4: Preventing Genocide: the International Architecture of
Media and Humanitarian Intervention
Dahinden, Hirondelle Foundation, which operates media services
in crisis areas
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General Dallaire: Well
done. Thank you very much, and now from the Hirondelle Foundation,
Philippe Dahinden, a foundation that I have found exceptionally
useful in my involvement with the International Tribunal.
Philippe Dahinden: Thank
you. Hello. I am a journalist, and I am very pleased to be
able to speak to you today, to speak to so many future young
colleagues. In an interview one day, a musician, an African
artist said to me, “the words can save people just as
they can kill people.” That was stated by Baba Maal,
the singer from Senegal. Why is that? Well, in May 1994, I
spent two weeks in Rwanda as a reporter for Swiss Television
like my colleagues earlier. Where as you know, at the time
the genocide was taking place. I already knew the country.
I knew also the media of hate. It was after the evacuation
of foreigners, we were the first, with my cameraman to go
as far as Kigali from the south through Butare. We saw a lot,
a lot of corpses, too many. That’s not what I want to
talk to you about today. In fact, when I was there, I was
able to realize how information, or rather disinformation,
propaganda, how they could actually kill, in a sense, civilians.
At every roadblock set up by the militia, the Interehamwe,
I could hear the radio, the radio RTLM which was designating
the targets to be hit. I could also see that hundreds of thousands
of civilians were fleeing, or waiting for the violence to
stop. But these civilians had no information at all. All they
could rely on were rumors, or the orders of the extremists.
And when I sent back to Europe, together with other journalists,
I thought that we journalists, we couldn’t just remain
impotent looking at this. We did our job as well as we could
informing the rest of the world, but these people, the victims
of the events, who didn’t see our reports, they also
deserved information. That’s a right, which is as vital
as the right to food, or the medial care. They have a right
to know. They have the right not to just receive rumors, propaganda,
incitemtent to violence. In other words, they deserve not
to be treated as sub-humans. It’s really a question
of human dignity. So this fundamental right to be informed
is what justified our profession, as journalists and the press
this is what we demand. So the Rwandan journalists really
couldn’t do that. The few professionals, who survived
such as Thomas, who were themselves in the massacres, they
couldn’t do their work. Therefore we decided without
the journalists from Europe to actually go there to help our
colleagues in Rwanda in order to meet this urgent need for
information by creating an independent media.
In fact, by putting up a radio station,
because there was no radio station there, we thought we would
be able to reach out to many people. This radio was Radio
Agatashya. Initially, it was designed to counter the hate
media, but also to address the population in distress, people
escaping genocide, people who were displaced refugees. From
the beginning, the mission of the radio station was to give
independent audited news. Despite the end of the war and the
genocides, the aim was to try and calm hatred, to reduce tension
when all this went on, the area you know was still inflamed,
and when there was such strong enmity between the groups.
So we were able to discover in a zone of conflict how important
it was to disseminate information on the spot, to have a media
close by in local languages, offered by local journalists.
Some time later, we set up the Hirondelle Foundation. This
lead to other radio stations around the world: Liberia, Kosovo,
Central Africa, Timor, and the Democratic Republic of the
Congo. You know, information is a weapon, which can kill people
when it’s manipulated. It’s a major issue in conflict,
and totalitarian regimes, such as the belligerents themselves
try to control information as much as possible. We’re
sure they can also be an instrument of peace in order to counter
propaganda, in order to counter the incitement of violence,
and therefore to help to resolve or prevent conflict.
So I’d like to talk a little bit
more about Radio Agatashya. It was set up Bukavu, and could
be picked up by millions of listeners. It quickly became a
regional station in Burundi and Rwanda, but it had to stop
two years later because of the war, which was to lead to the
overthrow of Mobutu. At that time, they had a correspondent’s
office, where the international criminal court set up in Arusha.
They were able to continue their work to begin the independent
agency for Rwandan press, which covered the trial everyday.
