Hate radio: Rwanda

IssueDecember 2003 - February 2004
Feature by Radio Netherlands

Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) is the most recent and widely reported symbol of "hate radio" throughout the world. Its broadcasts, disseminating hate propaganda and inciting the murder of 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 facilitiesof Radio Rwanda, the government-owned station, called on the Hutu majority todestroy the Tutsi minority. The programmes were relayed to all parts of thecountry via a network of transmitters owned and operated by Radio Rwanda.After Rwandan Patriotic Front troops drove the government forces out of Kigaliin July 1994, RTLM used mobile FM transmitters to broadcast disinformationfrom inside the French-controlled zone on the border between Rwanda and Zaire,causing millions of Hutus to flee toward refugee camps where they could beregrouped and recruited as future fighters.

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

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 thediplomatic corps in Kigali, there was no decision to take forceful measures tosilence it. The western donors limited themselves to making representations toPresident Habyarimana who responded by promising to look into it, but not takingany action. Both the French and the American ambassadors opposed any actionagainst RTLM. The US Ambassador at the time claimed that it was the best radiofor information and that its euphemisms were subject to many interpretations. As the then Canadian ambassador, Lucie Edwards, later said: "The questionof Radio Mille Collines propaganda is a difficult one. There were so many gen-uinely silly things being said on the station, so many obvious lies, that it washard to take it seriously... Nevertheless, everyone listened to it--I was told byTutsis (sic)--in a spirit of morbid fascination and because it had the best musicselection."

Bringing the guilty to justice

The process of bringing to justice those responsible for the broadcasts of RTLM isnow well under way, though some are still at large. On 22 July 1996, journalist Ferdinand Nahimana, described as thedirector of RTLM, was indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal forRwanda. He was charged with genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, directand 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 alleges that: l In or around 1993, Ferdinand Nahi-mana and others planned and created RTLM SA. RTLM was an integral part of RTLM SA. RTLM operated within the territory of Rwanda during the time ofthe events alleged in the indictment. In addition to being involved in the creationof RTLM SA, Ferdinand Nahimana was instrumental in the establishment ofRTLM. l Between 1 January 1994 and approximately 31 July 1994, RTLM was used to broadcast messages designed to achieveinterethnic hatred and encourage the population to kill, commits acts of violenceand persecutions against the Tutsi population and others on political grounds. l During this period, Tutsis and otherswere killed and suffered serious bodily or mental harm as the result of the RTLMbroadcasts. l From a date unknown to the prosecutor through the period alleged in the indict-ment, Ferdinand Nahimana, by himself and with others planned, directed anddefended the broadcasts made by RTLM. l He knew or had reason to know of thebroadcasts and the effects of the broadcasts on the population. He could have takenreasonable measures to change or prevent the broadcasts, but failed to do so. Hefailed to take the necessary measures to punish the subordinates. Nahimana's defenceThe prosecution completed its evidence on 12 July 2002. Nahimana began testi-fying in his own defence in September 2002. He said that RTLM was set up tocounter the propaganda of Radio Muhabura, operated by the RwandaPatriotic Front (RPF). "We felt that there was need for more voices in the discussionof the Arusha accords, to counteract the RPF radio and to explain to the peoplethe effects of the war." "There is a sense in which when onesays we were criticising the RPF, it is understood to mean that the person wasagainst Tutsi. I think this is terrible and I must ask you not to approach matters thisway. We felt it was important to have a discussion on the issues that were obtain-ing 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 memorandumof agreement with the RPF that resulted in unbalanced coverage of the "war" inthe national media. "If the RPF had not set up its own station and proceeded tobroadcast 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 withthe 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 namedPhocas Hahimana was in charge of RTLM's daily activities. Nahimana main-tained that, contrary to prosecution allegations, he did not have editorial controlover RTLM broadcasts, and claimed that only Gaspard Gahigi, the editor in chief,held such powers. Haimana went on to claim that a radi-cal section of the founding members of RTLM hijacked the radio station andused it for a killing campaign. "What happened in Rwanda is revolting, thou-sand, hundreds of thousands of Tutsi were killed for no other reason than they wereTutsi and this happened largely in areas controlled by the transitional govern-ment. 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. "I couldn't recognise the RTLM ofthose days from the one that existed before 6 April. It had been appropriatedby radicals, what are now called extremists, whose way of seeing and doing things I did not share," said Nahimana.He said he lost contact with RTLM on 8 April 1994, a few days before he wasevacuated to Burundi. Nahimana denied the prosecution'sclaims that he subsequently crossed back into Rwanda via the Cyangugu borderpost when the savagery was at its height, and sought to renew his ties with RTLM."I was very apprehensive," he said. "I was worried about what was going to happento me, my wife and my children." According to Nahimana, he worked"sporadically" with the interim Rwandan authorities, and left Rwanda on 14 July,after rebels of the mainly Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front seized Kigali. It was dur-ing this period in the country that Nahimana said he became aware of what hetermed the "dysfunctions" at RTLM. Prosecuting attorney Simone Monase-bian produced excerpts of various documents, including portions of the KanguraNewspaper published between 1990- 1994. She noted that Kangura had pub-lished a photograph of Nahimana, together with RTLM editor GaspardGahigi with the caption "RTLM, no chance for the Tutsi" and challengedNahimana to show if he had ever contested this portrayal of the station. Nahimanaadmitted that he had not protested, but said that Kangura had published a lot ofother things that he did not agree with, and which he found unacceptable.Monasebian noted that RTLM officials attended meetings in which they werecriticised by the Ministry of Information and the Ministry of Justice in Rwandaand accused of inciting ethnic hatred. She played a videotape of former Minister ofKInformation Faustin Rucogoza, who stated that RTLM had turned into apolitical party and a mouthpiece of the extremist Council for the Defence ofDemocracy (CDR) party. She noted that during this time Nahimana "acted as thedirector 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, andthat this was a post held by Phocas Habimana. Nahimana added that some prose-cution witnesses designated him as an RTLM founder rather than its director. "Trauma and drugs were to blame"On 18 October 2002, Nahimana turned to another line of defence, and startedclaiming that trauma and drug use

