Radio Télévision Libre Mille-Collines

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Radio Télévision Libre Mille-Collines

The anti-Tutsi newspaper Kangura and Radio Télévision Libre Mille-Collines (RTLMC), known as the Hate Radio in Rwanda, are recent examples of hate propaganda that paved the way to genocide. The role of both media was examined by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in the trial of Ferdinand Nahimana, Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza, and Hassan Ngeze, better known as the Media trial.

In Rwanda, the ratio of illiterate people was significantly high. Radio, therefore, was the medium with the broadest reach. During the Rwandan genocide, the radio became the sole source of news, but it was also the voice of authority for most people. Rwandans listened to RTLMC (also known as "Radio Machete") everywhere, including at roadblocks during the killings. Messages transmitted by radio were readily taken at face value and orders issued during the broadcasts were followed.

RTLMC was created in June 1993. Ferdinand Nahimana was its founder and director, and Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza was his second in command. RTLMC was owned predominantly by members of the party of the president of the Republic, Juvenal Habyarimana. They were surrounded by influential Hutus, including the close entourage of the president and his wife. Simon Bikindi, a famous anti-Tutsi singer, and Kantano Habimana were the radio's most famous presenters. Officially, RTLMC was an independent radio station, but its tight ties to the government made that independence little more than a cosmetic claim. Ironically, the incorporation document of the radio states that the purpose of RTLMC was to create harmonious development within the Rwandan society.

RTLMC broadcasts accused the Tutsis of being plotters and parasites, and it used the Tutsis' historical domination over the Hutus, as well as the fear of an armed Tutsi insurrection to mobilize the Hutu population. RTLMC broadcasting was like a drumbeat, calling on listeners to take action against the Inkotanyi enemy ("infiltrators," a name often given to the Front Patriotique Rwandais, or FPR) and their Inyenzi accomplices (inyezi, which means "cockroach," was an epithet often hurled at Tutsis). A call by the radio to take up arms against "infiltrators" was clearly intended to be understood as a call to take up arms against all Tutsis. RTLMC sometimes used a more direct approach, naming individuals that it falsely accused of being FPR members, which led to their being killed. RTLMC once broadcast a false claim that the FPR planned to assassinate Hutu leaders. This announcement triggered the killing of hundreds of Tutsi civilians in the Bugesera region. RTLMC was also instrumental in the negative perception of the United Nations among Rwandans, and issued a direct call to attack and kill the UN peacekeepers, including General Dallaire.

RTLMC advised its listeners to identify Tutsis by examining their physical appearance, to "look at their small noses, and then break them." After April 6, 1994, RTLMC broadcast more and more virulent calls for violence and explicitly urged its listeners to exterminate the Tutsi from the surface of the earth. Listeners were encouraged to kill so that future generations would only be able to guess what Tutsis looked like. The onair personalities advised their audience that they should kill Tutsis even if they were already fleeing. The Militias followed these orders.

Before and during the genocide, all inside Rwanda, as well as many who lived abroad, were aware of RTLMC's direct incitement to violence against Tustis. It nonetheless pursued its broadcasting without much interference.


Kangura was an anti-Tutsi publication, and one of the most virulent media voices promulgating ethnic hatred. Hassan Ngeze was Kangura's founder, owner, and editor in chief. He was also in charge of the overall management of the paper and thus controlled its content. Kangura promoted the fear of Tutsis among its Hutu readership. Kangura contributed to the climate that led to the genocide by publishing numerous explicit threats and messages inciting people to exterminate the Tutsis.

Direct incitement to violence and extermination of the Tutsis were frequent themes in Kangura articles. The paper warned readers to wake up, to be firm and vigilant against the Tutsi scourge. Kangura described the Tutsis as "bloodthirsty" and exhorted the Hutu to have no pity for the Tutsis, simply to kill them. Kangura frequently used its articles to imply Tutsi complicity with the FPR, which was another of its common targets. A Kangura article even incited the Hutu population to kill UN peacekeeping soldiers, prophecying that this would cause the UN to pull out of Rwanda. The prophecy went on to predict that Tutsi blood would then flow freely, and that all Tutsis would be tortured to death and exterminated. This scenario would later become reality.

