Panel 2: Journalism
as Genocide: The Media Trial
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BBC journalist in Kigali. Former Radio Rwanda journalist
Thomas Kamilindi: Good
morning. I' ve been a journalist for 20 years.
I' ve always worked in Rwanda before the genocide, during
the genocide I couldn' t, but then afterwards I continued,
and I' m still continuing today. So my first question
that I could ask you, and ask you yourselves to ask, should
the journalists themselves be put on trial? Should they
be judged? My answer is yes, and that' s why I did,
in fact, testify before the International Criminal Tribunal
for the prosecution, and I testified against the person, who
was the director of Rwanda Information Office, which was,
and still is, the governmental press organization, which comprises
media, radio, television, etc., because I consider that the
journalists are citizens like any other member of the public,
therefore they can be found guilty like anybody else, but
also because I consider that the journalists have a major
role to play for the good of society, and not for the problems
of society, but problems were created in my society.
Evil also did take place and the media played an important
role in this.
So I' d like to give you the background
really of the press in Rwanda, place it in context, because
when we talk about the press, people in the west think perhaps
that it' s like it is in the western world. That' s
not the case. The press in Rwanda has existed since
1933. That was the year when the first newspaper was
created. It is a newspaper, which still exists of the
Catholic Church, and still exists today. The Catholic
Church is very important in my country. And then in
the '60s, a government newspaper was set up, both written
in my mother tongue, in the native language of Rwanda, and
that' s all. There were other attempts also to create
newspapers, but in fact they didn' t lead anywhere, and in
1991 to explain what happened, there was an explosion if you
will, a democratic explosion. There was a boom, and
a large number of newspapers were created, but radio remained
just a single single, which had been created in 1961.
It remained unique, and it belonged to the government.
So it was the voice of the authorities, and the authorities
are respected in my country, and what the radio states, and
the way people were educated and brought up in my country,
what' s stated on the radio is taken as word of gospel.
In 1993, RTLM was born. It was created by people, who
were in power, in fact, because the national radio, which
was a single, unique radio station did not really belong to
the people in power, because I have to say we weren' t very
free. So we contacted a strike, and I myself, I' m not
boasting here, but the fact is I lead the strike. The
strike was conducted to protest against the lack of independence.
So professionally we wanted to report the facts as they actually
took place, so that' s why we called the strike. In
1992, the first television station emerged. It' s the
only one. It also belongs to the government. Therefore
there' s no pluralism there, as you would find in the west.
So that gives you some background of the
press in Rwanda. Maybe this explains a few things to
you. We' re talking about Kangura, we' re talking about
RTLM. So the second question I' d like to ask you now,
well it' s a challenge really for you. Should the journalists,
should they have worked, or could they have worked actually
at the time, yes or no? They had to, but not to fight.
Because the press is not there to fight, but rather to correct
things, to actually state the real situation, because there
was so much propaganda then, and people, in fact, they received
so much hate messages. You can' t imagine it.
For example, me. I' m here in front of you today. I
have a daughter. She' s 12 ½ now. She was
very small at the time. One day somebody said, "
that one is a snake. They have to kill her."
She still wasn' t even three years of age at the time.
She said to me, " Daddy, am I a snake? Am I really
a snake? RTLM said I was snake a thousand times.
Kangura wrote that I was a snake." Is that the
role of the press? Is that the role of the media to
harm people? You can either harm people or you can do
good, that' s a choice. So it was possible to work at
the time, but the person who could work, the only people who
could work were the people in the camp of the killers.
The " good guys" of the epoch. That' s why
I wasn' t able to work. I wasn' t in their camp, but
I' m a radio journalist so I did still work.
There are a thousand ways in which you
can work. When I was a refugee in the Hotel des Milles
Collines, Francois-Xavier was there also, and he was a witness.
So I asked the people, " what are you doing so the people
could know that you' re here?" And they said,
" we' re not doing anything." So I contacted
a certain number of refugees like myself, and we had Francois-Xavier,
who was a human rights activist, and had a lot of fax numbers,
telephone numbers, all sorts of contacts. So we sent
faxes and faxes, one on top of the other when the telephone
worked. So therefore we informed the world of what was
happening. In the Hotel des Milles Collines, I trained
the refugees to become journalists, even though we couldn'
t speak. We could only speak through this way, but we
did act. We did something.
Well 10 minutes is not a lot of time to
tell you everything I want to tell you, so I' m going to jump
over a lot of things. So should the journalists be placed
on trial? Should they be judged? I think they
should for the harm that they' ve done, and I' m proud that
it' s ICTR, without wanting to offend Mr. Biju Duval, Mr.
Nahimana was condemned to prison for life. If he hadn'
t been convicted, then I myself would have concluded there
was no justice. And if he' s acquitted in appeal, I
will state that. We have to be responsible for our acts.
If I do some harm to somebody, then I have to answer for this.
If I write something bad about somebody, I have to be responsible
for that. You can all become journalists. So think
about it, think about it carefully.
We talked about the role of the international
media, and the international media weren' t there. On
April 12, 1994, all the foreigners were evacuated. All
international public servants, all cooperants, including the
journalists, they were all evacuated. The genocide took
place over one or two weeks, nobody knew anything about it.
It was in secrecy, and you need a few courageous people to
come to the country, a country which didn' t exist.
There was no structure left. You can' t imagine what
it was like. So the people would have to start to know,
but it was too late then. Thousands and thousands of
people are being killed, and if the press had been there,
then maybe the harm would have been less. On April 26,
the telephones were being interrupted, and then they were
restored, and I called some friends at Radio France International
in Paris, and I said, " we' re still alive," and
they said, " we have no news, what' s going on?
Can we have an interview with you? Can you explain to
us what' s going on?" and I said, " yes" .
So they asked me how we were living, how many of us were there.
There were about 700 refugees there, and we were drinking
water from the swimming pool in which the military were supposed
to look after, where they actually did the washing of their
clothes, and they transformed therefore the trend, and in
fact, they used it as a washroom, and we had to drink that
water without being able to boil it. And so they asked
me, " what' s going on in military terms?"
Well the government forces, I explained, are in fact, losing
ground. There are defeats everywhere. I got this
information from friends, and the massacres, and I explained
to them, you can' t describe it. It' s indescribable.
There are no terms for it. So the interview was broadcast,
and the army decided therefore to bomb the hotel. That'
s what I was told. But the people there stopped me from
going out. Because I wanted to go out, I was the source
of the problem, maybe they wouldn' t kill the others.
If I were to be killed, maybe the others wouldn' t be bombed.
So I had to conclude therefore that the government army didn'
t want this to be known. And therefore if the press
had played it' s role, I think therefore that things wouldn'
t have happened that way. So justice is necessary, even
for the press, even for the journalists. Thank you for
your attention. Thank you.