Saturday, November 11, 2006

Incitement to Genocide

The Institute for War and Peace Reporting brings word that a Rwandan songwriter is on trial for helping incite that country's horrific 1994 genocide through his lyrics:

Simon Bikindi, a 52-year-old Hutu, famous in African for his development of a unique ballet company, has gone on trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, ICTR, in the northern Tanzania town of Arusha, for inciting mass murder through song during Rwanda's 1994 genocide.

He faces six charges, including genocide directed against the country’s Tutsi people.


Bikindi - the founder of the Irindiro Ballet, a company renowned for its blend of traditional music and dance - is alleged also to have worked with Habyarimanja and Nzabonimana in composing lyrics to songs urging Hutus to kill Tutsis and Hutus who sympathised with Tutus, so-called moderate Hutus. The songs were played many times a day over the radio station Radio Télévision Libre de Mille Collines and over a public address system as Bikindi drove around in his vehicle in Gisenyi.

According to a report by the Hirondelle news agency, which reports extensively on Rwandan affairs, Bikindi incited the Hutu population with the words, “The majority population, it’s you, the Hutu. I am talking to. You know the minority population is the Tutsi. Exterminate quickly the remaining ones.”

Bikindi’s trial resumed in September this year. A witness, a former member of the Interahamwe, identified only as “AHB”, told the tribunal that Bikindi had performed in an Interahamwe uniform before at least one meeting of the former ruling party. AHB, serving a life sentence for his role in the genocide, said that although Bikindi’s songs were full of allusions their meaning was clear to any Rwandan - that Tutsis should be slaughtered.

Bikindi’s lawyers argue that the trial is an infringement of his rights of freedom of speech and expression and a denial of his artistic liberty. But prosecutor Hassan Bubacar Jallow told the tribunal that Bikindi used his artistic talent for criminal ends.

(Emphasis added-DD)

The article discusses at length the issues of free expression raised by this prosecution, and is well worth reading. While I fully understand the "slippery slope" concerns about this case, this is one instance where speech should not be protected. If the charges are true, Bikindi was not expressing a personal opinion, no matter how offensive: he was openly and knowingly inciting people to commit mass murder. This is one form of expression that cannot be tolerated.


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