A whole minority community was massacred over two decades ago in Rwanda. Looking back at the judgment that sentenced three journalists to life imprisonment
Do you think it is possible for a journalist or a news publication to incite children to kill a parent if said the parent belongs to a different religious/ethnic identity? Children are gullible. Do you think it is possible for a journalist to incite adults to murder their spouses if the said spouse belongs to a certain religious/racial/ethnic identity? It is possible and it has happened.
The ‘Ten Commandments’ were a list of commands inciting the majority Hutu community in Rwanda against the minority Tutsi community. They were even published in a newspaper and broadcast on a radio station notorious for inciting hatred and finally responsible for the Rwandan Genocide in which an estimated 10 lakh people, mostly Tutsis and ‘Moderate Hutus’, were massacred. A former government official of Rwanda testified before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and said that the objective behind amplifying these commandments was “to ensure that the population understood that all the Hutus must become united”, that “they should have a single fighting goal that they should aim for”, and “that they should have no link or relationship between Hutus and Tutsis”. He said it was for this reason that some men started killing their Tutsi wives, or children of a mixed marriage killed their own Tutsi parents”.
The judgment of the tribunal which sentenced three journalists to life imprisonment is a frightening read. These journalists, through a series of actions, incited mass murders that were committed by neighbours and ordinary citizens, who in many cases took their children with them for the killings. The radio station urged citizens to ‘go to work’ and shamed them by saying that the graves are not full yet. Newspaper provoked hate against the Tutsis, systematically every day for years. The gutwrenching details of the genocide and the years of work that went into preparing for the genocide are a must read.
The judgment of the tribunal reveals the irony of the journalists accused of hate-mongering seeking recusal of some judges citing bias. No one knew better than them the fatal consequences of biased condemnation, I guess. In their defence in court, they fervently sought to take the defence of ‘history’ to mostly make arguments which sound a lot like ‘they did it too’, ‘this has been happening for centuries’ and so on. The tribunal nips this in the bud: “The Chamber recalls and underscores that this history cannot he used to justify such violence. Efforts do so contribute to the perpetuation of violence.”
Another witness cited speaks of another document of propaganda which “advocated the use of lies, exaggeration, ridicule and innuendo against the adversary and suggests that the public must be persuaded that the adversary stands for war, death, slavery, repression, injustice and sadistic cruelty”. He stressed the importance of linking propaganda to events and suggested simply “creating” events, if necessary.
The leading hatemongering newspaper named ‘Kangura’ published the ‘commandments’ as part of an article which said Tutsi women enticed Hutu men so they could marry into Hutu families and either break their relationships or act as spies against the Hutus. The judgment notes that the second part of the article, titled “the Tutsi ambition”, described the Tutsis as “bloodthirsty”, and referred to their continuing ideology of Tutsi domination over the Hutu, and to the “permanent dream of the Tutsi” to restore Tutsi minority rule”. I read that one of the commandments was to not feel pity for the Tutsis, and couldn’t help but remember a video, shot with what seemed to be professional actors, urging people not to feel pity for the Muslims who died in the violence in February in Delhi, by reminding them of all the times that Hindus had been killed.
Certain political forces decided to demonise and de-humanise an entire community. Thanks to the mass media of that time, people were drilled with hate day and night. Historic grievances were made fresh, a systematic effort was put in place to ensure that when the time comes, ordinary people leave their homes to engage in mass murder, convinced in the belief that they are acting against an evil minority community which is a ‘traitor’ and is to blame for all that is wrong. When the day came, the people obliged. All this would not have been possible without the amplification provided by owners and employees of media organisations. Three of these people were sent to prison after a long trial where they were able to engage lawyers and defend themselves.
The country of Rwanda now observes national days of remembrance and mourning – much like Germany – to ensure that the current and future generations don’t forget. Necessary, of course, because to forget the path of devastation – whether one taken by others or by yourself – is to ensure the same devastation for yourself. One can only hope that no nation makes the same mistakes that Rwandans made.