After 26 years on the run, Felicien Kabuga – the man accused of being one of the key figures behind Rwanda’s genocide – was arrested in Paris on May 16, 2020. A French court has ruled that he will be sent to Arusha, Tanzania to be tried in the United Nations’ International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. He has been indicted on two counts of crimes against humanity and seven counts of genocide, including “the direct and public incitement to commit genocide”. That count relates to his part in setting up and funding Radio Mille Collines, or RTLM, Rwanda’s infamous radio station that played a key role in the genocide.
RTLM started broadcasting in August 1993. As president of the station, Kabuga oversaw RTLM’s editorial agenda – an agenda that, from the outset, called for Rwanda’s majority Hutu population to “exterminate” the minority Tutsis.
“It was a radio station run by genocide ideologues and all day long it was used to insult and demonise Tutsis, to say that they were a cancer,” recalls Jean-Pierre Sagahutu, a Tutsi who told The Listening Post’s Nicholas Muirhead that he survived the genocide by hiding in a septic tank for two months and 15 days.
From the outset, one of RTLM’s key objectives was to radicalise the Hutu youth – they would come to be relied upon to carry out most of the killings. As a new station on the Rwandan airwaves, RTLM needed to recruit listeners and the strategy Kabuga and his co-founders put in place was to play popular music to attract the young. The songs would then be interspersed with hate messages about the Tutsis.
Tom Ndahiro is a Rwandan academic and expert on the genocide. He says that the music – which often contained lyrics of Hutu extremism – served a dual purpose because when the killings began, RTLM would continue playing the songs as a way of alleviating the perpetrators’ guilt.
“It’s evil genius, how do you entertain killers as a way of taking away the guilt? This is what RTLM did,” says Ndahiro.
RTLM also helped to coordinate the killings. Catherine Bond was one of the few international journalists in Rwanda during the early stages of the genocide. After joining a convoy of French troops travelling into the centre of Kigali, she witnessed groups of Rwandans lining the streets. They had been called out of their houses by RTLM to greet the French troops – but it was all a ploy.
“People had come out of their houses who were Tutsis in hiding,” remembers Bond, “and the Hutu militiamen had been able to identify them and had moved in and killed them.”
The genocide lasted 100 days, claiming the lives of nearly one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Kabuga, along with many of the perpetrators, was able to flee Rwanda. He managed to disappear from public life, however his legacy – and the legacy of RTLM – would spread across the region. Multiple governments have since raised the spectre of Rwanda – and the hate messages broadcast on Radio Mille Collines – as justification to clamp down on media freedom in their own countries.
History has already judged Felicien Kabuga. Now the courts will do the same.
Jean-Pierre Sagahutu – Genocide survivor
Catherine Bond – Former journalist
Tom Ndahiro – Genocide scholar
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