Earlier this week, New York Magazine published a lengthy article by Goucher College president Sanford Ungar detailing how the college hired, subsequently discovered the charges against, and fired an alleged war criminal. [Full disclosure: I am a Goucher grad, class of 2003.]
The professor in question, Leopold Munyakazi, is accused of participating in—and perhaps helping to organize—atrocities against fellow Rwandans during the country's 1994 civil war, in which the majority ethnic group (Hutus) systematically killed the minority (Tutsi) population. Munyakazi denies the charges. and, at least according Ungar's research, the situation is indeed murky. Munyakazi is Hutu, but points out he is married to a Tutsi woman and claims that he was with his family in his hometown when he was alleged to have committed the attrocities. Seemingly anticipating an eventual controvery, Manyakazi even carried with him affadavits from five witnesses attesting to his “'kindness' during the genocide—including his obtaining Hutu identification cards for people who had been officially classified as Tutsi" and presented them when Ungar confronted him.
The allegations were brought to Ungar's attention in December 2008 by a television crew making a documentary news show for NBC. (The show was cancelled after two episodes, and the Goucher episode never aired.) There were a few news stories about the controvery at the time, but it quickly receded, which makes the timing of Ungar's essay puzzling. Certainly, the story is fueled by Ungar's lingering doubt and guilt over his handling of the controversy, but why write it now? Why make it public at all? And why in New York Magazine, of all places?
Ungar had been instrumental in bringing Munyakazi to the Towson liberal arts college to teach intermediate French through a program designed to offer positions to foreign "intellectuals threatened by government repression, civil strife, war, or the pinch of intellectual and political cultures." He saw the program as a perfect complement to the college's mission to make its students into "global citizens," an initiative characterized by the college's groundbreaking study-abroad requirement for all undergrads. Prior to Goucher, Munyakazi spent a year at Montclair State University in New Jersey under the same scholar-at-risk program, which did provide Goucher with a vague but unsettling warning that Munyakazi held “controversial views”—a warning Ungar admits he ignored.
Munyakazi was arrested by federal immigration agents in February 2009 and forced to move his family out of their Goucher-provided housing. His asylum hearing was held in 2010 at which "immigration judge Elizabeth A. Kessler found the evidence against Munyakazi more compelling than the testimony of his own witnesses, and noted disturbing, if minor, discrepancies between Leopold’s account and that of his wife. . . His wife and children had already, in a separate proceeding, been granted permission to stay in the United States, [but] the judge ordered that Leopold be deported," a decision which Munyakazi is appealing.
Currently, Munyakazi still lives in Towson awaiting appeal. He has had trouble finding employment and is required to wear an ankel bracelet that will activate authorites if he tries to leave the state. One of his sons will attend Notre Dame University on scholarship this year and his wife works as an aide in a nursing home.
Though the family is managing to get by, Ungar seems to feel alternately guilty and defiant about the role he and the college have played in how events unfolded. He is also plagued by doubts about Munyakazi's guilt. It would certainly make Ungar's life easier if Munyakazi were proven innocent: It would clear Ungar's conscience and Goucher's name, and also, one senses, please Ungar personally as he seems to harbor some conflicted affection for Munyakazi whom he describes as "courtly and unfailingly polite." On the other hand, Ungar, a former journalist, can't ignore such serious charges.
The article ends up a sort of cautinary tale about blindly pursuing liberal ideals (Paging FoxNews!), but also as a meditation on the nature of truth, and how certainty is so elusive.
This section of the article is what has really stuck with me:
"Only Alison Des Forges seemed able to help me. An activist and historian from Human Rights Watch, she was perhaps the leading American expert on Rwanda, and especially on the Rwandan genocide, having even testified before the tribunal in Tanzania. I called her and, at her request, sent her a copy of my growing file of documents on the case.
The allegations were muddled, she told me, and they misconstrued who in Rwanda had actually been allied with whom in 1994. They were almost identical to the charges being pressed against another Rwandan émigré living in Buffalo, her hometown. He too was being pursued by NBC. “I don’t think you have a problem here,” she reassured me.
But then she paused, and almost seemed to reverse herself: “We may never really know for sure about guilt or innocence,” she told me. “During the Rwandan genocide, there were people who went without sleep for so many days in a row that they became psychotic. They killed some of their neighbors on one day, and saved others on the next.” Many Rwandans, she said, might never be sure themselves of exactly what they had done during that time of madness. “They did whatever they had to do to survive.” The next day, returning to Buffalo from meetings in New York, Des Forges died in a plane crash."
[Image from un.org]