Rwandan on trial in Kansas over 1994 genocide

Posted: April 28, 2011 in News
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By Joe Stumpe (AFP)

WICHITA, Kansas — An octogenarian Rwandan went on trial in Kansas Tuesday, accused of lying about his role in the 1994 genocide in his home country to secure US citizenship.

Lazare Kobagaya, 84, a diminutive man with a graying mustache, walked with a cane into the Wichita courthouse accompanied by a half-dozen family members.

He listened to the proceedings with the aid of an interpreter, although he introduced himself at the start of jury selection in English, saying: “My name is Lazare Kobagaya.”

The case is being heard in a Kansas federal courtroom because Kobagaya moved here in 2005 to join family members.

But prosecutors allege Kobagaya lied on his December 2005 citizenship application by denying he had participated in the genocide and falsifying other aspects of his background.

US immigration and citizenships forms routinely ask applicants if they have ever persecuted another person because of their race or social group, and also probe whether the applicant has committed any crime for which they have not been prosecuted.

If convicted of lying on his citizenship application, Kobagaya faces deportation.

Numerous witnesses are being brought to the central state of Kansas from Africa to testify about the events from April through mid-July 1994 when an estimated 800,000 people, most of them Tutsis, were killed in Rwanda.

“I will tell you, some of the evidence is going to be pretty grim and disturbing,” US District Judge Monti Belot told potential jurors, adding that several witnesses are “people who actually participated in genocide.”

Potential jurors questioned Tuesday said they had little or no knowledge of Rwanda or the events that occurred there nearly two decades ago.

The indictment says most of those who were killed belonged to the Tutsi ethnic and social group, while most of the killings were carried out by members of the Hutu ethnic group.

According to the indictment, Kobagaya was a wealthy Hutu who lived in southern Rwanda. It is alleged that he organized and incited violence against Tutsis on several occasions, including ordering Hutu to burn Tutsi homes, murder hundreds of Hutu who had tried to flee the violence, and kill Tutsi women who had married Hutu men.

Kobagaya’s defense attorneys have argued in court papers that their client’s name never turned up in lists of genocide suspects compiled by independent sources in the aftermath of the violence.

It was not until he gave a statement on behalf of another Rwandan convicted of genocide by a Finnish court that he was targeted by US investigators, the defense attorneys say.

In addition to denying that he participated in genocide, Kobagaya told immigration officials that he had lived in the African nation of Burundi from 1993 to 1995, the indictment states.

Kobagaya’s family declined comment during a break in the proceedings.

Two translators are also being used in the courtroom as interpreters for many of the witnesses, just one of many complications that Belot said could cause the case to last for eight to 10 weeks.

Trials over the 1994 genocide have also been heard before Rwandan courts as well as the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) based in Tanzania.

And several European nations have tried Rwandan suspects over the genocide.


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