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Rwandan Man Convicted Of Lying About Role In Genocide


A federal jury in Boston has convicted a Rwandan man accused of lying about his role in the atrocities during the genocide there. The verdict comes just days before the 25th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. And it is believed that more than 800,000 people were slaughtered over the course of three months. Most were from the minority Tutsi tribe. Despite the passage of time, there's still an international effort to track down those responsible and bring them to justice, including here in the United States. NPR's Jackie Northam reports.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: The federal courthouse here in Boston is an impressive brick-and-glass building that offers a great view of the city's harbor. This courthouse is a long way from Rwanda. But for the past few weeks, the atrocities of 1994 were relived in a wood-paneled courtroom on the third floor. Prosecutors said Jean Leonard Teganya, a Hutu, took part in the rapes, killings and beatings of Tutsis at a hospital in the southern Rwandan town of Butare. Phil Clark, an Africa specialist at the University of London, says Teganya fled Rwanda not long after the genocide ended.

PHIL CLARK: He is significant in that he is one of the handful of genocide suspects who'd been identified in North America.

NORTHAM: Defense lawyers painted Teganya as a hardworking medical student who tried to protect Tutsis from attacks by Hutu militias. Earlier this week, Teganya took the stand. The now 47-year-old, balding and wearing glasses, answered hours of questions about his background and what he did during the genocide. He denied any involvement. Teganya's uncle, Greg Meyer, said it pained him to see his nephew going through the trial.

GREG MEYER: And I really applaud him of being so strong. I am crying and he is just standing there strong.

NORTHAM: Teganya was arrested in 2014 by U.S. border officials in Maine after he fled Canada, where he had lived for a decade before being denied asylum there. Teganya was not on trial in Boston for genocide. Instead, he was charged with lying on his asylum application by saying he did not participate in the genocide. Lewis Mudge, the Central Africa director for Human Rights Watch, said an immigration-related case is easier to prosecute than genocide.

LEWIS MUDGE: Genocide is notoriously very, very difficult to prove, as are war crimes and crimes against humanity, because you have to prove the intent.

NORTHAM: Both the prosecution and defense brought in witnesses from Rwanda to testify at Teganya's trial. But Mudge says 25 years after the fact, there is a chance that memories of the horror and chaos of the genocide can get a bit fuzzy.

MUDGE: You're dealing with massive trauma on the part of victims and survivors, so it's not unusual to get testimony which might contradict something this individual has said a few years earlier. That does not mean that these people are lying.

NORTHAM: One year after the genocide, an international tribunal was set up to try people suspected of planning and carrying out the atrocities. More than 100 people were indicted; 60 were sentenced before the tribunal was disbanded in 2012. The University of London's Clark says the Rwandan government continues to track down suspects and encourages foreign countries to either try them or extradite them.

CLARK: The Rwandan government now estimates that there are at least 400 known genocide suspects at large in foreign states, particularly in North America and Western Europe.

NORTHAM: On Friday, the jury took little time in finding Teganya guilty. He now faces a maximum sentence of 20 years, then likely deportation to Rwanda, where he could face another trial. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.