008 when he walked off the plane onto a thin runway strip at Rwanda’s Kigali airport was the smell. It wasn’t rank, just overwhelming. Many Rwandans cooked meals in fire pits outside their homes, burning anything to feed the flames. Burnt wood. Melted trash. The humid night air was thick with it. The stench settled in the back of Andersen’s throat. He could taste it.
After traveling for three days, his flight path looked like a map from an Indiana Jones movie: Boston to Frankfurt, a jump to Brussels, then finally to Rwanda. He thought it likely that this could be his only trip to the country. It all depended on what he found. He told himself he would be perfectly satisfied if Munyenyezi was nothing more than a survivor, as she’d repeatedly claimed on government documents and in radio interviews. But the cop in him, his years of experience, told him she was lying.
In Kigali, Rwanda’s sprawling and dusty capital city, Andersen enlisted the help of the U.S. embassy, which provided a translator and a driver to help conduct interviews and navigate the muddy streets. Andersen zeroed in on Butare, a university town of about 80,000 in southern Rwanda. It was here, at the Hotel Ihuriro, where Munyenyezi lived with her husband and in-laws during the genocide. And it was here that Andersen set up shop in a cramped, sweltering room with a single window that opened out onto a music school. As he traversed the city, wearing his ever-present Red Sox hat, he occasionally got fist-pumps from Rwandan Sox fans.
In order to collect evidence admissible in a U.S. court, Andersen and his team needed to conduct each interview precisely and by the book. Day after day, he and his team interrogated killers and survivors, dredging up ghosts from the country’s bloody past. The interviews were physically and emotionally exhausting. “We were on our toes all day,” Andersen says. “Did we ask a question the right way? Is there a word that’s not translating correctly? The dance goes on and on, hour after hour, in pursuit of one thing: the truth.”
One evening, Andersen and Assistant U.S. Attorney John Capin were taking the long and bumpy road back to their hotel in Kigali. They had been up since 4:30 a.m., interviewing eyewitnesses who described atrocity after atrocity, including stories of children being hacked to death. Suddenly, Andersen turned to his friend. He realized there was one person who had repeatedly been mentioned that day and during the previous month of interviews. It wasn’t much to go on—only a nickname, spoken more than a decade later in frightened whispers.
They called her Commando, or the Commander, and for good reason. She ran what one witness called a “particularly brutal” Hutu-controlled roadblock in front of the Hotel Ihuriro, and she had a reputation for swift and ruthless violence that startled even the young Interahamwe paramilitary men, who admitted to killing hundreds on her orders.
Under later court testimony, several witnesses placed the Commander at the roadblock, where she decided who lived or died, based on their identity cards. They also placed her at the scene of numerous atrocities. But there was one horrific incident that was retold by ex–Hutu military members. It was the story of the nun. No matter who told the grisly tale, it always began with her screams.
On a busy day during the genocide, former Interahamwe soldier Jean-Damascene Munyaneza later testified, the Commander was at the roadblock checking government IDs. Distracted by the sound of a nun shrieking, Munyaneza let his machete slump to his side and watched the Commander yank the woman from a van and throw her into the arms of a fellow militiaman. The nun’s clothes were torn from her body while other soldiers nearby leered and catcalled.
Despite the nun’s pleas, the Commander was unmoved. She laughed and watched as the nun struggled in vain to ward off her attacker. During the rape, according to testimony, the Commander began taunting the nun. It was possible that this was just the beginning of her anguish. Eyewitnesses said many women captives were imprisoned in the basement of the Hotel Ihuriro, where they were raped repeatedly during the course of a day. “If you don’t want to be like other women,” Munyaneza testified that the Commander told the nun, “let me take you somewhere else.”
Moments later, Munyaneza said, the Commander led the nun to the edge of a slope overlooking a pit filled with dead bodies, waiting for a backhoe to scoop them up and dump them outside the city. The Commander gave the nun one final shove and shot her in the head as she fell. Soldiers at the checkpoint began cheering in Kinyarwanda. Yes, Commando!
At the time, Andersen learned, the Commander was pregnant with twins.
Months later, in July 1994, the killing stopped as abruptly as it had begun. Tutsi rebels from the Rwandan Patriotic Front arrived and pushed out the MRND and Interahamwe, forcing the government that had ordered the mass slaughter to flee the country in armed caravans.
Andersen learned from a witness that one such convoy had left Butare on July 3, 1994. Among its passengers were the Commander, pregnant with twins, along with her toddler daughter, husband, and mother-in-law.
As additional witnesses mentioned the Commander to Andersen, more details concerning her identity emerged. Not only were her in-laws prominent MRND members who owned the Hotel Ihuriro, but she sometimes went by other nicknames as well. “Wife of Shalom” was one. “Bea” was another.
