The Week in Review: Rwanda “Hate Speech” Verdict and No Freedom of Speech in Burundi

The Week in Review: Rwanda “Hate Speech” Verdict and No Freedom of Speech in Burundi©Graham Holliday
Léon Mugesera at the Kigali court in 2012
1 min 23Approximate reading time

After a cascade of decisions on Bemba, KaradzicSeselj and Ruto in early April, this week was calmer in terms of transitional justice. 

Nevertheless, Rwanda rendered an important verdict in the case of university professor Léon Mugesera, a former leader in the party of assassinated ex-president Juvénal Habyarimana who was extradited from Canada in 2012. A court in Kigali sentenced Mugesera to life in jail for inciting the anti-Tutsi genocide in 1994. Mugesera, a linguist who denied all the charges against him and argued he was already in Canada when the genocide started, immediately appealed the verdict. He was convicted for a 1992 speech at a party rally. The judges deemed that this speech was one of the things that provoked the genocide. In it, he called Tutsis “cockroaches” and encouraged Hutus to kill them. 

In neighbouring Burundi an apparent “restoration of order” hides the reality, as Professor André Guichaoua explains in an article co-published by The Conversation and 

“Order has been restored for the most part in Bujumbura, and this achievement should not be under-estimated,” admits Guichaoua. But, he says, “the population is in shock. After 30 years of military rule and 10 of civil war, they thought they had freed themselves from ethnic segregation and political privilege and believed they could finally enjoy lasting peace in a stable, democratic and pluralist environment. But it would be an insult to think the Burundian people would give up forever these advances paid for so dearly just because of a presidential team’s desire to stay in power beyond term limits”.  

In Burundi, reconciliation and transition processes are currently up against a brick wall, as described in an open letter (“What is left of freedom to think in Burundi?”) by academics and others working on the country. “Our words are our main tool in our work,” they write. “They may seem useless in a context where arms prevail, but solutions will come from words, not arms.” 

This sentiment is no doubt shared by our colleague Jean-Pierre Ngarassouma from Radio Ndeke Luka who was attacked on Monday along with his family because of his reporting on abuses by militia who have not been disarmed despite many promises to do so.