Dr. Léopold Munyakazi is in the custody of ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in Miami, Florida, where he is on the verge of being extradited to Rwanda for alleged crimes related to the 1994 massacres that came to be known as the Rwandan Genocide. This week a court denied his request for an emergency stay so that he could complete the appeals process.
Dr. Léopold Munyakazi
The Rwandan government accused Professor Munyakazi of genocide crime after he made several speeches to university audiences in which he said that the Rwandan massacres were not genocide but class conflict.
I spoke with Father Thomas Nahimana about the Munyakazi case.
Ann Garrison: Dr. Léopold Munyakazi, a former French professor at Goucher College, is close to being deported from the U.S., back to Rwanda, for giving several speeches in which he described the massacres as class conflict, not ethnic conflict. He said that Rwandans are the same people, speaking the same language and sharing the same culture. So the Hutu Tutsi conflict was really a class divide, not an ethnic divide. What do you think of that?
Father Thomas Nahimana: Yes, I think that I agree with Munyakazi. I agree very much with him. And the division between Hutu and Tutsi, it is not a matter of blood. It is a matter of political and social interests only.
But this is not a sin. This is not a crime. I don’t understand why America accepts that Munyakazi has to face the problem that he is facing nowadays.
This is analysis which is good, which is good about our society.
AG: Well, when I began to try to understand this, I thought, “You speak the same language. You have the same culture. How am I supposed to understand this Hutu Tutsi divide as ethnic?””
TH: Yes. The reality is that in our country, we are one people. Yes, we speak the same language. We marry each other, and the problems arise only when there is power to share. The international community must know that really, Hutu and Tutsi, it is not a problem of blood. It is a problem of economic and political interests only.
AG: That would be a really radical change in the way the world thinks about Rwanda because we’re commonly told that the U.S. needs to go to war, as in Libya or Syria, to stop genocide, as we failed to in Rwanda. Could you comment on that?
TH: I think the problem of Rwandan Genocide is always complicated because the genocide happened when there was a civil war since four years. So, there was a part who wanted to win the war and to take power. And that part was RPF led by Paul Kagame. They didn’t want anyone to intervene to stop that. That’s true. They wanted to take power. The international community hasn’t any fault. I can say that because we know, by history, that RPF wrote letters to the UN saying that they didn’t want anybody to intervene.
When they talk about genocide, they speak only about what happened in the part that was governed by the former government of Habyarimana, but they never talk about what was happening in the part where it was RPF.
AG: OK, you’re talking about the areas that were RPF territory, right? The violence and atrocities that took place in territory controlled by the RPF – the winners – that’s not reported.
TH: Yes, and we are asking ourselves why the international community continues to turn a blind eye to the atrocities committed by the RPF, and that is a big problem for reconciliation in Rwanda.
AG: Munyakazi’s lawyer and supporters say that he will not recant his description of the Rwandan massacres as a class conflict because too many lives in the African Great Lakes Region depend on truth being told.
TH: Yes, the truth must be told to prevent more bloodshed in our region.
Father Thomas Nahimana is a Catholic priest who plans to return from France to Rwanda in 2016 to challenge incumbent President Paul Kagame, as the candidate of the Ishema Party, in the 2017 election.