As he recapped the details in their air-conditioned car on the road from Butare back to his hotel, Andersen knew his instincts about Munyenyezi had been on target. She hadn’t been a victim of unspeakable violence—instead, she had been one of the monsters behind the slaughter.
“She fucking did it,’’ he said.
Over the next two years, Andersen and his team flew back and forth from Boston to Rwanda, painstakingly gathering additional testimony and evidence. Each time they went, the crew was required to undergo endless immunizations that left them sweat-soaked and sleepless, to swallow the medication that prevented malaria but provoked nightmares. They visited memorials to the Rwandan genocide, including an orphanage filled with children’s skulls. For the victims Andersen spoke with and befriended, the memories were tactile, their bodies still covered in scars. Andersen began to feel the weight of responsibility. Not only was he trying to catch a killer, he was also seeking justice for a generation of victims. “If there was anything I could do about that,” he says, “I wanted to do it.”
Visit after visit, information continued to pour in. In addition to interviewing survivors who identified the Commander by name, Andersen toured prisons and spoke with Hutu killers, men who showed little remorse for what they had done and who Andersen believed “may get out and do it all over again if given the chance.” They identified Munyenyezi’s photograph and said aloud, “That’s her.” To Andersen, there was no confusion. “We had both sides of the story,” he says. “We had talked to killers. We had talked to survivors. Both told us the same thing: Beatrice was a killer. Beatrice was not a bystander.”
When Andersen returned from his ninth trip to Rwanda, in 2010, a federal judge in Concord, New Hampshire, signed a warrant to arrest Munyenyezi at her home in Manchester on two counts of lying to the U.S. government about her participation in the Rwandan genocide. Walking out of the judge’s office with the warrant in hand, Andersen smiled. There was one thought going through his mind: “I’m going to enjoy putting the bracelets on her.”
The sun was shining at 6:30 a.m. on June 23, 2010, when Andersen rang the front bell and pounded on the door of 73 Goffe Street in Manchester. A woman emerged, her hair unkempt, nothing but a blanket wrapped around her naked body. “Federal agents,” Andersen barked as he pushed passed her into the rented home. By then, Munyenyezi had lost the cute New England house with a pool next door to LoriAnn and Scott Silver. In fact, she was bankrupt. In 2008, Munyenyezi had lost her job at the Manchester housing authority due to department cutbacks. Then she lost the house and declared herself unable to pay the roughly $400,000 in debt she had accumulated since arriving in the United States. “We have a warrant for your arrest,” Andersen said. “We have a warrant to search the house.”
Federal agents fanned through the home to make sure Munyenyezi did not destroy any evidence. Her three teenage daughters, Charlene and the twins, Saro and Simbi, were in tears as a female agent put clothes on Munyenyezi and walked her into the living room, where Andersen slipped on the handcuffs. When he identified himself as a special agent with Homeland Security, Munyenyezi looked him straight in the eyes. She didn’t cry, as Andersen had seen other suspects do. Instead, he says, she sneered and uttered her first and only statement to the agent: “I have nothing to say to you.”
Soon after, prosecutors unsealed an indictment containing a long series of hair-raising accusations. The language may have been legalese, but the point was clear. The woman neighbors had known as a kindly New Hampshire mother had allegedly “participated, committed, ordered, oversaw, conspired and aided and abetted, assisted in and directed the persecution, kidnapping, rape and murder of numerous individuals at the roadblock in front of the Ihuriro Hotel in Butare.” Munyenyezi denied the charges and pleaded not guilty. Her lawyers insisted that she was just a single mom who had fled a war-torn nation, and was now being traumatized a second time by overreaching federal officials. They noted she had never been arrested in the United States.
Still, the prosecution was optimistic. By the time Munyenyezi’s trial began in February 2012, something else had happened to bolster their already high hopes for a conviction. Eight months earlier, the international tribunal had found Munyenyezi’s husband guilty of committing genocide and war crimes, and sentenced him to life in prison. The prosecution had taken 10 years and called more than 185 witnesses. When Munyenyezi’s mother-in-law was also found guilty and sentenced to life, she became the first woman ever convicted by the ICTR for the crime of inciting rape as a tool of genocide.
Despite the ICTR convictions and the mountain of evidence he’d spent years collecting, Andersen was nervous. Along with his fellow agents, he sat in the courtroom wearing purple ties in memory of the Rwandan genocide victims. And the longer they sat in the courtroom, the more he worried. What American jury, he wondered, had the context to comprehend the horrific reality of thousands killed at a makeshift roadblock halfway around the world? What did they know about Rwanda to begin with? Did they even know that genocide occurred there? Would they believe that Munyenyezi had been the ringleader? And that she and her husband’s family were responsible for the deaths of scores, hundreds, maybe thousands at that roadblock? “What she did and what she subjected people to is not humane,” Andersen says, “and the crimes are beyond the comprehension of most American juries.’’
