Hate Radio: Rwanda

RNW archive

This article is part of the RNW archive. RNW is the former Radio Netherlands Worldwide or Wereldomroep, which was founded as the Dutch international public broadcaster in 1947. In 2011, the Dutch government decided to cut funding and shift RNW from the ministry of Education, Culture and Science to the ministry of Foreign Affairs. More information about RNW Media’s current activities can be found at https://www.rnw.org/about-rnw-media.

On December 3, 2003, he was sentenced to 35 years in prison in a trial that lasted slightly over three years. He boycotted the entire proceedings in protest over what he termed "partiality" of the judges. He even refused to recognise lawyers assigned to defend him. When Barayagwiza was convicted, he decided to appeal. He said that he had only boycotted his trial session because he did not trust judges in the lower chamber.

During a status conference held on Friday 1 April 2005, Barayagwiza requested more time to prepare his appeal arguing that his case was "complicated". He had been given three and a half months to file his pre-appeal briefs but he considered the time given to be too short and wanted it to be pushed to 12 months. "I find myself in a very unusual position. I do not have to be limited or be discriminated against. My co-accused were given more time."

Barayagwiza was jointly accused with the other partner in RTLM, Ferdinand Nahimana and Hassan Ngeze, former editor of the radical anti-Tutsi newspaper, Kangura. He blames the Registrar for dragging his feet in appointing a new defence counsel. Mr. Donald Herbert was assigned to Barayagwiza November 30, 2004.

"I am the one prejudiced and you expect me to pay for the Registrar's delay?" the accused asked Judge Ines de Roca from Argentina who was chairing the hearing via video link from The Hague. Judge Roca informed Barayagwiza that the interests of his co-accused should be taken into account as well as they had requested for a hearing without delay. The Argentinean judge advised the accused that if he was not satisfied with the arrangements, he could appeal to the complete five-person chamber and not a sole judge.

(Source: Hirondelle News Agency)

Fire broke out on Friday 2 April 2004 at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) based in Arusha Tanzania, destroying documents used in the trials of people accused of taking part in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

The fire was quickly brought under control by the Arusha fire brigade who responded within ten minutes. UN and Tanzanian security officers were busy sifting through the charred-out remains as UN employees were gathered in groups outside looking in disbelief. There were no casualties.

Audio recordings destroyed
Remains of burnt-out files and audio cassettes lay scattered outside an entrance that leads to prisoners' holding cells and the evidence unit. The evidence unit is where all gathered evidence of the more than fifty detainees is kept. Among the partly destroyed evidence in view was a folder with the name 'Barayagwiza' written on it and audio cassettes of Radio Télévision Libre de Mille Collines (RTLM). Jean Bosco Barayagwiza is one of the three accused in the so-called 'hate media' trial who were sentenced to life imprisonment December 3, 2003.

RTLM is the most widely reported symbol of "hate radio" throughout the world. Its broadcasts, disseminating hate propaganda and inciting to murder Tutsis and opponents to the regime, began on 8 July 1993, and greatly contributed to the 1994 genocide of hundreds of thousands.

RTLM, aided by the staff and facilities of Radio Rwanda, the government-owned station, called on the Hutu majority to destroy the Tutsi minority. The programmes were relayed to all parts of the country via a network of transmitters owned and operated by Radio Rwanda. After Rwandan Patriotic Front troops drove the government forces out of Kigali in July 1994, RTLM used mobile FM transmitters to broadcast disinformation from inside the French-controlled zone on the border between Rwanda and Zaire, causing millions of Hutus to flee toward refugee camps where they could be regrouped and recruited as future fighters.

It is widely believed that RTLM was set up to circumvent the ban imposed on "harmful radio propaganda" to which the Rwandan government had formally committed itself to in the March 1993 Dar-Es-Salaam joint communiqué.

The West Fails to Act

Initially, RTLM was not taken seriously by western governments and diplomats. Although RTLM clearly qualified as harmful and attacked even members of the diplomatic corps in Kigali, there was no decision to take forceful measures to silence it. The western donors limited themselves to making representations to President Habyarimana who responded by promising to look into it, but not taking any action. Both the French and the American ambassadors opposed any action against RTLM. The US Ambassador at the time claimed that it was the best radio for information and that its euphemisms were subject to many interpretations.

