Metro

Rwandan national on trial tells of being a victim during ’94 warfare

During much of the 100-day Rwandan genocide in 1994, Jean Leonard Teganya said, crowds of victims assembled each day outside the teaching hospital in Butare — overwhelming medical staff with the severity of their wounds.

A month into the violence, Teganya, a Hutu and then a third-year medical student, said he, too, became a victim. Attackers beat him over the head and slashed his leg and ankle with a machete in a secluded area near his dormitory, he said.

Teganya, 47, recounted the assault Wednesday to a federal jury in Boston, where he is on trial for concealing his role in the killings of ethnic minority Tutsis at the hospital in a bid for asylum in the United States.

Advertisement

Witnesses for prosecutors have testified that Teganya killed a Tutsi doctor at the hospital, and a Tutsi woman accused him of raping her and instructing Hutu extremists to kill her. Another Tutsi woman testified that Teganya delivered her to a group of men who took her to a field to be sexually assaulted.

Get Metro Headlines in your inbox:
The 10 top local news stories from metro Boston and around New England delivered daily.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Now a married father of two sons, Teganya has denied any role in the genocide, which killed at least 800,000 Tutsis. He testified that he fears returning to Rwanda, where his father, a Hutu and former leader in the political group responsible for the genocide, is imprisoned.

“It was really risky for me to go back to Rwanda,” said Teganya, who said he might well be killed if he returned.

Answering questions from his defense lawyer for about three hours, Teganya delved into his life story for the jury, discussing his Tutsi mother, his education at a Catholic seminary and medical school, and the chaos at the hospital in Butare, the country’s second-largest city.

Teganya said he fled Rwanda in the summer of 1994 and then lived in Congo, Kenya, India, and Canada. He applied for asylum in Canada, but the authorities concluded he was complicit in the atrocities at the Butare hospital and denied his application, federal prosecutors said.

Advertisement

US authorities arrested him in August 2014 after he crossed the border into Houlton, Maine, more than 400 miles from his residence in Laval, Quebec, according to court papers.

Teganya’s lawyers say he was a dedicated student who had Tutsi friends and barely survived an attack in May 1994, when militia members tracked a pair of siblings who went to his dorm room to bathe and change clothing.

The fighters, who were monitoring people coming and going from the hospital, broke down the door, Teganya said, and forced him and the siblings outside, where they were beaten.

“I thought I was dying,” he said.

A group of soldiers, one of whom was a medical student, halted the attack and the militia members fled, Teganya testified. Teganya said he received six stitches for a wound on his right ankle. An injury to his left thigh was less serious, he said, because he was wearing two layers of clothing. Jurors were shown photographs of his scars.

Advertisement

Teganya said conditions at the hospital deteriorated over the course of the genocide, which began after an airplane carrying Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana and Burundian president Cyprien Ntaryamira, both Hutu, was shot down on April 6, 1994.

Initially, Teganya said Butare was safe from violence. Victims came to the hospital with wounds that were several days old and had been infected, he said. As a “junior student,” Teganya said he was limited in what he could do, spending most of his time in the emergency department applying bandages, taking orders from doctors, and “doing my best just to help.”

In mid-April 1994, Théodore Sindikubwabo, the interim president of Rwanda and a native of Butare, visited the city and delivered a speech. Afterward, violence swept the area, Teganya said.

On three occasions, Teganya said, attackers dragged people from the hospital and killed them. He said he didn’t witness those incidents because they occurred at night when he was not at the hospital.

Teganya denied accusations that he killed and raped at the hospital.

“Did you hurt anyone during the genocide?” his lawyer, Scott Lauer asked.

“Never,” Teganya said.

US Attorney Andrew Lelling was in the courtroom for Teganya’s testimony. During cross-examination, Assistant US Attorney George P. Varghese asked Teganya to explain inconsistencies about when he left Butare, how he navigated roadblocks when he fled to Congo, and other matters. His cross-examination resumes Thursday.

Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.