UN tribunal convicts 3 Rwandan media executives for their role in 1994 genocide

3 December 2003

Three former senior figures in the Rwandan media were convicted today by the United Nations war crimes tribunal and sentenced to lengthy jail terms for inciting their compatriots to kill ethnic Tutsis during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

Three judges of the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), sitting in Arusha, Tanzania, announced the convictions and sentences for Ferdinand Nahimana, Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza and Hassan Ngeze in what has been dubbed “the media case.”

The three men were convicted of genocide, incitement to genocide, conspiracy, crimes against humanity, extermination and persecution. According to media reports, about 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were murdered in Rwanda between April and the middle of 1994.

The ICTR said the convictions were the first of their kind since the Allied Tribunal at Nuremberg at 1946 sentenced Nazi publisher Julius Streicher to death for his anti-semitic publication Der Stürmer.

Mr. Nahimana, founder and ideologist of the Radio Télévision does Mille Coulines (RTLM), and Mr. Ngeze, chief editor of Kangura newspaper, were sentenced to life in prison. Mr. Barayagwiza, a high-ranking board member at RTLM and the founder of the Coalition for the Defence of Republic (CDR), a political party, received a 35-year jail term. He boycotted his trial.

In a broadcast on RTLM – which became known to some Rwandans as “Radio Machete” – in April 1994, Mr. Nahimana described a “war of media, words, newspapers and radio stations” to complement a war with bullets, according to the ICTR.

The presiding judge in the media case, Judge Navanethem Pillay, told Mr. Nahimana that he was fully aware of the power of radio to “disseminate hatred and violence…Without a firearm, machete or any physical weapon, you caused the death of thousands of innocent civilians.”

The judges also said Kangura targeted Tutsis for persecution by regularly stereotyping them as liars, thieves or killers, and depicting Tutsi women as femme fatales who could not be trusted. One Kangura publication labelled any Hutu man who married a Tutsi woman as a traitor.

In a statement released by the ICTR, the judges said they found that the three men “used the institutions they controlled and coordinated their efforts towards the common goal: the destruction of the Tutsi population.” They said their broadcasts and publications did not fall under the protection of the right to freedom of expression.