As the then Canadian ambassador, Lucie Edwards, later said: "The question of Radio Mille Collines propaganda is a difficult one. There were so many genuinely silly things being said on the station, so many obvious lies, that it was hard to take it seriously... Nevertheless, everyone listened to it - I was told by Tutsis (sic) - in a spirit of morbid fascination and because it had the best music selection."

Bringing the Guilty to Justice

The process of bringing to justice those responsible for the broadcasts of RTLM is now well under way, though some are still at large. On 22 July, 1996 journalist Ferdinand Nahimana, described as the director of RTLM, was indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. He was charged with genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide and crimes against humanity. The initial court appearance was made on 19 February 1997 and he pleaded not guilty. The trial of Nahimana and two others began on 21 Oct 2001.

 The indictment alleged that:

    * In or around 1993, Ferdinand Nahimana and others planned and created RTLM S.A. RTLM was an integral part of RTLM S.A. RTLM operated within the territory of Rwanda during the time of the events alleged in the indictment. In addition to being involved in the creation of RTLM S.A, Ferdinand Nahimana was instrumental in the establishment of RTLM.
    * Between 1 January 1994 and approximately 31 July 1994, RTLM was used to broadcast messages designed to achieve interethnic hatred and encourage the population to kill, commits acts of violence and persecutions against Tutsi population and others on political grounds.
    * During this period, Tutsis and others were killed and suffered serious bodily or mental harm as the result of the RTLM broadcasts.
    * From a date unknown to the prosecutor through the period alleged in the indictment, Ferdinand Nahimana, by himself and with others planned, directed and defended the broadcasts made by RTLM.
    * He knew or had reason to know of the broadcasts and the effects of the broadcasts on the population. He could have taken reasonable measures to change or prevent the broadcasts, but failed to do so. He failed to take the necessary measures to punish the subordinates.

Nahimana’s Defence

The prosecution completed its evidence on 12 July 2002. Nahimana began testifying in his own defence in September 2002. He said that RTLM was set up to counter the propaganda of Radio Muhabura, operated by the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF).  "We felt that there was need for more voices in the discussion of the Arusha accords, to counteract the RPF radio and to explain to the people the effects of the war."

"There is a sense in which when one says we were criticising the RPF, it is understood to mean that the person was against Tutsi. I think this is terrible and I must ask you not to approach matters this way. We felt it was important to have a discussion on the issues that were obtaining at the time and this is what we did," said Nahimana.

According to Nahimana, the Movement for the Democratic Republic (MDR) controlled the Ministry of Information, and had signed a memorandum of agreement with the RPF that resulted in unbalanced coverage of the 'war' in the national media. "If the RPF had not set up its own station and proceeded to broadcast propaganda on which basis the government was to blame for the war, RTLM would probably not have been set up. A lot of people were unhappy with the coverage of Radio Rwanda," Nahimana said.

Nahimana said that while he was involved in the radio's initial formation, he was not involved in its day-to-day running. He added that a manager named Phocas Hahimana was in charge of RTLM's daily activities. Nahimana maintained that, contrary to prosecution allegations, he did not have editorial control over RTLM broadcasts, and claimed that only Gaspard Gahigi, the editor in chief, held such powers.

Haimana went on to claim that a radical section of the founding members of RTLM hijacked the radio station and used it for a killing campaign. "What happened in Rwanda is revolting, thousand, hundreds of thousands of Tutsi were killed for no other reason than they were Tutsi and this happened largely in areas controlled by the transitional government. In areas controlled by the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) in eastern Rwanda, thousands of Hutu were killed because they were Hutu, it is truly revolting," Nahimana told the court.

Prosecuting attorney Simone Monasebian produced excerpts of various documents, including portions of the Kangura Newspaper published between 1990-1994. She noted that Kangura had published a photograph of Nahimana, together with RTLM editor Gaspard Gahigi with the caption "RTLM, no chance for the Tutsi" and challenged Nahimana to show if he had ever contested this portrayal of the station. Nahimana admitted that he had not protested, but said that Kangura had published a lot of other things that he did not agree with, and which he found unacceptable.

