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Blog of Mass Destruction

Rwanda Radio

By The Reverend Published: January 15, 2011

In the early 90's some 800,000 Rwandans were slaughtered in acts of violence. The violence was classified as genocidal acts in that the minority Tutsis were targeted for elimination by the Hutus.

Maybe you've seen the movie Hotel Rwanda, starring the capable actor, Don Cheadle. It's worth the viewing.

Here is a very detailed and fair account of that tragic time.

Rwandan broadcast media played a role in the violence.

Rwanda Radio.....

Radio Rwanda is a radio station of the Rwandan Office of Information (ORINFOR), a government information agency that also owns Rwandan Television (TVR).

It played a large part in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. It encouraged Hutus to 'kill the Tutsi cockroaches' and told people that the Tutsis were the enemy.

Radio Rwanda officials held responsible....

The trial against "hate media" began on 23 October 2000. It is charged with the prosecution of the media which encouraged the genocide of 1994.

On 19 August 2003, at the tribunal in Arusha, life sentences were requested for Ferdinand Nahimana, and Jean Bosco Barayagwiza, persons in charge for the Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines, as well as Hassan Ngeze, director and editor of the Kangur newspaper. They were charged with genocide, incitement to genocide, and crimes against humanity, before and during the period of the genocides of 1994. On 3 December 2003, the court found all three defendants guilty and sentenced Nahimana and Ngeze to life imprisonment and Barayagwiza to imprisonment for 35 years.

In light of this week's national "discussion" over whether media messengers using words, phrases, graphics, and video presentations can ever be held responsible for violence perpetrated by others.....I have a few questions about these Rwandan "hate media" trials and convictions.

Isn't it true that those who listened to Rwanda Radio were free-will agents who could either choose to listen, or not? No one, as far as I can tell, was forced to listen to what was being said on the radio during those ugly days. Granted, early 90's Rwanda had minimal media sources.....but free-will was not outlawed, Rwandans could still choose to turn off the radio.

The Rwanda Radio officials, themselves, again, as far as my reading informs me, did not actively participate in the slaughter. Yes, they encouraged listeners with their words like "kill the cockroaches" and "the Tutsis are the enemies".....but as I mentioned, listeners could either listen to those words, or not....and then act on those words, or not. Isn't that correct?

In their defense, couldn't Rwanda Radio officials have pled something like, 'Hey, cockroaches are simply cockroaches'....and 'enemies' is simply standard-issue political rhetoric? Wouldn't they have been correct in saying that words don't kill people, people kill people?

Furthermore, I don't see any evidence that Radio Rwanda agents targeted those who did not participate in the killings after having heard the broadcasts. It wasn't as if listeners were under threat if they didn't act on the encouragement of radio talkers.

Isn't it also possible that some Rwandans who did participate in the violence never heard Rwanda Radio? Isn't it possible that some Rwandans simply acted on their own, without hearing any words of encouragement, whatsoever, from anyone? Isn't it possible that at least a few participants in the Rwandan genocide were simply mentally ill, deranged? Who in their right minds could swing machetes with the intent of cutting other peoples heads off?

If I understand what American conservatives have been voicing this week, how is it just, then, to prosecute the Rwanda Radio officials as complicit in the genocide? Could it not be said that those Rwandan Radio broadcasters were simply exercising their right to free speech and that the responsibility for the mass murdering was entirely on those who actually pulled the trigger, or wielded the machete?

After all, Rwanda Radio did air music and other forms of entertainment along with their "kill the cockroaches" political speech....so why single out broadcasters speaking into microphones when those broadcasters pulled no gun triggers, swung no machetes?

For my more skeptical readers, I'm not attempting a game of gotcha here, nor am I being a smartass. I'll save that for another day.

I would like to have a discussion on those questions because I think they are extremely relevant right now. I am not suggesting that Rwanda of the 90's has any relationship to the U.S. of today....I'm not.

However, aren't some of the principles we have been actively engaged in talking about this week, also the principles that were at work in the Rwanda saga? Free speech. Hate speech. Media. Political divisions. Indirect and direct responsibility for crimes of violence. The influence (or not) of words.

With that in mind....how could Rwandan media broadcasters be rightly held at least partially responsible for violent crimes that they did not carry out?

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