ARUSHA 21 May 2002 (Internews) Genocide suspect Ferdinand Nahimana led one of the ‘public salvation committees’ formed to purge ethnic Tutsi from Rwandan educational institutions in the 1970’s, Alison Des Forges, a Rwandan historian and Human Rights Watch advisor, yesterday told judges at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).
Des Forges, author of the Human Rights Watch publication ‘Leave None to Tell the Story’, is testifying as an expert in the so- called “Media Trial” against Nahimana, Hassan Ngeze and Jean Bosco Barayagwiza.
According to Des Forges, committees were set up in Rwanda in the 1970’s to purge ethnic Tutsi from schools, government offices and universities. Citing a document allegedly written by a former ‘Interahamwe’ militia member, the witness pointed out that Nahimana led one of the committees. The Interahamwe was the youth wing of the Movement of the Republic for National Development (MRND), a political party.
The witness testified that Nahimana was also implicated in the broadcast of a fake communiqué alleging that Liberal Party (PL) members were involved in a plot by the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) to kill prominent ethnic Hutu leaders. This broadcast led to the massacres of several Tutsi in Bugesera region, southeastern Rwanda, in 1992, she added.
Nahimana, Barayagwiza and Ngeze are jointly tried for using their respective media to incite the 1994 genocide. Nahimana and Barayagwiza are founding members of Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) and Ngeze is former editor and owner of ‘Kangura’ newspaper. Prosecutors allege that the three used their respective media to incite ethnic Hutu to kill ethnic Tutsi.
Des Forges detailed the key periods in Rwandan history; from the early colonial period that she says was characterized by German support for the extension of the powers of the predominantly Tutsi monarchy.
By 1959, Des Forges stated, Belgians who had taken control over Rwanda after Germans lost the second World War began appointing Hutus into the administration and allowing them access to schools. “They assisted the Hutu to overthrow the monarchy… initially the people targeted by the violence of 1959 were those in power, however, over time, the circle of people targeted increased to encompass ordinary Tutsi civilians as Tutsis outside Rwanda organized themselves to attack.”
Des Forges says this pattern was repeated in 1990 following an RPF attack. She says members of the ruling elite saw the attack as an opportunity to expand support for the government of the time. The government then organized another attack in Kigali and blamed the RPF for it, using the opportunity to arrest an estimated 11,000 ethnic Tutsi and Hutu members of the opposition.
“The second goal was to gain support from the foreign community and this worked because they got long term support from the French and short term support from Belgium and Zaire,” the witness told the court.
Des Forges said that in addition to getting foreign support, the government sent a member of the military to the provinces of Ruhengeri and Byumba to inform the people that the RPF attack was aimed at re-installing the monarchy. According to Des Forges, the threat of re-installation of the monarchy meant that many people stood to lose the land they had gained when the members of the monarchy and other Tutsi left the country.
Des Forges continues to testify today 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.