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<nettime> Court Finds Rwanda Media Executives Guilty of Genocide
J-D marston on Thu, 4 Dec 2003 07:19:46 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Court Finds Rwanda Media Executives Guilty of Genocide

An interesting verdict from a despicable moment in contemporary history. 
There is obviously no question in this case, but it is interesting the
larger questions on when free speech moves into incitement. The defense
lawyer made a glib remark "This is very, very dangerous. This case would
have been laughed out of an American court."  But the prosecution made a
wonderful affront in their summary, "The power of the media to create and
destroy human values comes with great responsibility... Those who control
the media are accountable for its consequences."  Huh.


In the first verdict of its kind since the Nuremberg trials, an
international court today convicted three Rwandan news media executives of
genocide for helping to incite a killing spree by machete-wielding gangs
who slaughtered about 800,000 Tutsis in neighboring Rwanda in early 1994.

A three judge panel found that the three defendants used a radio station
and a twice-monthly newspaper to inflame ethnic hatred that eventually led
to massacres at churches, schools, hospitals and roadblocks. The radio
station, dubbed Radio Machete in Rwanda, guided killers to specific
victims, broadcasting the names, license plate numbers and hiding places of

The Rwanda genocide is considered the worst ethnic killing since the
Holocaust. In 100 days, an estimated 10 percent of the Tutsis in Rwanda
were wiped out, along with many moderates among the Hutus, who make up the
majority of the population. The efficiency of the killers, who chased down
the Tutsis at roadblocks and in the streets with sharpened sticks,
nail-studded clubs and grenades, surpassed even that of the Nazis, some
historians contend.

The United Nations, which failed to intervene during the genocide, set up
the tribunal three months afterward to bring those who led the massacres to

Today's verdict was the first conviction of news media executives for
crimes of genocide since 1946, when the famous Nuremberg tribunal sentenced
the Nazi publisher Julius Streicher to hang for his vitriolic campaign
against the Jews. The Arusha judges sentenced two defendants to life in
prison and the third to 27 years, reducing it from the life term they said
he deserved because his rights were violated early in the case.

"The power of the media to create and destroy human values comes with great
responsibility," the court said in a 29-page summary of its judgment.
"Those who control the media are accountable for its consequences."

Elated prosecutors heralded the decision as a significant victory. "This is
really a ground-breaking decision," said Stephen Rapp, the prosecutor in
the case.

"This is going to change things," said another prosecutor, Simone

John Floyd, who defended one of the executives, a newspaper editor named
Hassan Ngeze, denounced the verdict as a major setback for free speech and
an invitation to dictators to close down any media outlet that is out of

"This is a terrible, terrible decision, the worst decision in the history
of international justice," Mr. Floyd said. "This is very, very dangerous.
This case would have been laughed out of an American court."

Two of the defendants, Ferdinand Nahimana and Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza, were
founders of RTLM radio station, which prosecutors said had a huge influence
in a country where people primarily rely on the radio for news. The case
against the two turned on the question of whether they intended to create a
frenzy of violence, or simply failed to control the station.

The judges found that both men, as well as Ngeze, the newspaper editor, had
to know that the broadcasts and articles would unleash violence given the
political climate in Rwanda at the time. They cited the words of one
witness who testified: "What RTLM did was almost to pour petrol, to spread
petrol throughout the country little by little, so that one day it would be
able to set fire to the whole country." Nahimana's attorney, Jean- Marie
Biju-Duval, said the judges disregarded a raft of witnesses who testified
that his client had only a slender connection to RTLM. "He was convicted as
a symbolic scapegoat," he said.

Besides drawing a legal boundary between protected speech and criminal
incitement to mass murder, the tribunal's judges and prosecutors said the
case vindicated the court's painfully slow and hugely expensive approach to
delivering justice in a region where impunity of the powerful has long been
the rule.

The international court, one of three or four ad-hoc United Nations
tribunals, has struggled in recent years to justify itself in the face of
intense criticism of its handling of genocide cases. In nine years of
adjudication, it has produced only 17 convictions despite having a staff of
872 and an annual budget of $88 million. By contrast, the criminal court at
the Hague, set up to investigate alleged war crimes by the former Yugoslav
leader Slobodan Milosevic and others during the Balkans war of the last
decade, has achieved more than 30 convictions and guilty pleas in a decade
of work.

Officials here say the Arusha court has suffered from a shortage of judges,
lack of leadership in the prosecutor's office and periodic resistance from
the Rwandan government. The tribunal hit a low point in 2002, when two
organizations of genocide survivors in Rwanda urged people who had
witnessed acts of genocide to withhold their testimony in the trials. The
groups complained the court was too slow, that it failed to pursue rape
charges and that it had hired defense investigators who had themselves
participated in the killings.

But the tribunal officials said today's verdict, the second in a week, was
a sign that the tribunal has overcome most of its troubles. The pace of
trials has clearly picked up: in the past month, two new cases have begun
against eight ministers of the interim Hutu regime that ruled during the
course of the genocide. Four more verdicts are expected later this year.

Since August, the United Nations has given the court more judges and
appointed a new lead prosecutor, Hassan Jallow, to replace Carla del Ponte,
who was splitting her time between the Yugoslavia and Rwanda cases. Mr.
Jallow has at least temporarily patched up relations with the Rwandan
government and the survivor groups and is reviewing all the ongoing
investigations in hope of meeting the United Nations' 2008 deadline for the
tribunal to finish.

Still unresolved, however, is the contentious issue of what legal authority
will pursue charges that members of Rwanda's current Tutsi-controlled
government engineered the revenge killings of thousands of Hutus after they
overthrew the Hutu's regime in the summer of 1994. Rwandan officials say
they want to handle that inquiry themselves. Should the tribunal relinquish
that investigation, some critics say, it will undermine trust that it
delivers even-handed justice.

Moreover, one intrinsic flaw in the tribunal was underscored in the
process. Today's proceeding, like all the others, took place at an
international conference center in Arusha, one nation and 1,200 miles from
the capital of Rwanda. The tribunal set up shop here because the United
Nations considered post-conflict Rwanda to be too unsafe and too
traumatized to host an international court.

But as a result, few Rwandans feel like they are a part of the process,
except for the witnesses who are flown back and forth in the United
Nations's twin-engine Beechcraft airplane.

What today's verdict will do, according to Rapp, the prosecutor, is make
clear that the media directors are responsible for broadcasts and articles
that incite violence, even if they are not in day-to-day control of their
news outlets. In closing arguments, he argued that the defendants each
caused more deaths than any single, machete-toting Hutu because they whip
up a mass hysteria which fostered thousands of killers.

"The media was every bit as important as the weapons of war," he said in an

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