Attacks on the Press 2000: Rwanda

WHEN FORMER VICE PRESIDENT PAUL KAGAME WAS ELECTED PRESIDENT in April, he berated local reporters for exaggerating Rwanda’s problems. Nevertheless, there were plenty of genuine problems for the country’s media to report. In neighboring Tanzania, meanwhile, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) was coming to grips with the 1994 slaughter of nearly a million ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus by Hutu extremists.

Kagame was once military leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which ended the genocide by seizing power six years ago. His elevation to the presidency threatened to upset a delicate power-sharing arrangement between moderate Hutus and the Tutsi-dominated RPF. It came after the resignations of Prime Minister Pierre-Celestin Rwigema and President Pasteur Bizimungu, both Hutus who had opposed the genocide.

On June 1, the ICTR sentenced Belgian-born Georges Ruggiu to two concurrent 12-year prison terms for broadcasts that fanned the 1994 genocide. Ruggiu worked for Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM), the rabidly nationalist Hutu radio station that survivors remember as “Radio Tele La Mort (Radio Death).” Ruggiu’s lawyers tried to portray him as a “small-scale collaborator who did not understand the sordid complexity” of Rwandan politics. The Kagame government, however, argued that the sentence was too light.

After his sentencing, Ruggiu cooperated with prosecutors in their case against three of his former colleagues in hate: RTLM director Ferdinand Nahimana, founding RTLM board member Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza (who was also director of political affairs in the Rwandan Foreign Ministry during the genocide), and Hassan Ngeze, editor of the extremist Hutu newspaper Kangura.

Indicted in 1997 on charges of conspiracy, genocide, and crimes against humanity, their trial finally began on October 23, 2000 (Barayagwiza boycotted the hearings). ICTR prosecutors alleged that by mid-April 1994, RTLM had effectively become the genocide’s coordinating body, broadcasting lists of “death-worthy” Tutsis, whom they referred to as “cockroaches,” and moderate Hutus. It also broadcast names of other “enemies of the (Hutu) republic,” urged militiamen and citizens to seek them out, and congratulated lynch mobs for “a job well done.”

In a separate development, officially French-speaking Rwanda saw the October 16 launch of the country’s third English-language publication, The Rwanda Herald. This trend reflects the growing elite Rwandan preference for English, which is generally considered a more useful international language. The Rwanda Herald is owned by the private Rwanda Independent Media Group (RIMEG), which also owns the English-language news service Rwanda Newsline and the Kinyarwanda-language paper Umuseso. The other English-language publication, The New Times, is incorporated as a private entity but known as a government mouthpiece.