Convicts 3 in 1994 Genocide Across Rwanda
The New York Times
December 4, 2003
Dec. 3 — In the first case of its kind since the Nuremberg
trials, an international court here on Wednesday convicted three
Rwandans of genocide for media reports that fostered the killing
of about 800,000 Rwandans, mostly of the Tutsi minority, over
several months in 1994.
A three-judge panel
said the three men had used a radio station and a newspaper published
twice a month to mobilize Rwanda's Hutu majority against the Tutsi,
who were massacred at churches, schools, hospitals and roadblocks.
The court said the newspaper "poisoned the minds" of
readers against the Tutsi, while the radio station openly called
for their extermination, luring victims to killing grounds and
broadcasting the names of people to be singled out.
The three men convicted
were Hassan Ngeze, who owned the newspaper Kangura, Ferdinand
Nahimana, who controlled the popular radio station RTLM, and Jean-Bosco
Barayagwiza, the station's co-founder. Each of the three were
found guilty of three counts of genocide and two counts of crimes
against humanity. Mr. Ngeze and Mr. Nahimana were sentenced to
life in prison. Mr. Barayagwiza was sentenced to a lesser term
of 27 years because, the judges said, his rights had been violated
early in the case. All had been in the court's custody for years.
In 100 days in 1994,
prosecutors in Arusha contend, about 7 out of 10 of Rwanda's Tutsis
were wiped out with a brutal efficiency. The United Nations, which
failed to intervene during the massacres, set up the international
court in the relative safety of Tanzania three months after the
killings ended to bring the main perpetrators to account.
were the first convictions of media executives for crimes of genocide
since 1946, when the Nuremberg tribunal sentenced the Nazi propagandist,
Julius Streicher, to hang for his campaign against the Jews.
In a 29-page summary
of the Arusha judgment, which was read aloud in court, the judges
pointed out that they were addressing issues that had not come
before an international court for many decades. "The power
of the media to create and destroy human values comes with great
responsibility," the summary said. "Those who control
the media are accountable for its consequences."
called the verdicts a historic victory. "This is really a
groundbreaking decision," said Stephen Rapp, the lead prosecutor.
"The court said there is a wide range for free expression,
but when you pour gasoline on the flames, that's when you cross
the line into unprotected expression."
John Floyd, Mr. Ngeze's
lawyer, called the judgment a major setback for free speech and
an invitation to dictators to close down any media outlet on the
grounds it could provoke violence.
"This is a terrible,
terrible decision, the worst decision in the history of international
justice," he said. He claimed that American courts, with
their great concern for free speech, would have thrown the case
Floyd Abrams, a legal
expert on the First Amendment disagreed. He said in a telephone
interview that while the United States protected free speech more
fiercely than any other country, it did not shield statements
intended to provoke violence and likely to do so. "We would
have protected some of the materials that were before the court,"
he said. "But even the First Amendment would not provide
a basis for acquitting these defendants."
Mr. Nahimana, who
argued that his radio station was taken over by extremists during
the killings, and Mr. Ngeze intend to appeal, their lawyers said.
Mr. Barayagwiza refused to go to court, and his lawyer made no
statement after the verdict.
Besides drawing a
legal boundary between free speech and criminal incitement to
mass murder, tribunal officials said the verdicts vindicated the
court's slow and expensive approach to delivering justice in a
region where the powerful have long enjoyed impunity.
court has faced intense criticism. In nine years, with a staff
of 872 and an annual budget of $88 million, it has produced only
17 convictions, including Wednesday's.
The United Nations
recently gave the court more judges and appointed a new lead prosecutor,
Hassan Bubacar Jallow of Gambia, to replace Carla Del Ponte, who
was splitting her time between the Rwanda tribunal and one set
up in The Hague to investigate war crimes in the former Yugoslavia.
said Wednesday's verdicts showed that the court had 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 government that ruled during the massacres.
One verdict was delivered earlier this week, and four more are
But there is no decision
about who will investigate charges that the Tutsi organized revenge
killings of Hutus after a Tutsi-controlled government came to
power in mid-1994. Rwandan officials say they want to handle it
themselves. Some critics say the tribunal must investigate or
lose credibility with Rwanda's Hutu.
And the location
of the court, 1,200 miles from Rwanda's capital, Kigali, means
that few Rwandans feel a part of the process. For a court organized
to impart a sense of justice and help the Hutu and the Tutsi reconcile,
that is a major impediment.
Bongani C. Majola,
the deputy prosecutor here, put it this way: "Rwandans say,
`Listen, we are the victims, but we know nothing about what is
happening there. We don't see it on the papers, we don't hear
it on TV, we don't hear people in the bars talking about it. So
to us, nothing is happening.' "
What the verdicts
will do, said Mr. Rapp, the lead prosecutor, is help set an international
standard governing the responsibility of those who control the
media for hate-spewing broadcasts and articles.
The cases turned
on whether the three men were deliberately trying to create a
frenzy of violence, or were simply trying to arouse the Hutu to
defend themselves against armed Tutsis who were trying to overthrow
the Hutu government.
The three-year trial
detailed how the hugely popular RTLM station turned into a messenger
of death. Copies of Mr. Ngeze's newspaper showed it relentlessly
denigrated the Tutsi and suggested on its cover that the machete
was the best way to deal with them.
The judges found
that the station and newspaper branded all Tutsi, armed or unarmed,
as the enemy. They quoted a witness who testified: "What
RTLM did was to spread petrol throughout the country little by
little, so that one day it would be able to set fire to the whole
In sentencing Mr.
Nahimana, Navanethem Pillay, the presiding judge, said "Without
a firearm, machete or any physical weapon, you caused the deaths
of thousands of innocent civilians." To Mr. Ngeze, the newspaper
owner, she said: "Instead of using the media to promote human
rights, you used it to attack and destroy human rights."
She called Mr. Barayagwiza, an extremist political leader, the
linchpin of the three men's conspiracy to incite genocide.
The court also found
that Mr. Barayagwiza distributed a truckload of weapons used by
Hutus to kill Tutsis and that, in one town, Mr. Ngeze ordered
Hutu militias to murder Tutsis.
As gangs took to
the streets with nail-studded clubs and sharpened sticks, the
radio broadcasts grew increasingly chilling, court records show.
One RTLM announcer advised: "Look at a person's height and
his physical appearance. Just look at his small nose and then
discovered hundreds of famished Tutsis hiding in the dormitory
of an Islamic center in Kigali. A survivor testified that the
station announced that armed Tutsi fighters were in the mosque.
By the next morning,
the Hutu militia had herded the Tutsi into nearby houses and lobbed
grenades inside, the witness said.
Two months later,
RTLM announced on the air that incredibly, still more Tutsis had
fled to the mosque, hoping for refuge.
"I went there
to take a look and saw that they looked like cattle for the slaughter,"
the broadcaster said. "I don't know whether they have already
been slaughtered today or whether they will be slaughtered tonight.
I feel they are all going to perish."