At trial, the U.S. attorney had what seemed like a solid strategy: The prosecution looked to Munyenyezi’s co-conspirators and underlings to rat on their boss. It was an approach that seemed straight out of the playbook the feds have been using, for decades, to dismantle organized crime. During 11 days of testimony, the government called 22 witnesses. Several admitted killers from Butare took the stand and testified to taking orders from “the Commander” and killing the “Inyenzi,” or “cockroaches,” which referred to the Tutsis. The jury also heard stories from victims, such as Aleysia Mukankuriza, who claimed Munyenyezi ordered a soldier “to rape me.” And there was even testimony about the murdered nun from a man who had led investigators to the mass grave where she fell.
Munyenyezi did not testify. Her defense attorney flew in family members who claimed she had stayed inside the hotel to care for her daughter during the genocide and that several of the prosecution’s witnesses had contradicted previous testimony given in Rwandan and international courts.
It didn’t take long for Andersen to notice that jurors were having trouble, notably with the court translators. It was difficult listening to testimony in a variety of languages, and some of it did not translate well. Boredom and confusion crept over jurors’ faces.
After four days of deliberation, the jury was hopelessly deadlocked, and U.S. District Judge Steven McAuliffe declared a mistrial. “I can’t speak,” Munyenyezi said as reporters followed her out of the courthouse, a free woman for the first time since Andersen personally cuffed her in June 2010. “Maybe I can answer questions another time.”
And that appeared to be that. Munyenyezi’s defense lawyer, David Ruoff, took shots at the feds, saying, “The government claimed they had a mountain of evidence against my client. When they moved that mountain into the courtroom it eroded very quickly.” And Munyenyezi captured the media’s sympathies. In August 2012, the Boston Globe published a long feature on Munyenyezi’s case, for which she spoke, at length, on the record. It was a tender portrait, questioning whether the government ever had enough evidence to charge her and concluding that “prosecutors offered no physical proof at trial that she had committed genocide.”
It was a devastating blow to Andersen, who by now had dedicated five full years to the case. “My heart sank,” he says. “It sank to a depth I never knew existed. I had never worked as many hours, days, weeks, or months on any one investigation.”
Andersen blamed himself. He knew Munyenyezi had committed genocide; the only plausible explanation for the jury’s inability to convict, he felt, was that he had failed. He felt he’d let down his agency, his colleagues, and—most important—the victims and survivors in Rwanda whose spirits had been buoyed by the hope of justice in a U.S. courtroom.
At a post-trial meeting with prosecutors, Andersen pushed hard to convince the U.S. Attorney’s Office to commit additional money, which was hard to come by, to retry Munyenyezi. The case had eaten up years, and everyone there knew it would not be easy.
Still, the U.S. Attorney’s Office agreed to retry the case, and let Andersen attempt to finish the job he had started in 2007. But first, Andersen would have to go back to Rwanda one last time.
If the government was going to try Munyenyezi a second time, Andersen and the prosecutors knew they needed a fresh game plan. Relying on survivors and murderers had not gotten the job done. Jurors had heard from militiamen such as Munyaneza, who recalled Munyenyezi murdering the nun. But it was hardly sympathetic testimony from a man who could not even recall how many lives he had taken, telling the court, “Only God knows.” Defense attorneys successfully argued that killers such as Munyaneza had a motive to lie, planting the seed that they might get leniency at home for cooperating with U.S. officials. Survivors’ stories were damning, but inconsistent. Instead, Andersen needed to find more reliable and believable witnesses: people who were not directly involved with Munyenyezi during the genocide, but had known her before the killing began, or had watched her at the roadblock from afar. “These witnesses were neighbors, teachers, laborers,” Andersen says. “Consequently, their testimony was highly credible because of the context within which they knew Beatrice, before she became a killer.”
Andersen returned to Rwanda with a heavy burden: He’d lost. The scores of survivors he’d interviewed still carried their scars, visible and invisible, while the Commander was still at large. This time, he brought soccer balls to give to their children, who he had seen playing in the streets with orbs made of banana leaves and twine. The kids nicknamed him “Big Muzungu”: the Big White Guy.
As part of the new trial strategy, Andersen talked with Rwandans such as Jean Paul Rutaganda, a Tutsi who had managed to survive the genocide by hiding in a school across from the roadblock. A native of Butare who grew up near the Hotel Ihuriro, Rutaganda knew Munyenyezi before the genocide and saw firsthand what she had done. He told Andersen, and later testified in court, that Munyenyezi seemed to be in charge of the roadblock and spent her days there with a “notebook and a pen, counting” Tutsis, all while wearing an Interahamwe uniform. She also collected IDs, and when Tutsis tried to pass, Rutaganda said, they would be “beaten up. And they would be killed.”
