U.N. vs. Hate Radio


"Hate Radio" wasn't just a derogatory term in pre-genocide Rwanda, but an actual station, along with "Radio Machete." A U.N. tribunal for Rwanda has convicted three men for their participation in these radio stations.

An exerpt from the Washington Times' account: "The 'media trials' marked the first time since Nuremburg that hate speech has been prosecuted as a war crime. It has been one of the most closely watched cases before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), seated in the northern Tanzanian city of Arusha.
'You were fully aware of the power of words, and you used the radio—the medium of communication with the widest public reach—to disseminate hatred and violence,' wrote presiding Judge Navanethem Pillay in sentencing to life in prison Ferdinand Nahimana, founder of Radio Television des Mille Collines.
'Without a firearm, machete or any physical weapon, you caused the death of thousands of innocent civilians.'

Further on in the story: "'This is the first time that journalists have been convicted for their participation in genocide, and I think it's a wake-up call to hatemongers everywhere that they can't incite people to commit genocide or ethnic cleansing,' said Reed Brody, legal counsel to Human Rights Watch. 'If you fan the flames, you'll have to face the consequences.'
Karin Karlekar, the managing editor of Freedom House's annual survey of press freedom, praised the convictions but warned that some governments might use the verdict as a justification to clamp down on media in their own countries.
'Rwanda has already begun doing it,' she said. 'These guys were way over the line, but it's the gray area [of public speech] that is endangered, especially in countries with racial or ethnic tension.'"

When mere verbal incitement leads to as much culpability as actually committing a crime is an interesting and complicated issue–and I lean toward a free-speech absolutism myself–but even those who agree with this particular verdict might be feeling a bit of that old-fashioned chill on the back of their necks about the implications of this decision.

NEXT: Mission Creeps

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  1. Usually I’m in the free-speech absolutist camp myself, but in this case the radio station did much more than practice good ‘ol free speech. The way I’d characterize it is that they helped incite and orchestrate mass murder. They weren’t merely reporting the news, they were taking an active role in the killing. When there’s a murderous mob roaming the streets, and you tell them exactly where to find their victims, you’re guilty of a horrible crime.

    But yeah, I do worry that this ruling will open the way for abuse of this principle.

  2. “Free speech” does not mean that there are never any legal consequences for what comes out of your mouth.

    Many, many crimes have verbal components, or are entirely verbal, including for example fraud, extortion, or any conspiracy.

    It seems to me that these radio stations crossed the line.

  3. “Their weapons: the government-sponsored radio station known as “Radio Machete” and “Hate Radio” and a weekly newspaper whose agenda was the extermination of the country’s Tutsi majority.”

    Government-sponsored….why is this even a free speech discussion? A state station calling for murder…by any right it should be shut down.

  4. No one would have called for Joseph Goebbels to be allowed to skip Nuremburg because he was just exercising his speech rights. The government disposed to use this verdict as an excuse to clamp down on speech could easily find other excuses if this one were unavailable.

    Free speech is a fine thing, an necessary condition of civilized society. But some societies aren’t civilized, and for speech rights as we know them to have meaning this has to change. In Germany this meant that the Nazis had to lose the war. God knows what it means in Rwanda, but I doubt this verdict can possibly make anything there worse than it is already.

  5. I’m pretty close to a free speech absolutist, but the idea that deliberately inciting genocide is just “speech” makes even me uncomfortable. If you’re in a theater full of people with gasoline cans and matches, yelling “let’s burn this place down” can be plausibly taken as evidence of criminal intent.

    Still, the following quote also makes me uneasy:
    ‘Without a firearm, machete or any physical weapon, you caused the death of thousands of innocent civilians.’

    That’s hard to do, unless the people with the actual firearms and machetes are under robot control.

  6. i get the feeling there are plenty of pubs n’ crats who would love to apply this standard to patriot act v3.0

  7. Here’s how an anarchist resolves the conundrum:
    1. Believe in vigilanteism.
    2. Believe legal laws–even First Amendments–are not mathematical laws.
    3. Believe messy justice is preferable to precise justice.
    4. Hire impartial juries who will not be swayed by “precedents.”

  8. This decision is *not* a new extension of war crimes law. Nazi propagandist Julius Streicher was convicted at Nuremburg for just this sort of thing.

  9. ‘Without a firearm, machete or any physical weapon, you caused the death of thousands of innocent civilians.’

