Goucher College has suspended a visiting professor from Rwanda after being told he stands accused of participating in the 1994 genocide that killed some 800,000 people in the African nation.
Leopold Munyakazi, who taught French last semester, was removed from teaching duties in December after school officials learned of an indictment by a prosecutor in Rwanda. Among the charges is that he revealed hiding spots of ethnic Tutsis who were targeted by machete-wielding Hutu militias. Munyakazi denies the allegations.
Goucher President Sanford J. Ungar said yesterday that the case is "murky" and stressed that he had decided to suspend Munyakazi without accepting the allegations as fact. He told The Baltimore Sun, "It's very frustrating to be caught up in a situation where you're never sure if you'll know the whole truth."
But, he said, "We have tried to act in the best interests of the Goucher community, most especially the students."
In an e-mail Saturday to Goucher students and faculty notifying them of his decision, he said: "I will spare you the many details and nuances surrounding this case, but suffice it to say that 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."
Munyakazi, who is Hutu, told The Sun that the charges that he helped incite attacks on Tutsis are false. "I never did this. I myself was targeted by the militias," he said, explaining that he had criticized the Hutu-led government that held power prior to the genocide. "How could I collaborate with people who were hunting me?"
Munyakazi noted that his wife is Tutsi and said: "I helped save many other Tutsi people while I myself was hiding in my native area." The slaughter also led to the deaths of thousands of moderate Hutus.
While Munyakazi may not use the library or other campus facilities, he and his family will remain in college-sponsored housing in Towson for the rest of the spring semester.
The 59-year-old professor came to Goucher in September through the Scholar Rescue Fund, a program in New York that arranges fellowships for academics threatened in their home countries. No one from the fund could be reached for comment yesterday.
A Goucher spokeswoman said the school relied on the fund to vet Munyakazi. Goucher knew about controversial statements he had made in 2006 at the University of Delaware in which he described the genocide as "civil war." Officials also knew he had been imprisoned.
Goucher spokeswoman Kristen Keener said the college had no knowledge of the genocide allegations against Munyakazi until a visit in December from an NBC News producer and a Rwandan prosecutor.
A Google search of Munyakazi's name, though, turns up a 2006 article stating that a Rwandan prosecutor accused him of "conniving with notorious" military elements in Rwanda "to incite killings during the genocide." Although it is not clear whether such a search done months ago would have yielded the same results, Keener said the college could have checked more thoroughly into his background.
Munyakazi said he was named in two indictments, in 2006 and 2008. He insists college officials knew not only that he served prison time in the 1990s but that he did so after being accused of genocidal murder. He was released in 1999, he says, without any charges having been filed.
Munyakazi's case is a vivid reminder of the Rwandan genocide, familiar to many Americans through the 2004 film Hotel Rwanda, which depicts a Hutu hotel manager's heroic efforts to save hundreds of lives.
After learning of the allegations in December, Ungar consulted Alison Des Forges, an expert on the genocide and senior adviser to the Africa program at Human Rights Watch. Reached by telephone yesterday, she said she doubts the prosecutor's case.
"I do not find it convincing," she said. For example, she noted that Munyakazi is accused of organizing the militia known as the Interahamwe. Yet the militia was part of a different political party from Munyakazi's, and the two parties were rivals.
In October 2006, while a visiting professor at Montclair State University in New Jersey, he gave a controversial talk in Delaware.
"I refer to it as civil war, not genocide; it was about political power," he said then, according to a University of Delaware news release. "Ethnicity is not really understood about Rwanda; in Rwanda there are no tribes, there are social groups, they are one single people."
Des Forges of Human Rights Watch suspects that speech might have been the "triggering mechanism" for the indictments from 2006 and last year, given the Tutsi-led government's bristliness about any perceived questioning that a genocide occurred.
In the interview yesterday, Munyakazi said he does not deny the mass slaughter took place. Nor did he refer to civil war. Instead, he said he prefers fratricide to genocide because it was "brother against brother."
As for his suspension, he said, "I consider it a wise one since the president is more concerned about the image of the institution." Yet he misses having access to the library and interacting with students and colleagues: "For the scholar, it's not really good to be away from campus."