Now, as regards the impact of such a radio,
I’d just like to give you one specific example. When
the war, conducted by Kabila and his allies reached Bukavu,
where our radio station was, we described as clearly as possible
how the fighting was going. This information was really a
bull walk against rumor and panic, particularly when rebel
propaganda and falsely or inaccurately announced the presence
of soldiers at the gates of the city. The local appeals for
calm were sent out by people who were respected, such as the
Bishop, the Arch Bishop, and they contributed to reduce tension
within the population, and the hostility towards certain groups,
who were considered scapegoats, and this didn’t stop
the conflict going on, but the radio nevertheless did spare
lives, and did avoid further suffering.
As regards genocide and it’s consequences,
this is the editorial line we took on information. We gave
priority to the right against impunity, and we focused on
the need for justice explaining, for example, in local languages
what was the role of the International Tribunal, what in fact,
was meant by legal concepts, because these weren’t known
in Rwanda when we talk about things like genocide, or crimes
against humanity. As a result, we were able to counter the
propaganda of extremists in the camps, who wanted to deny
the genocide had taken place. We explained if somebody had
been convicted of genocide, this means also that all his descendents
would also be banished for life or forever and ever from society.
So we explained to these people in simple terms in the local
language that responsibility here was individual, not passed
on to the descendants. Also we allowed people who escaped
to speak also on the radio to explain their reality.
So in summary, this is how the Hirondelle
Foundation saw it’s role in this crisis area, and the
role which can be played by what I refer to as peace media,
but on their own, of course, they could never stop a conflict.
They could never bring a halt to violence. So there’s
two possible approaches: the one is to broadcast programs
advocating peace, for example, theatrical plays on radio showing
opposite groups, but actually revealing the differences between
the various groups are not that great. The other approach
is to offer listeners a credible medium, which reflects as
faithfully as possible the reality so as to cut the feet out
from propaganda. This is the approach we preferred despite
the problems. So we have to try and create a media in a crisis
area as if it was in a stable area, with the same rules, the
same techniques, and really the main point here, the leading
point if you will, is the news, of course, has to be credible.
This has to be professional, rigorous, independent, then radio
becomes a wonderful instrument against hatred.
If you break this down, and I’ll
try and do this. If you look at the actual mechanism of incitement
to violence, what they try and do is push people towards violence.
Propaganda takes a real fact, an actual fact, then distorts
it. People exaggerate it. They give it a different interpretation.
So this will provoke an emotional reaction by the person who
hears this, because they’ll want vengeance. I’ll
give you an example in Burundi, and I learned this also, I
mentioned this also in my report, The Massacre of the False
Innocents. The information goes around in Burundi and the
rebel attack within the city, a hundred Tutsi students were
killed, and this represents a future generation. So in Bujumbura,
this leads to enormous emotion. Everybody says this, the observers
and the military, so therefore we went there. We conducted
reports. People refused to talk, and one of our journalists
there had somebody speak, and he told us the reality there
is that, in fact, it was the students themselves, after a
rebel attack, who went actually and massacred the peasants.
So it was the exact opposite of what was reported.
So that’s why we call it a massacre.
There was a false innocence. So if anyone wants to have more
information about that, there are as a matter of fact, other
journalists here today who were present for that inquiry.
So given the facts, all the facts, and nothing but the facts,
then we could re-establish the real truth, and sometimes,
hopefully, really stop propaganda from working.
So I’d like to add a few other points
before I conclude. Most often our radio reports are joint,
if you will. They’re joint reports from opposite groups,
from Hutus and Tutsis, or from Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo.
It’s hard, but good results come from this. It’s
not just a symbol. It’s a way of restoring communication
between opponents, and editorial line reflects our mission,
dictating the hierarchy of information. We give a priority,
for example, to the peace process, to security, to human rights.
And one of our concerns in this symposium is local media.
And our projects can open the way up for local media. We can
use than they can broadcast, otherwise they’d expose
themselves to risk. So we give them an opening. So as I said
at the beginning, the populations or the victims of conflicts
really have their dignity rejected. So they see a program,
which is intended for them, dedicated to them as a mark of
respect, of recognition. It’s a way of restoring for
them the only thing that they have, which they can’t
take from them, namely their personal dignity.
And in conclusion, I’d like to quote
my colleague Jean-Marie Etter, president of the Hirondelle
Foundation, he said, “information really is a way of
restoring responsibility and the dignity of our listeners.
A radio of peace is also a radio which tries to give to people,
who have been victims of war, or abuse of power, to give them
some control over their own destiny.” Thank you.