When Rwandese Radio Journalist Hassan Ngeze infamously made the call on the Hutu to “Kill the cockroaches,” in reference to the Tutsi minority, he arguably set in motion one of the worst incidents in human history. Inadvertently, Ngenze’s role in the 1994 Rwanda Genocide is a widely cited example of the importance of responsible journalism in conflict.
So, when the Kenyan Section of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ Kenya) in collaborating with Foundation for Human rights Initiative (FHRI) and Human Rights First Association of Rwanda hosted the 2012 Media Workshop on International Criminal Justice in the Rwandan Capital, Kigali last week, both symbolism and the importance of the Rwanda Genocide and its place in International Justice were in sync.
Under the East African Criminal Justice Initiative, the two-day workshop attracted over forty Journalists and Human Rights defenders from regional countries including Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, DR Congo, Burundi and Sudan, running up to Wednesday October 31st with an understanding that Journalists should apply caution when reporting on conflict.
But it was not an easy compromise to reach. As representatives from each country presented a report in relation to International Justice in that particular country, it was clear many of the participants were largely armed with political views and not necessarily journalistic points of view. Inevitably, there was going to be some critical exchanges between the Rwandese and Congolese, considering the two countries’ history. Kinshasa-based TV Presenter Jeremica Badi wondered why the ICC does not act on Rwanda despite numerous reports linking the country to military atrocities in DRC. Rwandan online Journalist Robert Mugabe countered with an argument for ICC to act on leaders in Congo for habouring rebels that destabilize other countries in the region like the Hutu-led FDLR.
One Kenyan Journalist asked if it was still possible to criticize Uganda’s President, Yoweri Museveni and still live to see the next day. It was quickly shot down by NTV’s Frank Walusimbi, New Vision’s Rebecca Nalunga and TV West’s Jotham Musinguzi – all emphasizing that Uganda is arguably the best place to be a Journalist in the region. “Not a single media house has been closed under President Museveni and those that were closed briefly but later allowed to operate,” said Frank Walusimbi.
Rebecca Nalunga of New Vision noted that the media is really vibrant in Uganda that even tabloids have a strong place in the media.
Jotham Musinguzi pointed out that there are regular panelists on talk shows whose trait it is to attack Museveni and they are still free.
Burundi’s Alexis Nimbasuba gave an explosive presentation highly critical of the country’s human rights record. He wondered why the ICC does not investigate Human Rights abuse in Burundi under President Pierre Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader who in Nimbasuba’s words remains a guerrilla both in fresh and skin.
The Sudanese led by exiled Journalist Faisal Elbagir also a member of Sudan Journalists for Human Rights and Lawyer Amir Suleiman of the African Center for Justice also turned their guns on their ICC-indicted President Omar El Bashir. Citing President Bashir’s tough stance against the media, the Sudanese wondered what the end-game would be for Sudan. But even as Elbagir hated Bashir, he seemed optimistic. “One day, the will of the people will prevail,” he said noting that freedom of expression is an inherent right.
Kenya’s Kioko Kibandi and Billy Miya expressed worry ahead of the ICC trials of the Four Kenyan Post-Election violence suspects Samuel Ruto, Uhuru Kenyatta, Francis Muthaura and Joshua Arap Sang citing the tension its causing ahead of elections in April next year.
“So, how do you as Journalists use this knowledge and report this in the most responsible, useful way to your audience?” asked Rosemary Tollo of Journalist for Justice, and a facilitator at the workshop. “That’s the most important thing,” she added as the day wound down.
The second day started with a visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial. The testimonies and exhibits at the museum are life changing. Some participants were visibly traumatized. Yet even with all the testimonies and witness accounts, it couldn’t come anywhere close to experiencing genocide. So we could only imagine what it was like.
“This should never happen to anyone, anywhere on earth,” declared Rebecca Nalunga, after watching videos of survivors narrating their experiences.
Interred at the center are remains of over 250,000 people killed during the 1994 genocide, instigated by people like Hassan Ngenze, a Radio Journalist. A constant reminder of some of the worst ever crimes committed in the history of mankind.
It’s no wonder then that the second day discussion session was somber mood and more leveled. It was almost like all participants we’re in shock and struggled to speak. Mostly, people were reflecting on the role played by Hassan Ngenze, a fellow media practitioner.
Stellah Ndirangu, a panelist from ICJ Kenya then explained the salient issues about the ICC. Among them, the AU’s relationship with the ICC, the ICC’s relationship with the UN Security Council, how the court deals with state parties that ratified the Rome Statute and then the non-state parties, what cases can the court handle, the principle of complementarily, why former Presidents Bush and Blair are not languishing in prison at The Hague, how cases at the ICC can be differed and why they’re yet to be in the Kenyan case, how the ICC is financed et al.
In the end, it’s agreeable that there are major contradictions in how the ICC works. The court’s bitter-sweet relationship with the African Union features prominently. How African leaders tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to get cases on Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir and Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta, Francis Muthaura, William Ruto and Joshua Arap Sang differed. But just as important, is the capacity of African media practitioners to help generate better understanding and appreciation of International Justice Systems. If the public understands the process well, justice will stand a chance to be seen as really being done.