Rwandan man involved in 1994 genocide gets 15-year sentence

A Rwandan man who misrepresented his circumstances to gain entry into the US after helping kill lots of people during his country’s 1994 genocide must serve 15 years behind bars before facing deportation, a judge ruled on Thursday.

Gervais Ngombwa, 57, “is a violent individual who presents a danger to the community”, US district judge Linda Reade said.

“There isn’t a doubt in my mind that he was an active participant, indeed a leader, of the genocide in Rwanda,” Reade told a courtroom in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where Ngombwa lived and nurtured a family for two decades.

The punishment following his conviction for immigration fraud closes a case that the Anti-Defamation League has called one of the most noteworthy US human rights prosecutions in recent years.

Federal prosecutor Rich Murphy said Ngombwa was a local leader of an extremist party during the genocide, in which the majority Hutu killed an estimated 800,000 Tutsis in an attempt to destroy their ethnic rivals after peace talks collapsed. He said that Ngombwa brandished a machete as he personally butchered Tutsis, ransacked properties and drove a youth militia around the country to commit mass killings of people seeking refuge in places such as churches and an orphanage.

Murphy stared at Ngombwa across the courtroom as he depicted what he called the “unspeakable acts” he committed during the 100-day genocide that killed one-tenth of the country’s population.

Murphy said that Ngombwa had his own home and family protected by military forces “while he went out and killed”. Ngombwa left the country rather than face justice, deceitfully claiming he was a genocide victim in order to gain US refugee status for himself, his wife and several relatives, Murphy said.

Murphy presented a photo of skulls of victims that indicated they had been battered to death as he urged Reade to consider their agony in sentencing Ngombwa. He compared Ngombwa to notorious criminals such as mob boss Whitey Bolger who lived in hiding after committing “unfathomable” acts of violence.

Reade said she was sure of Ngombwa’s guilt in the genocide but that she would leave punishment for those acts to authorities in Rwanda, where he is under prosecution and will be deported after his sentence. She focused on the need to protect the public and the “aggravating factor” that several relatives gained entry into the US through Ngombwa’s lies.

The genocide allegations stunned associates of Ngombwa in Iowa, where he was known as “Ken”, a devout Christian and a father of eight successful children.

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which has a unit dedicated to catching alleged human rights violators, has arrested 380 such individuals since 2003. But the trial was the first of its kind in the northern district of Iowa, said US attorney Kevin Techau.