ARUSHA (Internews) Political influence frustrated efforts to censure the Radio Libre Des Mille Collines (RTLM), which broadcast inflammatory messages during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, expert witness Alison Des Forges today told the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).
The prosecution claims that the three defendants in the so-called “Media Trial” used the RTLM, as well as ‘Kangura’ newspaper, to incite the April-June 1994 genocide.
Des Forges, Human Rights Watch Advisor and an expert in Rwandan history, testified that officials who attempted to curtail inflammatory RTLM broadcasts were frustrated by political interference.
The expert cited a conversation she held with Alphonse Nkubito, a prosecutor in Rwanda in 1994, in which Nkubito alleged that many officials were afraid and gave up attempts to restrict what they considered inflammatory broadcasts by the station. “He told me that every attempt to control the excesses of this station was likely to put him in personal danger,” Des Forges stressed.
The expert also recalled Nkubito’s attempts to prosecute RTLM journalist Noel Hitimana, which ended after violent ‘Interahamwe’ and ‘Impuzamugambi’ militia surrounded the prosecution office. The Interahamwe was the youth wing of the Movement of the Republic for National Development (MRND), the political party that led a coalition government during the genocide. The Impuzamugambi was the youth wing of the Coalition for the Defense of the Republic (CDR).
Des Forges told the court that RTLM subsequently broadcast a commentary on the incident, stating that it would “leave Nkubito alone since he has left us alone.” She added that RTLM pointed out that it could not fail, because of its supporters.
“This showed the inability of the judiciary arm of the state to control what RTLM was broadcasting…. It was perceived as a victory of RTLM and its sponsors, and showed weakness and defeat on the part of the judiciary,” she said.
Des Forges is testifying against Jean Bosco Barayagwiza, Ferdinand Nahimana and Hassan Ngeze. Barayagwiza and Nahimana are RTLM founding members and Ngeze is former editor and owner of Kangura. All three accused have denied using their respective media to incite the genocide.
The expert witness has testified on the historical background of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, and the individual roles played by the three accused. She characterized RTLM broadcasts as based on false and distorted information that heightened fear among the population. According to Des Forges, RTLM blamed the assassination of Felicien Gatabazi, leader of the Social Democratic Party, and Martin Bucyana, head of the Coalition for the Defense of the Republic (CDR) on the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), a mainly Tutsi army which was then in control of sections of the country.
Des Forges pointed out that although it was legitimate for a radio station to broadcast allegations of complicity in murder, RTLM went further and described the alleged killings as part of a wider plot by the RPF to kill all Hutus.
The station urged people to be vigilant and join the army in its fight against the RPF and an “amorphous group of people called accomplices” who included Tutsi suspected of supporting the RPF, Hutus in the opposition and those who provided shelter to Tutsis, Des Forges explained.
“In the context of the complaints from the ministry of justice, RTLM clearly understood that what it was doing had the significant impact of increasing the tension rather than reducing it,” she said.
Citing an interview that Nahimana granted Radio Rwanda on 25 April 1994, Des Forges underlines that Nahimana supported RTLM broadcasts and stated his approval of the station’s activities.
Judge Asoka De Zoysa Gunawardana of Sri Lanka asked Des Forges to cite occasions when RTLM urged the Hutu not to confuse the Tutsi population with members of the RPF.
Des Forges responded that on a few occasions, RTLM broadcast messages stating that all Tutsi were not the enemy but that these coincided with government efforts to gain French assistance. “The French were at the time contemplating creating what later came to be known as ‘Operation Turquoise’ [an intervention force]… the stated mission was to bring humanitarian assistance to Rwanda,” she said.
Des Forges also cited one of three interviews given by Ngeze on RTLM radio. Reading from a transcript from an excerpt of the broadcast, the witness quotes Ngeze calling for those manning roadblocks to be careful not to kill people based on their physical features but instead use identity cards to determine their ethnicity. Ngeze tells the people that if in doubt about the ethnicity of someone, they should consult their local mayors and councilors.
“Here we see a clear directive, it is an instruction… What he is saying is that if you cannot choose the right victim you must go to the authority… this was aimed at creating discipline in what was threatening to become a very disorderly process,” Des Forges said.
Des Forges continues to testify 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.