Published February 03, 2009
BALTIMORE – A Rwandan professor has been suspended with pay from teaching French at Goucher College while officials there investigate claims that he was involved in the 1994 genocide in his home country.
College President Sanford Ungar told faculty and students in an e-mail Saturday that Professor Leopold Munyakazi, 59, was removed from teaching after officials learned he had been indicted in 2006 on genocide charges in Rwanda.
More than a half-million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in 1994 after the then-president's plane was shot down as he returned from negotiating with Tutsi rebels.
Munyakazi, a Hutu, said in an interview Monday at his home that he has been persecuted by the Rwandan government because his wife is Tutsi and he protected her and her family during the killings.
"I'm not hiding; I was never involved in genocide," Munyakazi said in an interview Monday at his home. "In my conscience, I am free of any guilt."
Ungar said in the e-mail that he removed Munyakazi from teaching duties because the allegations are so serious, but the removal "in no way reflects a judgment about Dr. Munyakazi or about the charges that have been made."
The accusations came to Ungar's attention in December when he was approached by an NBC News producer working on a story that involved Munyakazi.
"Some people knew that he had expressed controversial views," Ungar said in an interview Monday. "But in colleges and universities you don't think it's a bad thing to express controversial views. Nobody knew there were charges of that nature."
Student Max Levenson, 19, of Harrisburg, Pa., said Goucher did the right thing by suspending Munyakazi, although he said that did not mean he believed the professor was guilty.
Munyakazi said he was held in Rwanda without trial from 1994 to 1999 on accusations of genocide.
When he was released provisionally because of his age and profession, he left the country for a seminar in the U.S. and never returned, according to Andrew Tusabe, second counselor at the Rwandan embassy in Washington.
The indictment charges Munyakazi with murder and several other genocide-related counts, Tusabe said. He declined to give specifics about each charge, but as an example he said that one alleges Munyakazi inspected roadblocks where he instructed officers to require identification from people fleeing. Those who were Tutsis were killed.
The Rwandan government has asked the U.S. to send Munyakazi and five others back to Rwanda, but they must go through the justice system here first, Tusabe said.
The U.S. Justice Department has referred questions about Munyakazi's case to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, which did not return calls for comment Monday.
A frustrated Munyakazi produced several certificates of good conduct, which he said proved he was not involved in genocide. He said he had not been contacted by any U.S. government or international police agency, and in fact had applied for U.S. citizenship.
"I am used to the persecution of the Rwandan government," he said. "There's no justice."
Officials in Rwanda were not immediately available for comment because it was after hours there.
"Evidence that would either convict or exonerate Dr. Munyakazi beyond a reasonable doubt simply does not exist at this time, or if it does, I have not seen it," Ungar said.
Ungar noted that the indictment was prepared in 2006, 12 years after the killings in Rwanda but just a month after Munyakazi gave a lecture in New Jersey, where he was teaching at Montclair State College. During the talk, he questioned the Rwandan government's account of events during the conflict.
Munyakazi started teaching in September at Goucher College in Towson, just north of Baltimore. He was contracted for two semesters through the Scholar Rescue Fund, which provides fellowships for scholars whose lives and work are threatened in their countries.
Ungar said the fund and its parent organization, the Institute of International Education, are investigating but have not been able to confirm the claims in the indictment. Calls to the fund and institute were not immediately returned.
Ungar said the college plans to provide off-campus housing for Munyakazi and his family until the end of this semester.
Munyakazi said Monday that his main concern now is getting another job.
"You can't live in the United States without working," he said.