Human Rights Watch battling to keep potential evidence secret in US Rwandan genocide case
Wichita (Kansas) — Human Rights Watch and a former researcher are in a U.S. court battling against being forced to reveal information that could help the defense of a Rwandan elderly accused of Genocide in the U.S state of Kansas. And the defense team reports that it is also having difficulty finding witnesses.
The rights group is arguing their research notes and informants’ identities are protected by the First Amendment and reporters’ news gathering privileges, which are enshrined in the U.S constitution.
The international human-rights organization filed a motion on April 5 seeking to quash subpoenas issued to it and Timothy Longman, the former director of its field office in Rwanda. Longman, now director of Boston University’s African Studies Center, is the government’s expert witness on Rwanda in the Kansas case.
Elderly Lazare Kobagaya is charged in federal court in Wichita (Kansas) with fraud and unlawfully obtaining U.S. citizenship in 2006. The government has said its prosecution of Kobagaya is believed to be the first in the U.S. involving proof of genocide. His trial is set for Oct. 12. He faces deportation if convicted.
An estimated 500,000 to 800,000 people were killed in ethnic violence in Rwanda between April and July 1994.
The Justice Department alleges in its 2009 indictment that Kobagaya lied during naturalization proceedings in Wichita, claiming he lived in Burundi from 1993 to 1995. It claims he was in Rwanda in 1994 and participated in the slaughter of hundreds of people.
The subpoena issued to Human Rights Watch seeks research done for a 1999 report, “Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda,” including a chapter on Nyakizu, Rwanda, where some of Kobagaya’s alleged crimes occurred. The subpoena sent to Longman also seeks any additional material relating to his expert testimony.
Longman is testifying about background matters relating to the genocide in Rwanda and Nyakizu, not about anything specifically involving Kobagaya, HRW spokeswoman Emma Daly told AP in an e-mail. The organization contends confidential sources are indispensable to its newsgathering and reports and are protected by reporter’s privilege and the First Amendment.
“We believe that disclosing Human Rights Watch’s confidential sources would subject them to the risk of reprisals and persecution,” she said.
Kobagaya’s lawyer Kurt Kerns says Human Rights Watch’s concerns are misplaced and he has no interest in putting anyone at risk but wants to ensure his client gets a fair trial.
The organization interviewed people in Nyakizu shortly after the genocide with the stated purpose of bringing those responsible to justice, Kerns said in an e-mail. The group is quick to provide prosecutors with information pointing to people’s guilt, but in this case it has evidence supporting Kobagaya’s innocence, he said.
“HRW should be interested in holding those who commit international crimes accountable, but it also needs to be equally interested in making sure those who are innocent are not falsely accused,” Kerns said.
The Justice Department declined to comment on the pending litigation.
Meanwhile, in a related development, Mr. Kobagaya’s lawyer reports that he is having trouble finding witnesses to testify for his client. See : 83-year-old Rwandan Lazare Kobagaya in Wichita (Kansas) court as genocide suspect