Media watchdogs in a post-genocide Rwanda: A Caveat

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By Tom Ndahiro[1]

In post-genocide Rwanda, hate propaganda remains rife. The only difference between now and pre-July 1994, is that the genocidaires are not in power. The internet has empowered bigots and increased the anonymous sources of deleterious discourse.  Before and slightly after the genocide Rwandans only received information through print media and radios. At that time there were only three local radios broadcasting in Kinyarwanda. Today, they have more channels of media mass communication.

Extremists of all sorts were behind the creation of hate media in Rwanda as a cog in the wheel of genocidal machinery. What these bigots perceived as a democratic movement was, in actual fact, machetocratic.[2] The fringe group remains active world-wide, just with different names, and more support from non-Rwandan individuals and institutions.

There is a lesson unlearned, and the same international community which decided to abandon Rwanda facilitates these hate mongers instead of pinning them down.

On May 14, 2010, Britain experienced the effect of dripping venom media. Former Labour Minister Stephen Timms was stabbed twice in the stomach by a young student Roshonara Choudhry. Investigations established that she had been influenced by the online sermons of US-born Anwar al-Awlaki. Watching these sermons on You Tube turned Roshonara into an al-Qaeda fanatic, and motivated her to commit a political assassination attempt.

The British government didn’t take the You Tube videos lightly. Baroness Neville-Jones, the Security Minister, called the White House asking President Barack Obama’s administration to “take down this hateful material” in cases where servers were based in the US.

Her views were made clear in The Daily Telegraph: “When you have incitement to murder, when you have people actively calling for the killing of their fellow citizens and when you have the means to stop that person doing so, then I believe we should act.

“Those websites would categorically not be allowed in the UK.

“They incite cold-blooded murder and as such are surely contrary to the public good.

“If they were hosted in the UK then we would take them down but this is a global problem. Many of these websites are hosted in America and we look forward to working even more closely with you to take down this hateful material.”

Lady Neville-Jones spoke like a proficient media watchdog. She didn’t do it as the boss of her country’s “Media High Council” but as the one responsible for her country’s security. Insecurity, from anywhere, deserves vigilance and prompt action. Logically, for her, the security of British people and interests is not negotiable. British concerns were heard and by early November, some materials of al-Awlaki could not be accessed on You Tube. All hate stuff hasn’t gone, but the message is clear.

I wish Rwanda’s minister in-charge of security or defence or the Media High Council could have that influence on the world powers.

They would address of the fact that there are racist individuals and associations that deny that there was genocide of the Tutsis, and yet they still have the right to speak on the airwaves of the BBC and VOA as Baroness Jones.

They would ensure that “opinions” that the genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda was a necessary political undertaking are not allowed on radios and the internet.

They would also make the world aware that the perpetrators of the genocide in Rwanda have successfully used and manipulated the press, especially international radio stations, to propagate their genocidal ideas, just as they planned.

Media watchdogs would constantly remind media houses that denial of genocide constitutes a reprehensible criminal act, and is not a protected freedom of expression.

Genocide deniers and ideologues have a language to suit their heinous schemes. There has to be someone to decipher and demand for sanity.

The European Union has come up with a compromise which does not make the continent undemocratic. Because of their memory of the past, and present experience, they felt it necessary to have uncompromising mechanisms.

On November 28, 2008, the European Union agreed on a “Council Framework Decision on combating certain forms of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law.”

Article 1 provides that:

“Each member state shall take the measures necessary to ensure that the following intentional conduct is punishable: (a) publicly inciting to violence or hatred directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin;…(c) publicly condoning, denying or grossly trivializing crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes as defined in Articles 6, 7, and 8 of the Statute of the International Criminal Court, directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin when the conduct is likely to incite to violence or hatred against such a group or member of such a group; (c) publicly condoning, denying or grossly trivializing the crimes defined in Article 6 of the charter of the International Military Tribunal appended to the London Agreement of 8 August 1945, directed against a group of persons or a member if such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin when the conduct is carried out in such a manner likely to incite to violence or hatred against such a group or a member of such a group.”

Article 3 provides that:

“Each member state will take the necessary measures to ensure that the conduct referred to in Article 1 is punishable by criminal penalties of a maximum of at least between 1 and 3 years of imprisonment.”

Whereas Rwanda is told to accommodate or show respect to machetocracy as democracy, Europe is not forced to admire Hitler and Nazis.

Many journalists and editors wrongly protect Tutsi genocide denial, in the name of protecting freedom of expression, as a necessity in balanced reporting. True, a democratic society without freedom of opinion and independent press is a sham. But racism, including genocide denial, is not a valid opinion. It is aggression.

Watchdogs need laws to take care of this problem. There are people and organizations who oppose laws against genocide denial and ideology in Rwanda. For example, criticizing Rwandan law against genocide ideology and denial, Carina Tertsakian of Human Rights Watch has protested that “the genocide and the events that surrounded it can be used as an excuse to suppress criticism and dissent.”

But Robert Kahn, in his book “Holocaust Denial and the Law” asks a pertinent question: “How does one oppose a law targeting denial of an ‘odious’ crime, without becoming ‘odious’ oneself?”

The genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda was not a spontaneous action hatched up at a moment’s notice by men and women in the blind grip of unreasoning hatred. It was an idea, an ideology, a plan, and an intention — and it was meant to create a new Rwandan world cleansed permanently of Tutsis. To deny the genocide is to maintain the life of this idea, and to give it life that might mean the killing of many more thousands in the future.

To paraphrase the Holocaust historian Robert Jan van Pelt, those who ignore deniers are like the crew of the Titanic straightening the deck chairs while the ship is going down.

Notes

[1] National Dialogue On Media Development–Kigali Serena, November 25-26, 2010

[2] I coined the term machetocracy/machetocratic from a noun “machete” a tool which was very much used to kill during the genocide.

Originally published in November 2010

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