Monasebian noted that RTLM officials attended meetings in which they were criticised by the Ministry of Information and the Ministry of Justice in Rwanda and accused of inciting ethnic hatred. She played a videotape of former Minister of Information Faustin Rucogoza, who stated that RTLM had turned into a political party and a mouthpiece of the extremist Council for the Defense of Democracy (CDR) party. She noted that during this time Nahimana "acted as the director of the RTLM or at least held himself up as such."

Nahimana said that he had never at any time been the director of RTLM, and that this was a post held by Phocas Habimana. Nahimana added that some prosecution witnesses designated him as an RTLM founder rather than its director.

"Trauma and Drugs Were to Blame"

On 18th October, Nahimana turned to another line of defence, and started claiming that trauma and drug use explained the extremist conduct of the RTLM journalists. "Some journalists started drugging themselves and this only started happening after 6 April," said Nahimana. He lamented the fact that the editor-in-chief and director of the station did not spot this and put a stop to it. Nahimana also named individual journalists whom he said had suffered personal trauma, which "explained" some of the things they said on the air.

After three years of testimony, the trial reached its climax in August 2003 when the tribunal retired to consider its verdict. The prosecutor demanded the maximum sentence, life imprisonment for all the accused. Their lawyers, on the other hand insisted that the prosecutor had not proved his case beyond all reasonable doubt and demanded an acquittal.

The verdict
In early December the court announced its verdict. RTLM Director Ferdinand Nahimana was sentenced to life imprisonment, and Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza to 35 years, reduced to 27 years because of the time he has already spent in jail.

Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) welcomed the life sentence passed against Nahimana. "We are pleased that this case has finally reached a conclusion despite countless procedural delays and obstacles," RSF Secretary-General Robert Ménard said. "This is the first time that journalists have been sentenced to life imprisonment for incitement to murder and violence in their reports," he added.

"We hope these sentences are seen as a warning to the many journalists in Africa and elsewhere who also stir up hate in their writing," Ménard said. "Even if no country today is in a situation comparable to Rwanda's at the time of the genocide, these sentences should serve as a call to order to all the publications that constantly flout the most elementary rules of professional ethics and conduct."

Related cases

In April 1998, Giorgio Ruggiu, an Italian-Belgian accused of incitement to genocide and of crimes against humanity, in connection with the massacre that occurred in Rwanda between April and June 1994, went on trial in Arusha. According to the charges, he broadcast on RTLM an appeal to the Hutus to destroy as many Tutsis as possible. "What are you waiting for? The tombs are empty. Take up your machetes and hack your enemies to pieces", he was reported as having said at the time.

In May 2000, Mr Ruggiu was given two concurrent sentences of 12 years each, after admitting to direct and public incitement to commit genocide and persecution as a crime against humanity. He admitted that he "incited murders and caused serious attacks on the physical and/or mental well-being of members of the Tutsi population with the intention of destroying, in whole or in part, an ethnic or racial group".

"These are events which I regret, but they are the reality and I decided to admit them," Mr Ruggiu told the court.  "I admit that it was indeed a genocide and that unfortunately I took part in it," he said.

The Rwandan government has protested at the sentence, saying that it “did not measure up to the crimes for which Ruggiu had confessed”.

In June 2002, the US State Department announced the Campaign to Capture Fugitives Indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. The campaign started by offering a reward of up to US$5 million for the capture of former RTLM President Félicien Kabuga. Mr Kabuga is a wealthy businessman who is accused of using his vast assets to propel the Rwandan massacres, firstly, by affording a platform to disseminate the message of ethnic hatred through the radio station, Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM), and secondly, by providing logistic support such as weapons, uniforms, and transportation to the Interahamwe militia group of the Mouvement Républicain National pour le Démocratie et le Développement (MRND) and the militia of Coalition pour la Défense de la République (CDR).

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The Dilemma of Definitions
Reacting to Hate Radio
Commentary: Defining hate
Commentary: Crossing the line

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