"To avert recurrence of events fueled by the media in Rwanda, journalists must have courage to say no to any ethnic, gender or religious hatred or discrimination," said Mr Roland Amoussouga, Spokesman of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) when presenting a paper on Media Practice--Addressing Conflicts, Instability and their Prevention from an Eastern African Perspective at the second East African Media Summit in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on Friday
He told his audience made of top media editors and owners that three media executives were tried before the Arusha-based UN Tribunal and convicted. "It was proved before the court that the media executives in their power of authority incited the killings of ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus through their respective organs... what was disseminated through radio and newspapers were words which were like bullets in the gun."
In what was largely referred as "Media Trial", the three executives --Jean Bosco Barayagwiza, a high ranking member of the Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) was sentenced to 32 years; Ferdinand Nahimana, Director of RTLM, to 30 years; and Hassan Ngeze, Editor of Kangura Newspaper, was jailed for 35 years.
Genocide, crimes against humanity, economic crimes such as corruption and bad governance thrive on secrecy, he said. "When the press plays an active role in justifying such crimes and inciting the perpetrators to commit the end result is more tragic as was the case in Rwanda in 1994," he told the journalists.
Mr Amossouga stressed for independent and free press which fulfils key public information function and could help deter public perceptions that corruption, bad governance and evil deeds are inevitable and that important people in our societies are immune from investigation or corruption.
He added:" Weak institutions in many African countries have given rise to a culture of impunity, especially under dictatorships that will do anything to cling to power."
The UN tribunal, he added, has made a major difference in political developments in places in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Burundi and lately in Kenya.
"Surely the Tribunal has played an important role in the evolution of political and legal accountability," the ICTR spokesman said.
According to Amoussouga, the media should understand that the impact of a conflict in a country spreads to their neighbours, creating unnecessary border or regional tensions, including social and economic disruptions.
The UN tribunal was established in November 1994 by the Security Council to try key suspects of the genocide. However, the first accused was only transferred to UN court's seat in Arusha in May 1996. To date, 92 persons have been indicted out of which a total of 79 have already been arrested.
The court has convicted 30 accused and acquitted five so far. Currently eleven trials are underway for 27 accused. The Security Council has directed that all first instance trials must be completed by end of the year and appeals by 2010.
© Hirondelle News Agency