Information intervention

  • Caroline Lauer

    Is information intervention a solution? To counter the use of radio (and other media) as an instrument to stir up ethnic divisions and violence in conflicts, the idea of information intervention has found a number of supporters.
  • Jamie F Metzl, a former UN Human Rights Officer, wrote in Foreign Affairs (November/December 1997): "Since information interventions have typically been part of larger, armed humanitarian initiatives, there is a danger that, in a postSomalia world less willing to respond forcefully to international crises, the baby of information intervention will be thrown out with the bath water of armed humanitarian intervention. To prevent this, the United Nations should establish an independent information intervention unit with three primary areas of responsibility: monitoring, peace broadcasting, and in extreme cases, jamming radio and television broadcasts."
  • The idea of peace broadcasting and an unarmed intervention force are certainly seductive, but nevertheless raise a number of questions. What would be the threshold when information intervention could take place? Isn't there a risk that information intervention could be abused and represent a real threat to freedom of speech? How could we ensure an information intervention force's efficiency in conflicts where the international community is not willing to intervene? For example, in the case of Rwanda, during and after the conflicts, the UN refused to use the word "genocide" to describe the slaughter of Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Would a UN information intervention force not have been equally reluctant to interfere when the Security Council was in denial of the genocide? Wouldn't an information intervention force be perceived as yet another instrument for big powers to exert their political and technological power over poorer countries?
  • Thoughts? Comments? We'd like to hear them. Contact details inside front cover.

explained the extremist conduct of theRTLM journalists. "Some journalists started drugging themselves and this onlystarted happening after 6 April," said Nahimana. He lamented the fact that theeditor-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 personaltrauma, which "explained" some of the things they said on the air.In April 1998, Giorgio Ruggiu, an Italian-Belgian accused of incitement togenocide and of crimes against humanity, in connection with the massacre thatoccurred 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 destroyas many Tutsis as possible. "What are you waiting for? The tombs are empty. Takeup your machetes and hack your enemies to pieces," he was reported as having saidat the time.

In May 2000, Mr Ruggiu was giventwo concurrent sentences of 12 years each, after admitting to direct and publicincitement to commit genocide and persecution as a crime against humanity. Headmitted that he "incited murders and caused serious attacks on the physicaland/or mental well-being of members of the Tutsi population with the intentionof 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 toadmit them," Mr Ruggiu told the court. "I admit that it was indeed a genocideand that unfortunately I took part in it," he said.The Rwandan government has protested at the sentence, saying that it "did notmeasure up to the crimes for which Ruggiu had confessed". Dahinden's evidenceIn October 2000, Philippe Dahinden, who worked as a lawyer and journalist forthe International Commission of Jurists and the French NGO Reporters sansFrontie`res, appeared as a witness at the trial of three suspects. Dahinden told thecourt that in 1993 he investigated the role RTLM played in generating violence.He made video recordings and produced a report that has been tendered as a prose-cution exhibit in the case.

