Skip to content, or skip to search.

Skip to content, or skip to search.

Leopold’s Ghost

ShareThis

Just months after the violence had slowed, while attending a conference on “reconstruction and reconciliation,” Leopold was arrested in Kigali and held in prison for nearly five years. No formal charges were ever filed, but Leopold says he was repeatedly beaten and tortured. As he tells it, the case was purely political, intended to punish him for rejecting political overtures from the Kagame government. But when, in 1999, the local prosecutor let him go, the very regime now accusing him hired him as a teacher at the Kigali Institute of Education, then promoted him—first to be chair of the department of African languages and later dean of the faculty of arts and social science. Twice, he insists, that same government gave him a passport, so he could travel abroad for international conferences, despite his growing status as a dissident. It was after one of those conferences, a meeting in Atlanta in 2004 for teachers of French, that Leopold heard he was being vilified at home and decided not to return. Advancing his alternative theory of the events in 1994, says Leopold, has put him on a list of 106 people, mostly Hutu intellectuals, singled out for persecution by the government.

“Nonsense,” says James Kimonyo, the Rwandan ambassador to the United States, who represents his government from a sleepy and somewhat shabby townhouse not far from Dupont Circle in Washington, where I visited him one winter day. There is no such list, he insists.

A tall, suave 47-year-old engineer, Kimonyo is an occasional guest at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, where he participates in discussions of the Rwandan genocide and how to help its survivors heal. One step, he says, is to bring perpetrators like Leopold Munyakazi to justice. Kimonyo describes in detail an incident on April 19, 1994, in which he says Leopold “was instrumental” in gathering 40 Tutsi along the banks of the Nyabarongo River, near Kigali. (Leopold insists he is being confused with another man who has a similar name.) The assembly, the ambassador says, turned into “a killing session,” and the bodies were thrown into the river, “so they could flow back where they came from—Ethiopia.” (Many Hutu believe the Tutsi are actually Ethiopian and therefore do not belong in Rwanda.) Now Munyakazi “feels guilty,” Kimonyo tells me. “He is accused of a crime, so he just says the crime did not happen.”

The ambassador complains about “impostors” like Munyakazi who take advantage of broad access to the media in the United States. “The First Amendment is okay,” he says, raising his voice, “but is it okay to allow people who committed serious crimes in their country to spread hatred and possibly end up causing another genocide?”

Sensing my skepticism that Leopold might be plotting another genocide, he shows me records of money transfers used by high-profile supporters of Leopold—such as Paul Rusesabagina, the real-life hero of Hotel Rwanda—to send funds raised by “fake charitable organizations” in the United States to individuals in anti-Kagame militias based in Congo. The money was meant to buy weapons and ammunition, Kimonyo tells me, and the transfers were for amounts small enough, he notes, “to circumvent American money-laundering laws.”

Henry Jarecki has more than a passing interest in Leopold Munyakazi’s case. A psychiatrist, film producer, and philanthropist who made his fortune primarily as a precious-metals dealer, he is the founding chair of the Scholar Rescue Fund. In his office near Gramercy Park in Manhattan, he has two thick black legal binders of documents about Leopold, including details of the “robust security checks” that were conducted before he was placed at Montclair State and at Goucher, and all of the evidence he and his staff could assemble for or against the professor. As he leafs through it, he discovers something else and looks up at me with a smile: “Here’s the report I had done about you.”

Jarecki says he wants to believe that Leopold is innocent of the charges against him, but, as a child Holocaust survivor who returned to Germany for medical school in the fifties, he is acutely sensitive to the possibility that a scholar he’s helped shelter may be guilty of “war crimes”—the moral equivalent, for him, of “rescuing Göring in Argentina.”

“We often rescue people without really knowing who they are,” he says, citing the minimal standard that one of his board members has developed: “Is he a scholar, and is he in danger?” But that question can obscure as much as it illuminates, he admits, and Jarecki, now 79, remembers with horror a particular cautionary tale: One of his most cherished medical professors in Heidelberg, “an amusing and cheerful fellow, a good companion,” was revealed, long after he had died, to have been a wartime assistant to Josef Mengele.


Related:

Advertising
Current Issue
Subscribe to New York
Subscribe

Give a Gift

Advertising