Andersen also focused on proving that Munyenyezi was not just a hapless housewife but an active member of the Hutu-led MRND government. He interviewed Thierry Sebaganwa, a high school friend of Munyenyezi’s husband, Shalom. A college-educated oil worker in Kigali, Sebaganwa explained and later testified that Munyenyezi was a well-known member of the party and that he’d seen her wearing the Interahamwe uniform, a patchwork of greens and yellows with the letters MRND stitched in a circle. To strengthen his case, Andersen also used documents to place Munyenyezi at the roadblock during the genocide: Munyenyezi’s own résumé, for instance, plainly stated that she worked at the Hotel Ihuriro next to the checkpoint during the deadly spring of 1994.
The Rwandan witnesses, many of whom had never left home, flew to Logan Airport before the trial. It was February. There was snow on the ground and they were freezing. Andersen said he took his witnesses to eat fast food before busing them to a Comfort Inn in Concord.
One of the final witnesses Andersen helped usher to the stand was Dr. Rony Zachariah, who was in Rwanda on a humanitarian mission with Doctors Without Borders. “I’ve seen a lot,” Zachariah later told the court. “When I look back, it was hell on Earth.”
Zachariah told jurors he’d seen men fleeing from the roadblock near the Hotel Ihuriro, pursued by machete-wielding militiamen. He watched in horror as an elderly man fell and was slashed in the neck. Others, he said, were killed and thrown into a nearby river. Zachariah and his team left Butare after they witnessed an Interahamwe soldier murder one of his Hutu nurses. She was seven months pregnant, but her husband was a Tutsi. The doctor tried to prevent her death, screaming that she was Hutu. The soldier remained unfazed. “He said, ‘Doctor, you are right. You are right…Sabine is Hutu, but her husband is Tutsi, and this baby that she’s going to have is going to be Tutsi,’” Zachariah testified. “I felt numb.”
The new trial began in February 2013. Instead of overwhelming the jury with a barrage of horrific images from the mouths of killers, prosecutors let the doctor, an authority, recount the mayhem. The secret to convincing the jury was to downplay the carnage, which was too much for them to believe. Prosecutors spent most of their efforts proving that Munyenyezi had lied on her application to become a U.S. citizen, which, after all, was the technicality for which she was being prosecuted. Unlike the first trial, jurors deliberated for just four hours. They found Munyenyezi guilty, and Judge McAuliffe sentenced her to the maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison. He also revoked her U.S. citizenship.
In the courtroom that day was Eugenie Mukeshimana, a Rwandan genocide survivor and executive director of the Genocide Survivors Support Network, who just happened to be a former high school classmate of Munyenyezi. She remembers other students calling her an importe, which essentially means “snob.” After the first trial, she says, “I felt like we were robbed of that opportunity to get justice.” Now, she said, “I feel for her daughters. Their father, their grandmother, and now their mother are in jail. I wonder what they knew about their family growing up.”
In late February, I reached out to Munyenyezi’s eldest daughter, Charlene, now a 22-year-old student at Syracuse University, to ask that very question. She denied the charges against her mother and said that her younger sister, Simbi, is studying to become a humanitarian attorney at American University. “My mother was always a woman on a mission,’’ Charlene said before hanging up the phone. “My mother is the greatest woman in the world.”
Today, Munyenyezi is serving her sentence at a prison in Aliceville, Alabama—the only person in the United States found guilty of lying about her role in the Rwandan genocide. It is unclear whether she will be flown back to her native country to face prosecution. Her attorneys appealed her conviction in February, arguing that the sentence was too harsh and that her 2006 testimony at her husband’s trial should not have been admitted. At press time, there was no decision on her appeal. Her sister, Prudence, whose case landed on Andersen’s desk eight years ago, was not charged with genocide but in 2012 received a 21-month prison sentence for perjury and obstruction of justice.
When Munyenyezi is released from prison in January 2020, Andersen has but one goal: to escort her back to Rwanda to face justice where the survivors still live. “She’s a killer,” he says from behind his desk at the HSI field office, which is decorated with 10 African tribal masks for the 10 trips he took to investigate Munyenyezi. “She should have to face the consequences of those actions in the country where those crimes were committed. She has to go back to Rwanda, and I want to be there when that happens.”
As for Munyenyezi’s neighbors on Howe Street, the accusations and conviction against her were unsettling. “It makes you think, ‘How well do you know anyone who is living next door to you?’” LoriAnn Silver says. “To us, she was just Bea.”
Source URL: https://www.bostonmagazine.com/news/2015/03/24/rwandan-genocide/
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