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Three Media Leaders convicted for Genocide

Ferdinand Nahimana, founder and ideologist of The Radio Télévision des Mille Collines (RTLM), Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza, high ranking board member of the Comité d’initiative of the RTLM and founding member of the Coalition for the Defence of Republic(CDR), and Hassan Ngeze, Chief editor of Kangura newspaper, were convicted today for genocide, incitement to genocide, conspiracy, and crimes against humanity, extermination and persecution. Ferdinand Nahimana, and Hassan Ngeze were sentenced to life imprisonment and Jean Bosco Barayagwiza was sentenced to 35 years imprisonment.

The judgement was delivered by former Trial Chamber I composed of Judges Navanethem Pillay, presiding, Erik Møse and Asoka de Zoysa Gunawardana. This case dubbed “the media case” examined the role of the radio station RTLM and the newspaper Kangura in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. 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 Pillay, told 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”.

Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza, found to be the “number two” man in RTLM, was also convicted for his role in RTLM, as well as for individual acts of genocide and extermination, and his leadership role in the CDR. Tried in absentia, Barayagwiza refused to attend his trial after the Appeals Chamber reversed a decision ordering his release before trial for violation of his rights prior to his transfer to the Tribunal from Cameroon. The Chamber found that Barayagwiza, a lawyer by training, should also have been sentenced to life imprisonment, noting that although in his book he professed a commitment to international human rights standards, he had deviated from these standards and violated the most fundamental human right, the right to life. By order of the Appeal Chamber, the Trial Chamber granted Barayagwiza a reduction in sentence. He was sentenced to 35 years’ imprisonment for his role in RTLM and CDR, and for his role in distributing weapons that were used to kill Tutsi civilians in Gisenyi.

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 Hassan 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 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.

In its judgement, the Chamber recalled the important protections of international law on the right to freedom of expression and noted that some of the communications cited by the Prosecution were protected by this right, citing as an example, an interview of Barayagwiza broadcast on RTLM, which it described as “a moving personal account of his experience of discrimination as a Hutu”. The judgement held that it was “critical to distinguish between the discussion of ethnic consciousness and the promotion of ethnic hatred” and that the broadcast by Barayagwiza fell squarely within the scope of speech that is protected by the right to freedom of expression.

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. Streicher was executed after World War II for his anti-semitic publication Der Stürmer.

The trial opened on 23 October 2000 and ended on 22 August 2003 after 230 trial days. The Prosecution was led by Mr. Stephen Rapp and assisted by Ms. Simone Monasebin, Ms. Charity Kagwi, Mr. William Egbe and Mr. Alphonse Van. Jean-Marie Biju-Duval and Diana Ellis represented Nahimana, while Barayagwiza was represented by Mr. Giacomo Barletta-Caldarera, and Mr. John Floyd and René Martel represented Ngeze.

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