U.N. tribunal convicts 3 Rwandans of genocide

Trio used newspaper, radio to incite Hutus to kill minority Tutsis

December 04, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

ARUSHA, Tanzania - In the first case of its kind since the Nuremberg war crimes trials after World War II, an international court here convicted three Rwandans yesterday of genocide. The trio used a newspaper and a radio station to incite machete-wielding gangs that slaughtered about 800,000 Rwandans, mostly of the Tutsi minority, over several months in 1994.

A three-judge panel said the media executives had used a radio station and a twice-monthly newspaper to mobilize Rwanda's Hutu majority against the Tutsis, who were massacred at churches, schools, hospitals and roadblocks. The court said the newspaper "poisoned the minds" of readers against the Tutsis, while the radio station openly called for their extermination, luring victims to killing grounds and broadcasting the names of people to be targeted.

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 was found guilty of three counts of genocide and two counts of crimes against humanity. Ngeze and Nahimana were sentenced to life in prison. 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 that surpassed that of the Nazis. The United Nations, which failed to intervene during the genocide, set up the international court in the relative safety of Tanzania three months after the killings to bring the main perpetrators to account.

Yesterday's verdicts were the first convictions of media executives for crimes of genocide since 1946, when the Nuremberg tribunal sentenced a 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."

Elated prosecutors called the verdicts a historic victory.

"This is really a ground-breaking 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, 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 said U.S. courts, with their great concern for free speech, would have thrown the case out.

Nahimana, who argued that his radio station was taken over by outsiders during the killings, and Ngeze intend to appeal, their lawyers said. 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.

The international 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 yesterday'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 that for the former Yugoslavia, in The Hague.

Tribunal officials said yesterday's verdicts show the court has overcome most of its troubles. The pace of trials has picked up: In the past month, two cases have begun against eight ministers of the interim Hutu regime that ruled during the genocide. One verdict was delivered this week, and four more are expected soon.

But there is no decision about who will investigate charges that Tutsis 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 Hutus.

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