Something very odd is going on here.
I know our readers, so I’m sure that most of you have been avidly following the story of Leopold Munyakazi, the Goucher College professor who was suspended from his job earlier this month following accusations that he participated in the Rwandan genocide. For those who haven’t, Munyakazi has been teaching French in the US since 2004, sponsored by an organization called Scholar Rescue Fund which provides fellowships to scholars whose lives or work are threatened in their home countries.
In 2006, he gave a controversial speech to a faculty forum at the University of Delaware, in which he argued that what happened in Rwanda had not been genocide because Hutus and Tutsis were not different ethnicities, and claimed that what happened should be considered part of a civil war. (I can’t find a transcript of the speech, so it’s hard to know what he was getting at. He might have been making a legalistic claim about the technical definition of genocide, or a political one about how it has been portrayed in the media. From the few quotes available , it doesn’t sound like he was denying the severity of the violence that took place –this article quotes him as saying it was “fratricide”- so much as criticizing the discourse used to discuss it.)
It seems pretty clear that the current charges against Munyakazi are the result of the Delaware speech, which angered the Rwandan government. Soon afterwards, Rwanda issued an indictment charging that Munyakazi aided and abetted genocide. The charges were clearly politically motivated, and almost certainly spurious. Rwanda expert Alison Des Forges, of Human Rights Watch, has reviewed the indictment and publicly expressed her doubts about its merits. She points out that the professor had been held for five years without being tried or even charged, which suggests that the government lacked evidence of his participation in the genocide. After his release, he then obtained a position at a public university in Kigali, and so was hardly “hiding out in the bush” trying to evade justice. And, indeed, the U.S. government apparently had no interest in responding to Rwanda’s demand that Munyakazi be extradited to stand trial.
And that’s where things got weird. According to this open letter from Goucher President Sanford Ungar, an NBC news producer approached him last December, saying that NBC was working on a series about war criminals living in the U.S., and Professor Munyakazi was one of their subjects. Ungar wrote that he “listened in disbelief as the producer and a Rwandan prosecutor who accompanied him said they had eyewitnesses who claimed Dr. Munyakazi participated directly in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, inciting members of the Hutu majority to attack members of the Tutsi minority.” The professor denied the allegations, but Ungar felt that they were serious enough to merit suspension until the matter was resolved, even though he questioned whether it was appropriate for a Rwandan prosecutor to travel around the country with a TV news camera crew, rather than working with the U.S. government through official channels. (He’s not the only one who thinks that. Slate’s Jack Shafer is also unimpressed.)
And THEN things got even weirder. The Goucher letter was released on a Saturday. The following Tuesday, DHS released a statement saying that it had arrested Munyakazi at his home and “begun deportation proceedings” against him. The ICE spokesman said only that Munyakazi was “in the country illegally“, and that the case would be referred to an immigration judge. He was not detained, but was released with an ankle-monitoring device to wear.
That makes absolutely no sense. Munyakazi claims that he applied for asylum in the U.S. after he arrived in 2004, and that his application is pending. His wife and their three children have also applied for asylum here in the United States. If that is the case, then there is no reason for him to have been “arrested” now. If his case is still pending, then he cannot be deported until it has been resolved. If he was succesful, then he has the right to remain in the United States. If he lost his initial case, then he can’t be put into deportation proceedings, because he is technically already in them: asylum cases in immigration court, and any subsequent appeals, are “defensive” -a response to the government’s charge that the applicant is a deportable alien. (As a side note, that makes it a big gamble to apply for asylum in the U.S. if you have a valid visa.)
Even if, somehow, none of that is true -if Munyakazi never filed for asylum, or allowed his case to drop, or has exhausted all of his appeals- an arrest would be unnecessary and unusual. Normally, DHS just sends the alien or his lawyer a notice of removability, ordering him to appear in immigration court on a particular date. If he failed to show up, then ICE might take him into custody, but at that point it seems like they’d be more likely to keep him in detention. Ditto for if they actually believed he was a dangerous war criminal. So what’s going on here?
Super, super weird, y’all.