New Hampshire trial revisits trauma of Rwanda genocide

Story highlights

  • Beatrice Munyenyazi, 42, is accused of lying her way into the United States
  • Federal prosecutors say she took part in systematic killings of ethnic Tutsis
  • They say Munyenyazi lied on a refugee questionnaire
  • The case is expected to a draw from a long list of witnesses from Rwanda
A teary-eyed Rwandan emigrant entered a federal courtroom in New Hampshire on Thursday, marking the first day of a trial with roots in a genocide that left some 800,000 people dead.
Beatrice Munyenyazi, 42, is accused of lying her way into the United States after allegedly participating in her country's 1994 slaughter.
Federal prosecutors told a jury in Concord that the defendant ordered systematic killings of ethnic Tutsis in Rwanda nearly two decades ago, and posed as a refugee to gain entry into the U.S.
They say Munyenyazi, who obtained U.S. citizenship in 2003, intentionally lied on a refugee questionnaire and other documents about her role in the violence, in which mass numbers of ethnic Tutsis were murdered by their Hutu countrymen over a three-month period, after the plane carrying Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, was shot down over Kigali airport.
"Evidence will show that the defendant personally identified Tutsis. She personally followed up with killing squads to make sure people were eliminated," said Assistant U.S. Attorney John Capin during opening statements.
Prosecutors say Menyenyazi, a Hutu, was a member of an extremist group associated with a paramilitary organization that set up roadblocks and targeted fleeing Tutsis and their sympathizers.
The case is expected to a draw from a long list of witnesses from Rwanda, which prompted court authorities to appoint three translators to assist with the proceedings.
Thursday's first witness gave gruesome testimony of the horrors of the massacre, the effects of which spilled over into the Democratic Republic of Congo where ethnic strife persists.
"The first thing I saw was burning," said Esperanze Kayange, a native of country's Butare province, who traveled from Rwanda to participate in the trial.
"Then Hutu militia took the children out of the house and slaughtered them. ... They started with the ones in the front and started cutting them to pieces."
Kayange said she saw the defendant picking out those to be killed.
But Munyenyazi's attorney, Mark Howard said the allegations were false, adding that his client was a hardworking mother of three and was pregnant at the time of the attacks. Her children were in attendance Thursday during the hearing.
"This case is about lies, lies told about my client," Howard told jurors.
Authorities say the trial is expected to last up to six weeks.
If convicted, Munyenyezi could face deportation.