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Eric Nshimiye is innocent of the Rwandan genocide, writes Ann Garrison

Eric Nshimiye, a longtime Lake Township resident and Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. engineer, is accused of lying on his immigration application by concealing crimes he allegedly committed during the Rwandan genocide 30 years ago.

Specifically, he is accused of rape, murder and lying under oath in defense of Jean Leonard Tegana, a Rwandan friend accused of similar crimes. He and his friend were both medical students at the National University of Rwanda in Butare, Rwanda at the time.

These are heinous crimes, but I believe Eric is innocent. As a reporter for Pacifica Radio and editor of Black Agenda Report, I’ve covered many similar cases over the past fifteen years, and I know a witch hunt when I see one.

The most high-profile case is that of Paul Rusesabagina, the real-life hero of the movie “Hotel Rwanda,” whom the Rwandan government kidnapped in 2020 while boarding a flight from Dubai to Burundi. Rusesabagina was released in 2023 thanks to an international lobbying campaign inspired by his status as a hero of ‘Hotel Rwanda’.

Another witch hunt was that of Dr. Leopold Munyakazi, a friendly scholar who speaks six languages. Dr. Munyakazi was teaching at Goucher College in Maryland when he gave a lecture at the University of Delaware in which he characterized the Rwandan genocide as essentially “a civil war for political power.” He also called it “fratricide” instead of genocide because Rwandans, he said, are one people who speak the same language, eat the same food and share the same culture.

The First Amendment protected his speech here, but any such dissident interpretation of the 1994 Rwandan tragedy is a legally codified and imposed crime of speech – “genocide ideology” – in Rwanda.

After Dr. Munyakazi gave this lecture, the Rwandan government charged him with the crime of genocide, and a federal US court accused him of concealing his guilt on his immigration application, just as they later accused Jean Leonard Teganya and Eric Nshimiye.

Dr. Munyakazi was convicted and subsequently deported to Rwanda to stand trial for the crime of genocide, of which he was acquitted on appeal. However, he was subsequently sentenced to nine years for his speech at the University of Delaware, and an additional five years were added for his speech in prison.

Eric will be tried “on the merits,” that is, on the specific charges against him, but his friends and neighbors as well as the rest of the world must understand their political context, as evidenced by a recent Human Rights Watch report titled “’Join Us or Die’: Rwanda’s Extraterritorial Repression.” Much of the report is summarized in a shorter release entitled “Rwanda: Global Playbook of Abuse to Silence Critics.” The latter starts with three lists:

  • The Rwandan authorities and their proxies use violence, judicial mechanisms and intimidation to silence criticism from Rwandans around the world.
  • Rwandans living abroad practice self-censorship, abstain from political activism, and live in fear of traveling, being attacked, or seeing their relatives targeted in Rwanda.
  • Rwandan partners must open their eyes to the consequences of three decades of impunity for the ruling party, see this far-reaching repression for what it is, and demand that it end.

It goes on to describe “a global ecosystem of repression aimed not only at silencing dissenting voices but also at deterring potential critics.”

“The Rwandan government,” the report says, “has attempted to use global police cooperation, including Interpol Red Notices, judicial mechanisms and extradition requests, to secure the deportation of critics and dissidents back to Rwanda.”

If convicted, Eric could face prison time in the US for immigration fraud. Then, upon his release, he will be deported to Rwanda to stand trial for genocide and most likely spend decades, if not for life, in prison.

What was Eric’s real crime? I have no doubt that, in the eyes of the totalitarian, globally repressive Rwandan government, his crime testified on behalf of his friend, Jean Leonard Teganya. Burundian American Lazare Kobagaya was similarly charged after testifying on behalf of a Rwandan pastor in Finland. Canton warehouse reporter Tim Botos explained this in his in-depth report on Eric’s case.

Eric’s employer, Goodyear, issued a statement saying, “Goodyear is deeply troubled by the recent charges against one of our employees and is fully cooperating with authorities.” One of the civic associations in which Eric has been active, the volunteer mentoring organization MentorStark, also expressed shock, stating that “MentorStark condemns the actions contained in the indictment and, like everyone else, will await the results of the ministry’s legal proceedings of Justice. Our thoughts and concerns are with the victims who are still recovering from these atrocities.”

I hope that Goodyear, MentorStark, and Eric’s American friends and neighbors will take the time to read the Human Rights Watch report and/or its shorter version, and will also keep Eric and his family in their thoughts and concerns.

Ann Garrison, an independent journalist based in Albany, California, is an editor at Black Agenda Report and a contributor to The Grayzone, Pacifica Radio and other media outlets.