CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A federal judge yesterday sentenced a New Hampshire woman to the maximum 10 years in prison for lying about her role in the 1994 Rwanda genocide, saying the United States cannot be a haven for those who slaughter out of hatred and ignorance.
Rwanda native Beatrice Munyenyezi declined her right to address the court after U.S. District Judge Steven McAuliffe imposed her sentence.
Munyenyezi, 43, was convicted in February of entering the United States and securing citizenship by lying about her role as a commander of one of the notorious roadblocks where Tutsis were singled out for slaughter. She also denied affiliation with any political party, despite her husband’s leadership role in the extremist Hutu militia party.
“She was not a mere spectator,” McAuliffe said. “I find this defendant was actively involved, actively participated, in the mass killing of men, women and children simply because they were Tutsis.”
McAuliffe acknowledged she has led a crime-free and productive life since her arrival in New Hampshire in 1998 but said it was a life lived under false pretenses.
There was no visible initial reaction from Munyenyezi or her daughters during sentencing. But midway through the hearing, Munyenyezi started weeping.
“It’s very, very traumatic,” defense attorney David Ruoff said afterward. “She’s been anxious about this. Regardless of what happened in Rwanda in 1994, it’s traumatic for any person to face their kids under these circumstances.”
McAuliffe said she effectively stole a citizenship slot away from a deserving refugee, possibly one who also had daughters and was a victim of violence and persecution. Munyenyezi took the oath of citizenship a decade ago in the very same courthouse where she was sentenced. McAuliffe stripped her of that citizenship when she was convicted.
Her lawyers say they will appeal her conviction.
Federal prosecutors had sought the maximum prison sentence, saying she’s as guilty as if she wielded the machete herself.
Hundreds of thousands of Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in a campaign of mass murder orchestrated by Hutu extremists during the genocide.
Munyenyezi’s lawyers say they will appeal her conviction to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals — a move that is expected to delay deportation proceedings.
Ruoff said he too had considered asking for the maximum 10-year term, to keep Munyenyezi in the United States longer.
“She stays here, she has access to her children,” he said.
Outside the courthouse, her daughters declined to comment.