Hate Speech in Rwanda: The Road to Genocide

By Schabas, William A. | McGill Law Journal, November 2000 | Go to article overview

Hate Speech in Rwanda: The Road to Genocide


Schabas, William A., McGill Law Journal


The author outlines the steps leading to the Rwandan genocide, tracing the importance of hate speech, disseminated in print and by radio, in preparing Rwanda's "willing executioners". Action ought to have been taken much sooner than it was to prevent incitement to genocide, a crime under the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The author traces the drafting history of the convention, including opposition by the United States to the criminalization of direct and public incitement to genocide, motivated by concerns to protect freedom of the press. The author notes that other international instruments also contemplate prosecution for incitement. He discusses the judicial interpretation of the Genocide Convention and the meaning of "'direct" and "public". While the Genocide Convention criminalizes incitement to commit genocide, its blind spot is that it fails to address hate propaganda, a prior and important step in the genocidal food chain. Other instruments of international human rights law, however, have since filled the gap in the Genocide Convention. While the Genocide Convention was clearly intended to have two prongs, prevention and punishment, it says little about the former. This is regrettable, as the early stages of genocide consist of propaganda against the targeted group.

L'auteur presente un resume des etapes ayant mene au genocide rwandais. En ce faisant, il porte une attention particuliere au role de la propagande haineuse, disseminee par l'entremise de la radio et de diverses publications, dans la preparation des <> qui l'ont mene a bien. Il conclut que des actions visant a prevenir le genocide, qui constitue un crime au sens de la Convention pour la prevention et la repression du crime de genocide, auraient du etre prises bien plus tot. Les travaux preparatoires de la Convention revelent que, par exemple, la preoccupation par les Etats-Unis de proteger la liberte de presse a mene ce pays a s'opposer a la criminalisation de l'incitation publique et directe au genocide, alors que d'autres instruments juridiques internationaux prevoient la possibilite de poursuites pour incitation. L'auteur trace egalement les grandes lignes de l'interpretation judiciaire de la Convention, en particulier en ce qui concerne la signification des termes <> et <>. Bien que la Convention criminalise l'incitation au genocide, l'absence de mesures contre la propagande haineuse, une etape prealable et importante dans la chaine des evenements menant au genocide, constitue son point faible. Cette lacune a ete comblee par d'autres instruments internationaux relatifs aux droits de l'homme. Il reste toutefois que la Convention, qui devait a l'origine assurer a la fois la prevention et la repression du genocide, n'assure pas adequatement l'atteinte de ce premier objectif. C'est la une conclusion regrettable, car la premiere etape a franchir sur le chemin du genocide consiste en une propagande efficace a l'encontre du groupe vise.

Introduction

I. Preparing Rwanda's "Willing Executioners"

II. Application of the Genocide Convention

A. Drafting History

B. Incitement in Other Instruments

C. Judicial Interpretation

D. Meaning of "Direct" and "Public"

E. The Genocide Convention's Blind Spot: Hate Propaganda

Conclusion

Introduction

In January 1993 I participated in an international human rights fact-finding mission to Rwanda, organized by four prominent international non-governmental organizations ("NGO's"). We arrived in the midst of a civil war that had been going on sporadically since Tutsi refugees from Uganda invaded the country in October 1990. Our mission focussed on verifying widespread reports from national NGOs about atrocities perpetrated by the regime, crimes carried out mainly by the racist Interahamwe militia, which was directed by the ruling party.

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