[Global News: Review]
Since his December 15 suspension from an American college teaching post after Rwanda authorities alleged he had participated in genocide, a Rwandese professor says U.S. Immigration authorities have escalated pressure against him, including an arrest and several phone calls and visits.
Separately, several U.S. media outlets have questioned the journalistic ethics of NBC Television, which has teamed up with Rwandese prosecutors pursuing the professor; NBC is working on a documentary.
Several agents of the department of Homeland Security swooped down on his home and arrested him on February 3, in a heavy-handed display. The professor, Leopold Munyakazi, 59, told The Black Star News in an interview that he was released several hours later.
"They told me I was denied asylum and that I had overstayed in the United States," he said, even though his asylum case filed in 2004, has not yet been ruled on. They said, "since they were immigration officials they had the right to deport me," he said.
Munyakazi said he showed the agents from the Baltimore office of Homeland Security, a letter from the Department authorizing him to remain here until a final asylum application ruling.
His passport and other papers were confiscated by the authorities after his arrest, he said. "They even took away the letter which states that I can stay in the country until a final determination," Munyakazi said. "They even took away my work permit."
Munyakazi says subsequently Immigration agents have visited him and also called several times. They have also asked whether he has been giving interviews to the news media, he said.
Munyakazi’s arrest came one day after a story about his case appeared in The Baltimore Sun, in which he also reiterated his innocence.
In The Sun article, the noted scholar on Rwanda, Alison Des Forges who was a consultant to Human Rights Watch, until her death in the February 12 plane crash in Buffalo, told the newspaper that she was skeptical about the case against Munyakazi.
"I do not find it convincing," she said in the interview published on February 2. She said Rwanda authorities claimed Munyakazi helped organize the marauding militia, Interahamwe, which was accused of participating in the killings.
Interahamwe was however affiliated with a political party which was actually a rival of the party to which Munyakazi belonged, Des Forges said.
Munyakazi had taught for one semester in the French department at Goucher College, in Maryland, when the head of Rwanda's fugitives’ unit, Jean Paul Bosco Mutangana, accompanied an NBC crew to Goucher and presented its president Dr. Sanford Ungar with a copy of an indictment stating that Munyakazi had participated in "genocide."
The crew showed school officials what they said was a videotape of interviews with witnesses who say they saw Munyakazi participating in the killings. A school spokeswoman conceded that Munyakazi was never shown a copy of the video. When the NBC crew barged into Munyakazi's classroom with cameras and microphones, he declined to be interviewed. He said he had no lawyer, and that he wouldn’t take part in an interview until he had a chance to read the indictment.
Munyakazi denies the charges against him and says he is the victim of a witch-hunt by Rwanda authorities who want to silence critics who contest the established version of the 1994 calamity.
Munyakazi, who is a Hutu and is married to a Tutsi, says he helped Tutsis escape the killings. Moreover, Munyakazi contends, he had been imprisoned in Rwanda from 1994 to 1998 on false charges that he had participated in genocide but he was released with no charges ever being filed against him.
Munyakazi says he was cleared, in writing by the Rwanda prosecutor at the time, Anastas Barinde.
Moreover, he taught for several years in Rwanda before applying for asylum in the U.S. after a visit to attend a conference in Atlanta, Ga., in 2004, when he learned that he was about to be arrested, he says.
"The prosecutor came from Rwanda to convince my employer to fire me," he said. "This is not the way to proceed even when you have something against somebody."
NBC intends to include Munyakazi’s case in a documentary about alleged war crimes participants that are now in the United States. Other media outlets, including the New York Times and Slate, have raised questions about the appropriateness of NBC teaming up with Rwanda government officials in this matter, rather than working as an independent news outlet.
An NBC spokesperson did not return a call from The Black Star News seeking comment.
Goucher College seems to be supportive of Munyakazi. He has been suspended with pay and continues to live in College-sponsored housing. In a statement, Dr. Ungar, the College president, said: "Dr. Munyakazi vehemently denies any involvement in committing genocide, and in fact has presented evidence that he assisted numerous Tutsis in fleeing Hutu killers."
Dr. Ungar, who is a former journalist and from 1979-1982 host of NPR's “All Things Considered,” also added: "In addition, the indictment that claims Dr. Munyakazi was directly involved in genocide was apparently prepared in 2006, twelve years after the events it describes but just a month after he had given a controversial talk in New Jersey, where he was then teaching at Montclair State University. In that talk, Dr. Munyakazi questioned the Rwandan government’s official account of the events that occurred during the genocide."
Separately, a Goucher spokeswoman said Munyakazi's job could be restored if he is cleared before his contract expires on June 30. Goucher will rely on continuing investigation by the Institute of International Education (IIE), she said.
Dr. Henry Jarecki, who is a board member of the IIE, the renowned New York-based organization which sponsors scholars facing grave threats to their lives and work in their home countries, and founder of its Scholar Rescue Fund, said Munyakazi was an "erudite and cultured Rwandan professor," who had written about 80 papers.
"Like many Hutu intellectuals, he is critical of the Tutsi leadership," he added. Dr. Jarecki said IIE had vetted Dr. Munyakazi, checked his academic background and reviewed his history.
The Rescue Fund offers fellowships to scholars at risk from allover the world, in diverse countries ranging from Iraq to Ethiopia.
The organization has given out 345 fellowships to scholars from 50 countries and has rescued hundreds of scholars who were endangered. Allan E. Goodman, President and CEO of IIE said "about twenty percent have actually served jail time."
