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Archive for Thursday, May 19, 2011

Witness: Rwandan government pressured prisoners to accuse Kansas man of participating in genocide

May 19, 2011, 4:55 p.m. Updated May 19, 2011, 8:20 p.m.

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— The name of a Kansas man suspected of participating in the 1994 Rwandan genocide was on a list of people whom Rwandan prosecutors and a survivors' organization wanted prisoners to accuse as a condition of their release, a former inmate testified Thursday.

The ex-inmate took the stand for the defense Thursday in the federal trial of Lazare Kobagaya, 84, who faces deportation if convicted of lying to U.S. immigration officials in a case prosecutors have said is the first in the nation requiring proof of genocide. The Topeka man is charged with unlawfully obtaining U.S. citizenship in 2006 and with fraud and misuse of an alien registration card.

More than 500,000 people were killed in Rwanda during 100 days of violence that began in April 1994. Most of the dead were ethnic Tutsi, while most of the killings were carried out by ethnic Hutu militias, before a Tutsi-led rebel movement took power.

Jean de Dieu Maniraho told jurors the inclusion of Kobagaya on the list of those people to be accused caused "a lot of trouble" at the prison in 2005, triggering fights and arguments that divided prisoners from Nyakizu Commune into two groups.

"Some were saying this is an old man. We don't need to accuse him of something he did not commit," Maniraho told jurors through an interpreter. "And the other group ... said we have to do what the government wants us to do and what IBUKA wants us to do," a reference to a Tutsi survivors association.

Among those in the latter group, Maniraho testified, was key prosecution witness Valens Murindangabo, a former teacher. Murindangabo had testified earlier in the trial that Kobagaya ordered the killing of Tutsis and the burning of their houses in Nyakizu Commune, where he lived at the time.

Maniraho told jurors on Thursday that IBUKA members would come to transitional camps where prisoners who had confessed to genocide would be held for 30 days before they were allowed to go home. One of the things the inmates would be taught would be to accuse "people of means" of genocide, he said.

"People of IBUKA wanted them to be arrested and put in prison so they can show proof to the whole world that genocide was done and that it was done by people who are educated," he said.

At the time, Maniraho said he was president of a type of community court system known as a gacaca that was held within the prison walls. He spent a total of 10 years in prison.

Under cross-examination questioning, prosecutor Steven Parker got Maniraho to acknowledge that he and Murindangabo had gone to one of those transitional camps after confessing to their crimes, but both men were still sent back to prison to serve two more years despite their confessions.

Maniraha also testified that he had to flee Rwanda after he was identified as a defense witness for Kobagaya's trial because Rwandan police were telling people that he was wanted and were asking for anyone who had seen him to hand him over to Rwandan prosecutors.

Any further testimony on that, however, was cut off in part because U.S. District Judge Monti Belot had ruled earlier in the day that the defense could not present any evidence related to the current political situation in Rwanda.

"This is a pure and simple, straightforward case: whether the jury believes the government's witnesses from Rwanda or the defense witnesses from Rwanda — who were there at the time," Belot told lawyers outside the jury's presence. "Either Mr. Kobagaya did what he is alleged to have done or Mr. Kobagaya didn't do what he is alleged — at the time."

The defense had argued in a court filing last month that the testimony being offered by government witnesses is being done at the behest of the Rwandan government through an unfair court system and the use of re-education camps to "brainwash individuals into regurgitating the official government position" for the sake of the current power maintaining its rule.

On Thursday, Belot barred a defense expert who would have testified about the so-called re-education camps.

The events at issue in Kobagaya's trial allegedly occurred in the Rwandan village of Birambo, where Kobagaya lived at the time, and at Mount Nyakizu where hundreds of Tutsis were massacred.

Earlier in the day, the defense called to the stand Francois Patrick Tuyisabe, who was an 18-year-old student home on vacation at the time of the genocide. Tuyisabe said he did not participate in those events because his father told him not to do so.

Tuyisabe told jurors that during attacks on Tutsis who had fled to Mount Nyakizu that no Hutu children or elderly people were allowed to participate for fear they could be killed in a fight.

Tuyisabe — who testified he too stayed behind in Birambo during the attacks at Mount Nyakizu — was asked whether he saw Kobagaya in Birambo during the Mount Nyakizu attacks.

He replied, "I saw the old man at his home."

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