A central piece of Kangura's propaganda was the Hutus' Ten Commandments, a compendium of discriminatory behaviour against Tutsis. Tutsis were invariably portrayed as the enemy, as evil and dishonest, and Tutsi women were said to be enemy agents. The imperative style employed in Kangura's articles unequivocally called upon the Hutus to take action against the Tutsis.

In one of its issues, Kangura rhetorically asked which weapons Hutus should use to conquer the Inyenzi once and for all. Accompanying the article was a drawing of a machete. This was perhaps the most graphic expression of the paper's genocidal intent. Many Tutsis were killed when Kangura published lists of people whom it referred to as Inkotanyi, asking readers to send information on those mentioned in the lists.

The ICTR Judgement and Direct and Public Incitement to Commit Genocide

The Media trial before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) raised important legal principles regarding the role of the media, which had not been addressed at the level of international criminal justice since Nuremberg. The ICTR investigated the accountability of those who directly and publicly incited Rwanda's Hutu population to commit genocide, but it also looked at those who controlled such media.

The ICTR found that Kangura and RTLMC made the same propaganda endeavor, conveyed the same message, and publicly promoted each other. Kangura openly identified itself with RTLMC and worked with the radio to acquaint the station's listeners with its ideas. Barayagwiza served as the link between the two media outlets. The accused once made a public appearance together at a stadium in Kigali. There they urged the crowd to listen to RTLMC and pleaded that the radio should be used to disseminate the Hutus' empowerment ideas and to fight against the Inyenzi. RTLMC broadcast many of the speeches given during that public appearance. The ICTR found that the meeting and the RTLMC report on it generated an atmosphere of hostility toward the Tutsis.

The power of the media to create and destroy human rights implies a very high degree of responsibility. For the ICTR, those who control media such as Kangura and RTLMC are accountable for the consequences of their programs. As two of the RTLMC Steering Committee's most active members, Nahimana and Barayagwiza were deemed responsible for the radio's overall management. Nahimana and Barayagwiza had the power to stop transmissions and change the content of the programs, but they did not exercise that power. In fact, Nahimana was happy that RTLMC had been instrumental in "raising awareness," that it was effective in the incitement to violence.

In the Media trial, Nahimana and Barayagwiza were indicted for their role at RTLMC, whereas Ngeze's indictment was mainly with his work at Kangura. All were found guilty of genocide and of direct and public incitement to commit genocide. The ICTR found that the writings of Kangura and the broadcasts of RTLMC constituted conclusive evidence of the genocidal intent of the accused. For the tribunal, genocide is a crime so serious that direct and public incitement to engage in it must be punished, even in cases where such incitement fails to produce the desired result. The mere potential of the communications media to cause genocide is enough to turn it into incitement. The ICTR recognized that the death of President Habyarimana was the trigger that precipitated the killings, but it viewed the work of the RTLMC and Kangura as the bullets in the gun. The ICTR also held that there was a causal connection between the broadcast of the names of Tutsis who were subsequently killed.

The ICTR also found Barayagwiza and Nahimana guilty of superior responsibility. This was an historic development in international criminal justice. The ICTR found that their roles in controlling RTLMC's programming, and their failure to take the necessary measures to prevent the killings instigated by RTLMC, as further elements of their guilt. The tribunal thus recognised a positive obligation to prevent direct and public incitement to commit genocide.

SEE ALSO Incitement; International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda; Propaganda; Radio


Des Forges, Alison (1999). Leave None to Tell the Story. New York: Human Rights Watch.

Hatzfeld, Jean (2003). Une Saison de Machettes. Paris: Seuil.

Schabas, William A. (2000). Genocide in International Law. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Martin Imbleau