In Boston federal court, echoes of 1994 Rwanda genocide

 

 

 

Jean Pierre Gasasira was just 17 years old when he saw soldiers and militiamen drag a Tutsi doctor outside a hospital in Rwanda.

“He was begging for mercy,” Gasasira testified in US District Court in Boston Wednesday. “He was saying ‘I just work as a doctor. I help those in need.’ ”

The attackers showed no mercy, Gasasira said. One of the men raised a small ax over the doctor and killed him.

That man is here in the courtroom, Gasasira told jurors.“I see him,” he said, then stood up and stared at Jean Leonard Teganya, who in 1994 was a junior medical student at the Rwandan hospital.The riveting scene came on the third day of the trial against Teganya, who federal prosecutors say lied to US authorities about his role in the 1994 genocide to receive asylum. He is on trial for perjury, not for crimes he allegedly committed in Rwanda.Teganya, a Hutu, allegedly incited soldiers and other Hutu extremists to rape and kill Tutsi patients and medical staff in the hospital in Butare, a city in the southern part of the country, which at the time was engulfed in a civil war between the Hutus, the ethnic majority, and the Tutsis, the country’s ethnic minority.Teganya, 47, left Rwanda in 1994 at the end of the 100-day campaign against the Tutsis. His lawyers say he is a quiet, studious man who had no part in the genocide. He is seeking asylum because his father was a leader in the party responsible for the genocide, and it would be dangerous for him to return.Teganya’s lawyers have suggested that witness accounts of Teganya’s actions are unreliable and potentially influenced by Rwandan government officials. They plan to call witnesses they say will contradict their testimony.Gasasira was the third prosecution witness to describe atrocities at the teaching hospital in Butare in April 1994. On Tuesday, a physician who worked for Doctors without Borders at the time recalled how soldiers dragged away a Hutu nurse who was seven months pregnant. The father of the child was Tutsi and, in Rwanda, ethnicity runs through the paternal line.The doctor, Rony Zachariah, who now works for the World Health Organization, fought back tears as he recalled his efforts to stop the soldiers.“There is a mistake,” Zachariah said he told the military captain. “She’s not Tutsi and she’s been taking care of your soldiers.”The captain looked coldly at him.Zachariah said the captain replied: “You’re right [she] is Hutu, but this child that she’s going to have is going to be Tutsi.”Zachariah said he never saw the nurse again.A Rwandan woman described the brutal attacks by Hutus against two young Tutsi children and their mother, who had been dragged outside the hospital where they had sought refuge from the conflict.“The mom was asking ‘Please, at least leave me with one child,’ ” said Isabelle Mukankusi, who was 14 and a patient at the hospital at the time.All three were killed, she said.Mukankusi, a Tutsi, said she arrived at the hospital with serious head injuries after Hutu extremists struck her repeatedly with machetes after killing her grandparents. She said she was in a coma for 2½ months.In his cross examination, Teganya’s lawyer, Scott Lauer, pointed out that Mukankusi, now a nurse at that same hospital, initially told investigators she was in a coma for one month. He also questioned Mukankusi about the seriousness of her injuries.“Is your hearing at all affected by the injuries you sustained to your ears?” Lauer asked.“No,” Mukankusi said.During his testimony, Gasasira said Teganya was friendly with the Hutu soldiers at the hospital, and often spoke disparagingly of Tutsis, calling them “very bad people.”Gasasira was a Tutsi who said he pretended to be a Hutu to avoid persecution from the Hutu soldiers at the hospital. He said he was terrified of Teganya.After the doctor, a Tutsi, was killed, Gasasira said he heard Teganya say, “ ‘We still have Tutsis in the hospital. If I ever find one, we will have to kill him.”Teganya’s wife, whom he met in Montreal after he emigrated from India, was in the courtroom Wednesday.The couple has two sons, who are about 9 and 11 years old, according to Teganya’s uncle, Greg Meyer, who lives in Washington, D.C., and has been speaking by phone to his nephew, who is being held at the Plymouth County jail.“He believes that the lies are going to be found” out, Meyer said. “This is a guy who can’t even slap his children or anybody who would push him. He’s a very peaceful guy.”Maria Cramer can be reached at mcramer@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @globemcramer.

 

© 2019 Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC

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