By Mary Kimani
ARUSHA 28 May 2002 (Internews) Genocide suspect Hassan Ngeze “was not a decision maker but someone called upon to follow orders,” Alison Des Forges, Rwandan historian and Human Rights Watch Advisor, today told judges at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).
Des Forges said that while Ngeze was not a member of the ‘Akazu’, a close clique of powerful people around Rwanda President Juvenal Habyarimana, each circle of power has its “hanger’s on” or people who are important because of what they can do for the group.
“He was useful because of the rapidity with which he could change his position… Sometimes it was not possible to know who he was working for and his actions during this period became very difficult to characterize,” Des Forges testified under cross-examination by John Floyd of the United States, lead counsel for Ngeze.
Des Forges is testifying for the prosecution as an expert on Rwanda history in the so-called “Media Trial” of Ngeze, Jean Bosco Barayagwiza and Ferdinand Nahimana. Barayagwiza and Nahimana are founding members of the Radio Television Libre Des Mille Collines (RTLM) and Ngeze was the owner and editor of ‘Kangura’ newspaper.
The three accused have denied using their respective media to incite genocide in Rwanda. They are charged with genocide and crimes against humanity. Prosecutors allege that Kangura and RTLM disseminated “hate” messages that incited members of the Hutu population to kill ethnic Tutsi and ethnic Hutu who were members of opposition political parties.
Floyd challenged Des Forges’ earlier assertion that Ngeze worked with government officials in developing the content of Kangura. The attorney pointed out that Ngeze was arrested on numerous occasions by the same authorities and that he was not someone who could move in the same circles as many of those with whom he is alleged to have worked.
Des Forges stated that the political situation in Rwanda between 1990 and 1994 was complex, and was characterized by numerous political schisms. She said that she was not surprised that certain government officials may have imprisoned Ngeze while he worked for other officials in the same government, or worked for two opposition camps at the same time. “He was very skillful in moving around a dynamic and complex political scene,” Des Forges stressed.
Floyd claimed “adherence to democratic principles is what made Ngeze to be imprisoned.” Citing a letter written by Ngeze to the American embassy in Kigali in gratitude for intervention during one of the incidents in which he was imprisoned, Floyd pointed out that Ngeze made efforts to improve skills available to Kangura journalists. He suggested that negative aspects of articles published in Kangura could be attributed to factors other than an attempt to incite ethnic hatred.
“Could you not concede that some of the mistakes that were done could be because of lack of proper training or tools, and that maybe the journalists did not understand their impact?” Floyd asked.
Des Forges rejected this possibility, saying that what Kangura published was part of a “concerted pattern of behavior” that depicted political problems in ethnic terms and attempted to show that ethnic Tutsi supported an armed invasion by the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), and should be treated as accomplices and traitors.
According to Des Forges, to attribute this type of reporting to lack of training is “a serious distortion of the historical record.”
Floyd maintained that any objectionable content in Kangura should be seen in the context of mistakes, bad taste or bad judgment on the part of the journalist and not “the nefarious intent towards the Tutsi.”
The cross-examination of Des Forges continues before Trial Chamber I of the ICTR, comprising Judges Navanethem Pillay of South Africa (presiding), Erik Mose of Norway and Asoka De Zoysa Gunawardana of Sri Lanka.