Reporting Justice

II/7: Case Study – Rwanda

II/7: Case Study – Rwanda



Genocide, incitement to commit genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, crimes against humanity, role of the media


The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), which has been dealing with the main perpetrators of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, has played a key role in elaborating on the law in relation to media and genocide.

In November 2007 the court upheld the convictions of Hassan Ngeze and Ferdinand Nahimana  for Direct and Public Incitement to Commit Genocide.

Ferdinand Nahimana, was once the director of ORINFOR and founded of Radio-Television Libres des Mille Collines (RTLM), an independent private radio station. He was a highly regarded academic as a professor of history at the National University of Rwanda. The ICTR judges said:

He was fully aware of the power of words, and he used the radio – the medium of communication with the widest public reach – to disseminate hatred and violence. He was motivated by his sense of patriotism and the need he perceived for equity for the Hutu population. But instead of following legitimate avenues of recourse, he chose a path of genocide. In doing so, he betrayed the trust placed in him as an intellectual and as a leader. Without a firearm, machete or any physical weapon, he caused the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians. (pp. 358-359)

Hassan Ngeze, was the owner and editor of a newspaper, Kangura. The judges said:

Hassan Ngeze, as owner and editor of a well-known newspaper in Rwanda, was in a position to inform the public and shape public opinion towards achieving democracy and peace for all Rwandans. Instead of using the media to promote human rights, he used it to attack and destroy human rights. He has had significant media networking skills and attracted support earlier in his career from international human rights organizations who perceived his commitment to freedom of expression. However, Ngeze did not respect the responsibility that comes with that freedom. He abused the trust of the public by using his newspaper to instigate genocide [...] The Chamber notes that Ngeze saved Tutsi civilians from death by transporting them across the border out of Rwanda. His power to save was more than matched by his power to kill. He poisoned the minds of his readers, and by words and deeds caused the death of thousands of innocent civilians. (pp.359)


Incitement to commit genocide: “Direct and public incitement to commit genocide” is a punishable offence even if no act of genocide results from it. Direct and public incitement is completed as soon as the words in question are uttered, published or broadcast. In convicting Ngeze and Nahimana, the court had found that it was necessary to consider the potential impact of words in their particular context in order to determine whether those words constituted direct and public incitement to genocide.

Superior-control responsibility in incitement to commit genocide: The court also found that Nahimana had not taken reasonable and necessary steps to prevent or punish incitement by RTLM staff to kill Tutsi.

Crimes against humanity: The court found that the RTLM broadcasts substantially contributed to the killings of large numbers of Tutsi and therefore contributed substantially to the extermination of Tutsi.

JOURNALISM: KEY QUESTIONS AND ISSUES (ethical, professional, moral)

 (a)   Why is it important for journalists to be independent when covering conflict?

(b)    What journalistic norms are particularly critical when covering conflict?

(c)   What legal provisions are necessary to enable journalists cover conflicts constructively?

(d)    What legal safeguards are necessary to prevent the media from fueling conflicts?

(e)   What considerations should journalists take into account when covering conflicts in foreign countries?

(f)   What specific actions of incitement by the media do the ICTR cases point out?

(g)     What do theory and research suggest about media effects or the power of the media to influence people’s perceptions and behavior?


On this case:

ICTR Trial Chamber Decision Case No. ICTR-99-52-T of 3 December 2003, available at

ICTR Appeal Chamber Decision Case No. ICTR-99-52-A of 28 November 2007, available at

Orentlicher, D.F. Criminalizing Hate Speech: A Comment on the ICTR’s Judgment in the Prosecutor v. Nahimana, et al available at

PBS Frontline’s Ghosts of Rwanda, available at

Allan Thompson and Kofi Annan, The Media and the Rwanda Genocide, which is available on Amazon (

Keith Somerville Despite Radio Propaganda, Hate Braodcasting and Africa:from Rwandan Genocide to Kenyan post-election-violence,  available via and launched here on African Arguments.

On the Media’s Role:

White, A. (2008). “Journalism in the Face of Intolerance and Racism” pp. 94-104, in To Tell You the Truth: The Ethical Journalism Initiative. Brussels: International Federation of Journalists. available at

G. W. Lugalambi (2001). “The Role of Mass Communications in Preventing Conflict” pp. 89-102, in E. Sidiropoulos (ed.) A Continent Apart: Kosovo, Africa and Humanitarian Intervention. Johannesburg: The South African Institute of International Affairs.

G. W. Lugalambi (2003). “Media, Peace-building, and the Culture of Violence” pp. 103-119, in A. E. Mbaine (ed.) Media in Situations of Conflict: Roles, Challenges, and Responsibility. Kampala: Fountain Publishers.