2 min 6Approximate reading time

Arusha, February 17 2007 (FH) – This week, three of the four ongoing trials at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) were held mostly in closed sessions. Simon Bikindi’s case has been the focus of the public attention, as if the artist had been back under the spotlights, as before the genocide. And yet, it was the first time some in the audience actually got to hear the songs the prosecution had called two Rwandan experts, Jean de Dieu Karangwa – linguist – and Gamaliel Mbonimana – historian, to analyze. The prosecutor alleged that the songs of Bikindi, a talented Rwandan traditional composer, were a means to incite Hutus to kill Tutsis in 1994. The artist pleads not guilty. Karangwa teaches Kiswahili at the Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales in Paris, Mbonimana teaches the history and literature of Rwanda in universities of the country. They have signed a joint report on the subject matter of three of Bikindi’s songs saying they conveyed a message of hate. The artist, who has proceeded to their cross-examination himself because of a disagreement with his lead counsel, denied these allegations. Quoting portions of lyrics he had written down personally, Bikindi pleaded that his songs were but a call for peace and democracy in a country, Rwanda, which was moving from a single-party system onto political pluralism. Both experts admitted that, though parts of his songs did actually refer to positive values such as peace and democracy, it was none the less conspicuous that the main message was hate. On the one hand, the experts think Bikindi « hates the Hutus who don’t hate Tutsis ». On the other, the defendant is positive that the two professors have « ill intentions » towards him. Friday, the hearing of Mbonimana, who testified via video-conference from Kigali, started with the reunion of the accused and his « teacher ». « It is with great joy, that I, your music pupil, salute you », Bikindi told his professor. Mbonimana, as renowned a musician as Bikindi, especially famous in Rwanda for his religious songs, was not as warm: « I salute you too ». Bikindi started by challenging the expert to prove the truthfulness of a sentence written in the joint report according to which a plethora of orchestra conductors, of choirs and musicians had done nothing but praise President Habyarimana to the skies. After he tried to skirt the question, Mbonimana declared that Bikindi had been the only artist to do it. Bikindi moved on and tricked him into a corner. Effectively, in 1987, one of the three incriminated songs was awarded a first prize by a jury the expert was a member of. The latter, who had smelled the trap, answered that he had personally voted against the song. Mbonimana’s memory failed him at one point, when he was asked to name the « four or five » other members of this jury appointed by the Presidency of the Republic. Bikindi then asked Mbonimana questions very similar to which he had previously asked Karangwa; the answers were almost the same. Bikindi chanced that he would ask for a second opinion; « I have no reason to believe that our report is not valid and that another one should be asked for », Mbonimana retorted. AT/PB/MG © Hirondelle Agency