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Society | Media | Human rights

Rwandan hate media trial gives life sentences

afrol News, 3 December - Three leaders of the so-called 'hate media', which propagated the 1994 Rwandan genocide, today were convicted for their role in the slaughter. The heavy sentences were also celebrated by organisations representing the media.

The International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha (Tanzania) today handed down a life imprisonment for Ferdinand Nahimana, founder and ideologist of the 'Radio Télévision des Mille Collines' (RTLM). The tribunal also sentenced Hassan Ngeze, chief editor of the 'Kangura' newspaper, to life imprisonment for his role in the 1994 genocide.

Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza, another 'RTLM' staff member, was sentenced to 35 years in prison. The three media leaders were found to have plaid a particular role in preparing the genocide. They were convicted for "incitement to genocide, conspiracy, and crimes against humanity, extermination and persecution."

This case, dubbed 'the media case', examined the role of the radio station 'RTLM' and the newspaper 'Kangura' in the 1994 genocide that killed almost one million Rwandans. It also reviewed the role of the CDR, a party found by the Chamber to have spearheaded the Hutu Power movement, which created a political framework for the genocide.

In a radio interview broadcast at the height of the genocide on 25 April 1994, Ferdinand Nahimana, talked of the "war of media, words, newspapers and radio stations," which he described as a complement to bullets.

In sentencing him, Judge Navanethem Pillay, told Mr Nahimana: "You were fully aware of the power of words, and you used the radio - the medium of communication with the widest public reach - to disseminate hatred and violence... Without a firearm, machete or any physical weapon, you caused the death of thousands of innocent civilians."

Called 'Radio Machete' by some, 'RTLM' told listeners on 4 June 1994 that the Tutsi would be exterminated. "Look at the person's height and his physical appearance," RTLM journalist Kantano Habimana said, "Just look at his small nose and then break it."

Hassan Ngeze, also a founding member of CDR, was convicted for his activities in ordering, instigating and aiding and abetting acts of genocide, as well as for writings in his publication 'Kangura'.

The cover of Kangura No. 26 answered the question "What weapons shall we use to conquer the Inyenzi once and for all?" with the depiction of a machete. By Inyenzi, 'Kangura' meant the Tutsi, who were stereotyped in the newspaper as being wicked, having the inherent characteristics of liars, thieves and killers.

The Chamber found in its judgement that Tutsi women, in particular, were targeted for persecution through the portrayal of the Tutsi woman as a femme fatale, and the message that Tutsi women were seductive agents of the enemy. The Ten Commandments of the Hutu, published by Kangura in December 1990, warned Hutu men of the dangers of Tutsi women and deemed as a traitor any Hutu man who married a Tutsi woman.

In sentencing Mr Ngeze to life imprisonment, Judge Pillay told him that while the Court accepted that he had rescued several Tutsi in 1994 in Rwanda: "Your power to save was more than matched by your power to kill. You poisoned the minds of your readers, and by words and deeds caused the death of thousands of innocent civilians."

In the judgement delivered today, the Court affirmed: "The power of the media to create and destroy fundamental human values comes with great responsibility. Those who control such media are accountable for its consequences." The Court also convicted Mr Nahimana, Barayagwiza and Ngeze of conspiracy to commit genocide, finding that the three men used the institutions they controlled and coordinated their efforts towards the common goal: the destruction of the Tutsi population.

For the first time since the conviction of Julius Streicher at Nuremberg, this case addressed the role of the media in the context of international criminal justice. Mr Streicher was executed after World War II for his anti-Semitic publication 'Der Stürmer'.

The heavy sentence today was welcomed by the free press advocate group Reporters sans Frontičres (RSF). "We are pleased that this case has finally reached a conclusion despite countless procedural delays and obstacles," RSF Secretary-General Robert Ménard said in a statement today. "This is the first time that journalists have been sentenced to life imprisonment for incitement to murder and violence in their reports," he said.

- 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, Mr Ménard added. "Even if no country is today 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."

RSF was not at all concerned these sentences could interfere with the right to freedom of expression. Also the Arusha Court had "recalled the important protections of international law on the right to freedom of expression." The judgement held that it was "critical to distinguish between the discussion of ethnic consciousness and the promotion of ethnic hatred."

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