Rwandan Genocide Taken Up in Kansas Court

May 9, 2011  |  

(New York Times) — The faces in the jury box are a cross-section of southern Kansas. The judge has a white beard, wears a bow tie and speaks in the straightforward language of the Great Plains. One defense lawyer favors cowboy boots and sometimes dons bolo ties.  But they are listening to testimony about a place and time in a village half a world away. On the stand, a diminutive Rwandan man with gold-rimmed glasses talks in his native language about how he participated in the murder of his neighbors during the ethnic massacres in Rwanda 17 years ago.  The witness, Valens Murindangabo, is asked about a moment on April 17, 1994, when two Tutsi teenagers were captured by Hutu men in some woods. He glances at the defendant, Lazare Kobagaya, an octogenarian with a cane, whose gray head can barely be seen above the back of his chair.  “Kobagaya said, ‘Wipe them out, kill them,’ ” Mr. Murindangabo testifies. Then he says one of the men hacked the boys to death with a machete near a watering hole while Mr. Kobagaya watched from a few yards away. The defendant puts his palm to his forehead and shakes his head sadly. He dabs tears from his eyes with a handkerchief.  With this testimony, and more to come over the next two months, a federal court jury will hear a detailed account of how the 1994 genocide in Rwanda was carried out in a single village near the mountainous African country’s southern border with Burundi.

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