Field Notes: International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda v. Ruggiu, Nahimana and Barayagqwiza

Illustrating How a Perpetrator Can Commit a Crime

RTLM founder, Ferndinand Nahimana
RTLM founder, Ferndinand Nahimana


Tribunal: International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR)
What Crimes: Genocide
Who: Georges Ruggiu, Presenter on Radio Télévison Libre des Milles Collines (RTLM), Ferdinand Nahimana, Co-founder of RTLM, Jean-Bosco Barayagqwiza, Co-founder of RTLM
How: Incitement


Founded in 1993 and owned by family members and friends of the then President of Rwanda, Juvénal Habyarimana, Radio Télévison Libre des Milles Collines (RTLM) was known for having the best disc jockeys in Rwanda. Its popular mix of African music, news programming, and political analysis made it one of Rwanda’s most popular radio stations.

On April 6, 1994, President Habyarimana’s plane was downed by a missile. President Habyarimana was a Hutu, the ethnic majority in Rwanda, and the attack caused the already high tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups to boil over. Government-aligned Hutus used the attack to incite a violent campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Tutsi minority. In particular, this incident triggered RTLM journalists to encourage fellow Hutus to kill their Tutsi neighbors. Over the airwaves, RTLM journalists made the following calls — and many more — to their listeners:

You have to kill [the Tutsis], they are cockroaches…”

“All those who are listening to us, arise so that we can all fight for our Rwanda…Fight with the weapons you have at your disposal, those of you who have arrows, with arrows, those of you who have spears with spears…Take your traditional tools…we must all fight [the Tutsis]; we must finish with them, exterminate them, sweep them from the whole country… There must be no refuge for them, none at all.”

“I do not know whether God will help us exterminate [the Tutsis]…but we must rise up to exterminate this race of bad people…They must be exterminated because there is no other way.”

“You have to work harder, the graves are not full.”

By July of 1994, up to 1,000,000 Rwandans — mostly Tutsis — had been executed. In 1995 the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) was established to prosecute those responsible for genocide and other serious violations of international law. RTLM’s executives and journalists were among the many individuals investigated and prosecuted for their role in the crimes.

Clearly, the audiotapes did not capture evidence of the actual killings, otherwise known as “crime-based evidence”. Instead the audiotapes pointed to “Who” should be held accountable for the crime of genocide, and “How” they participated in the crime — incitement in this case — so the lawyers could prove responsibility.

The Outcome

  • Georges Ruggiu, RTLM Presenter, was prosecuted and plead guilty to the crime of genocide by incitement. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
  • Ferdinand Nahimana and Jean-Bosco Barayagqwiza, co-founders of RTLM, were prosecuted and convicted for the crime of genocide by incitment. Nahimana received a 30-year sentence and Barayagqwiza received 35 years.

Take Home Points

  1. First, there are six general ways in which a person can commit a crime — incitement is only one of them. While footage showing the commission of crime itself is certainly valuable, you also need to prove the “How”. Don’t forget about this.
  2. Second, prosecutors in this example used audio — not video. Below are some ideas on how you could use video to show how someone committed a crime by incitement.Video clips of perpetrators calling upon others around them to take violent and illegal actions in settings such as:
    • public speeches
    • broadcast interviews
    • sermons to congregations
    • billboards
    • signs carried by protestors at rallies
    • protestors chants at rallies

Help WITNESS create more human rights change

Join us by subscribing to our newsletter.