IIE was founded in 1919 after World War I, by Nobel Peace Prize winners Nicholas Murray Butler, President of Columbia University, and Elihu Root, former Secretary of State, and by Stephen Duggan, Sr., Professor of Political Science at the College of the City of New York and IIE's first President. They aimed to foster lasting global peace through international educational exchange (please see www.iie.org).
After his asylum application, Munyakazi then sought help from the Scholar Rescue Fund, which sponsored him for a fellowship at Montclair State University, in New Jersey.
While visiting Delaware University, in 2006, Munyakazi made a speech in which he said the 1994 killings in Rwanda had been the outcome of civil war and not genocide, Dr. Jarecki said.
Dr. Jarecki said he was later informed that Rwanda’s ambassador to Washington, D.C., had been in the audience and that he was recently told that the ambassador stood up and said Munyakazi was "complicit in genocide" and not just a genocide denier.
The ambassador later sent a letter to the president of Montclair stating that Munyakazi was a genocidier --a term for a person who participated in the killings-- Dr. Jarecki said.
But the university extended Munyakazi’s teaching arrangement for another year. His work papers did not come through in time so he worked as a jewelry salesman for about a year before he landed the job at Goucher College.
"Of course we do not want to protect someone who is guilty of serious crimes," Dr. Jarecki observed, but, as with Dr. Ungar, he also echoed concern about the timing of the indictment subsequently brought against Munyakazi by the Rwanda authorities. IIE intends to continue trying to contact the Rwandan Prosecutor in Kigali, he said.
A Rwanda official in Washington, D.C., said Munyakazi should return to Rwanda and face the charges there. "Munyakazi was released provisionally. He was supposed to report at a specific time to a judge; he used that liberty to flee," the Rwanda official said, noting that the professor faces a seven-count indictment. "Nobody ever accepts responsibility."
Munyakazi says the provisional release became permanent after he was cleared by the prosecutor at the time, Barinde, who cleared him in writing. The Goucher spokeswoman confirmed that Munyakazi had provided the documentation to school officials. The Black Star News has reviewed several documents from various Rwanda local officials attesting that Munyakazi did not participate in the killings.
Brandon A. Montgomery, a spokesman for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said that at the April hearing before a judge, Munyakazi can challenge the government's attempt to deport him. He said Munyakazi would be deported to Rwanda unless he prevailed upon the judge; Munyakazi could also ask to be sent to a third country, provided that country accepts his request.
When asked whether Munyakazi could be sent to Rwanda even if he would be endangered, he said: "That's what he would have to bring up at the hearing."
Asked whether it was not unusual for the government to aggressively seek the deportation of someone awaiting a ruling on an asylum application, Montgomery said federal regulations barred him from even acknowledging or denying that Munyakazi has a pending asylum case: "I really cannot comment on an asylum case, even on a generality."
When asked why Munyakazi's papers had been seized Montgomery said any documents the professor had became "invalid" after he overstayed his visitor's visa. He denied that the government had been influenced by Rwandese authorities or that the action against Munyakazi came as a result of the publicity following the visit by NBC and the prosecutor to Goucher. "I couldn't tell you when we started our investigation. But we don't let outside groups or media sway us," he said.
Munyakazi now sits in limbo, awaiting the April deportation hearing.
"It has nothing to do with my immigration status," he said, of the April hearing. "The Rwanda government wants the US government to make a negative decision on my case."
Munyakazi believes that by pursuing him aggressively, the Rwanda authorities want to conceal a larger story about the narrative behind the tragedy that befell his country in 1994.
Ironically, Munyakazi's high profile media case could re-open some chapters of the Rwanda conflict that are often ignored by media.
The chain of events that precipitated what the authorities and many scholars refer to as genocide, in 1994 --Munyakazi in a published account says he prefers fratricide because it involved "brothers killing brothers"-- began to unfold in 1990, when neighboring Uganda sponsored an invasion by exiled Tutsis, who formed the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF).
After the massacre of Tutsis in the 1960s when the Tutsi monarchy was overthrown by the Hutu majority, who make up 85% of the population, there were no major killings until after 1990. That’s when Uganda –under current president Yoweri Museveni-- which wanted to rid itself of its huge Tutsi refugee population, armed and trained the RPF; many had fought alongside President Museveni when he was a guerilla leader and they helped him seize power in Uganda in 1986.
Top Rwanda officials include current Rwanda President Paul Kagame, who had been chief of military intelligence in Uganda's army. In 1990, he was sent by President Museveni to train as a Uganda army officer at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; when the first RPF commander was killed in combat, Kagame was recalled from the U.S. and installed commander.
Massacres were reportedly committed by both the RPF and Rwanda's then Hutu- dominated army in fighting between 1990 and 1994. The killings of an estimated 500,000 to 800,000 did not occur until after Rwanda's Hutu president Juvenal Habyarimana was assassinated when his plane was shot down.
The Rwanda army denied that its hardliners killed President Habyarimana; the RPF also denied that Kagame issued the orders to down the plane. In 2006, a French judge, Jean-Louis Bruguière, ruled after hearing evidence that President Kagame ordered the 1994 shooting of the plane and issued arrest warrants for about a dozen current top Rwanda officials, including President Kagame, and senior military officers.
In November 2008, while visiting Germany to prepare the way for a visit there by President Kagame, Rose Kibuye, Rwanda’s director general of state protocol, and a former RPF officer who had also been named in the French arrest warrants was detained by German officials and extradited to France for trial.
The French Court intervened legally because the three crew members of Habyarimana’s plane were French nationals. Also killed was Burundi president, Cyprien Ntaryamire, who was aboard.
"The Rwanda government is just trying to maintain its legitimacy on the genocide and they practice revenge on innocent people," Munyakazi said.
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