Dahinden said that during these inves-tigations he met several times with Ferdinand Nahimana, who was at the timehead of Rwandan Information Services, (ORINFOR). Dahinden noted that, ashead of ORINFOR and consequently of Radio Rwanda, Nahimana was responsi-ble for what was broadcast by the station. He detailed how some of these broadcastscreated violent reactions, including massacres in the Bugesera region.Dahinden said that he raised his concerns about the role the radio played in these massacres with the accused. Howev-er, Nahimana evidently felt that Radio Rwanda was performing its duty byinforming Hutu civilians of Rwanda Patriotic Front accomplices in theirmidst. Nahimana told Dahinden that it was the role of public utilities to informcitizens "of the danger facing them", and that by doing so the radio station hadhelped save lives. Dahinden told the court how he followed the development ofRTLM, and how Nahimana took up its directorship after being dropped from theadministration of ORINFOR. According to Dahinden, Nahimana was "the brainsbehind" RTLM.

During the genocide in May, Dahindenwent back into Rwanda twice. He said that at road-blocks he met militia carry-ing radios and listening to RTLM. Dahinden said that one of the things thatstruck him was the extent to which the militia relied on the radio for informationand directions. He also told the court how he and his colleagues countedbetween 3,000 to 5,000 bodies per day at River Ruvumo, near the border withBurundi, as a result of the massacres.

Capture, trial, verdict

In June 2002, the US State Department announced the Campaign to CaptureFugitives Indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. The cam-paign started by offering a reward of up to US$5 million for the capture of formerRTLM President Fe'licien Kabuga. Mr Kabuga is a wealthy businessman who isaccused of using his vast assets to propel the Rwandan massacres, firstly, by afford-ing a platform to disseminate the message of ethnic hatred through the radio sta-tion, Radio Te'le'vision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM), and secondly, by pro-viding logistic support such as weapons, uniforms, and transportation to the Inter-ahamwe militia group of the Mouvement Re'publicain National pour le De'mocratieet le De'veloppement (MRND) and the militia of Coalition pour la De'fense de laRe'publique (CDR).

After three years of testimony, the trialreached its climax in August 2003 when the tribunal retired to consider its ver-dict. The prosecutor has demanded the maximum sentence, life imprisonment forall the accused. Their lawyers, on the other hand insist, that the prosecutor hasnot proved his case beyond all reasonable doubt and have demanded for an acquit-tal. The defence has rejected prosecution testimonies in whole, deeming them ofextreme fragile nature if not dangerousnot for the defence, but for justice as a whole.

The verdict has yet to be delivered.

Peace radio in Burundi

  • Caroline Lauer

    In response to the hate messages broadcast by Radio Te'le'vision des Mille Collines in Rwanda, a radio production company that promotes peace and ethnic reconciliation was set up in Burundi.
  • Studio Ijambo ("wise words" in Kirundi, the main language) was launched in March 1995 on the initiative of Search of Common Ground - a US-based organisation that works for the resolution of conflict - with a view to avoiding a repeat in Burundi of the genocide carried out in Rwanda. At the time ethnic tensions were high and the memory of the 1993 civil war in Burundi - in which at least 200,000 Burundians were killed - was very fresh, creating the need for a project of mass reconciliation. Radio was chosen as a medium because 85% of the population had access to it, while television was not widespread and literacy levels were low. The studio employs about 30 Hutus and Tutsis in total, producing programmes that highlight common ground between the two ethnic groups - rather than underlining their divisions. Studio Ijambo's slogan is "Dialogue for the future". The programmes are broadcast on national and private radio stations in the Great Lakes region, covering a population of 12 million people. By selling its programmes rather than broadcasting them itself, Studio Ijambo has maintained a reputation for independence and impartiality. For example, journalists report on crimes committed by their own ethnic groups. The studio produces news programmes and two cultural and social affairs magazines: Amasaganzira in Kirundi and Expres in French. Both magazines cover political, economic and social issues with a focus on the peace process in Burundi. Studio Ijambo also produces a popular soap opera, Our Neighbours, Ourselves, about the relationship between a Hutu and a Tutsi family living next door to one another in a rural area. Although Studio Ijambo does not broadcast its own programmes, it is linked to Radio Isangamiro in Burundi, which also promotes peace, reconciliation and dialogue in the Great Lakes region. Together with Radio Publique Africaine, another Burundese private radio, Radio Isangamiro was suspended last September for inviting Pasteur Habimana, the spokesman of the Hutu-led Forces National de Liberation, the country's second largest rebel movement, to speak on a programme. Radio Isangamiro was, however, able to resume broadcasting after one week.
  • See http://www.studioijambo.org/ (Station homepage in French language); and http://www.rnw.nl/realradio/community/html/ijambo120299.html (English language, descriptive).