    If you don’t buy this statement, then your would have to throw out most of the war crimes convictions, many organized crime convictions, many conspiracy convictions etc., and only punish the footsoldiers, not the generals who give the orders.

    Generals rarely if ever pull the trigger themselves, but would any of us say that, well, Ratko Mladic didn’t personally kill anyone in Serbia, let him walk?

  10. (First apply caveat that if my understanding of the particular facts of this case is erroneous then what I say below doesn’t apply.)

    I’m all for erring on the side of free speech when there is some doubt about whether somebody’s words were really part of a crime. But if somebody was on the radio rallying people to join the angry lynch mob, and was directing them to the location of their targets, there is no doubt to err on the side of. It’s pretty plain that it’s complicity in murder. I’ll let the lawyers sort out whether it’s “aiding and abetting” or “conspiracy to commit” or whatever, point is it’s participation in a murder.

    That said, I hope this precedent is applied with extreme caution. (Come to think of it, I hope all precedents are applied with extreme caution, to avoid bad decisions of any sort.)

  11. You know, just becasue you “hear” someone advocating an action by no means requires you to follow it. I got a feeling that ANY sort of inducement would have been enough to slaughter one another, those feeling were already there to begin with and nothing was going to change their minds.

    Like liberals who think that violence in media casuses murder, or conservative who believe that erotica causes “sexual deviance”, the UN through this ruling has bought into the notion that people are merely puppets who dance on someone’s strings.

  12. There goes the “sticks and stones may break my bones” argument you use on your kids.

  13. Michael Savage had best avoid the overseas travel, eh?

    PS I did cringe when the Savage idiot was calling for the good people of Alabama to ‘do something’ about the lawyer who brought the suit against Roy Moore. Even giving out the spelling of his name, and last known wherabouts. It is recklessness like that, which will lead to curtailment of speech in this country.

    When Francisco Duran (from right here in Colorado Springs) drove to the White House and blasted at with a rifle, there were many calling for the talk show he listened to here (Hottalk 1460’s “On the Carpet,” with Chuck Baker) to not only be shut down, but the show’s host be charged with “inciting violence.” Mr. Baker was no fan of Bill Clinton to say the least, but to blame him for that retard’s action is rediculous and dangerous. A chill indeed.

  14. >

    Well, as I recall, Goebbels got to skip Nuremburg because he had come within the jurisdiction of a higher tribunal, having committed suicide before the allies could catch him.

    The indictment and subsequent conviction and execution of Julius Streicher, on the other hand, makes me very uncomfortable. He doesn’t appear to have done anything like the Rwanda defendants, who appear to have been classic examples of accessories before the fact. Instead, Streicher simply published a rag telling the world how bad he thought Jews were. That is, he was calling on his readers to hate Jews, not to kill them. (He didn’t really need to incite them to genocide; the government was more than happy to carry out that program on their own, without any help from mobs of citizens stirred up by reading Der Stuermer.) But the Nuremburg tribunal seems to have found that good enough, and sent him to the gallows for nothing more than “hate speech” as we now understand the term. I’m sure the Soviet judges on the tribunal weren’t bothered by that, but the American and British judges should have been.

  15. Seamus makes some good points. I should point out that I am not necessarily defending the way the Nuremburg trials were handled, only that this recent application of war crimes law to hate speech is not really “new”.

  16. Mark S.-

    It all depends on the circumstances. I certainly don’t buy the notion that all media violence, or even all suggestions of violence, is the cause of real violence.

    But when an angry mob is killing people, the ringleaders should be punished, even if they themselves never lifted a knife or fired a gun. I believe that the concepts of “rule of law” and a “constitutional republic” were put in place to ward against mob rule and those who would incite mobs.

  17. Under First Amendment law, we’ve had the Brandenburg doctrine for a long time now. It says that speech isn’t protected if it is urging imminent violence. It’s kind of like the fighting words doctrine, applied to government action. It’s unclear if it’s still good case law, but I believe it would be upheld by most federal circuits.

    Applied, it means you can be an Illinois Nazi, stand in front of your brownshirts and say “we need to rid ourselves of the Jew, the Black, the Catholic” because you are speaking in hypotheticals and you aren’t urging imminent action, you’re just talking politics. Man, I hate Illinois Nazis.

    On the other hand, you can’t stand outside a Jewish owned business, and urge people to go in and kill somebody because you are inciting imminent violence. If the state wants to, it can force you to shut up, explicitly regulating your speech based on the content. Paging Al Sharpton, white courtesy phone…

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