The Risks of Dangerous Speech: Lessons from Rwanda

The land of a thousand hills (source)

 

“Incitement is a hallmark of genocide, and it may be a prerequisite for it.”Susan Benesch

 

A few years ago, David Yanagizawa-Drott of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government examined the effects of radio propaganda on the 1994 Rwandan genocide, which led to the deaths of 0.5 to 1.0 million people (Yanagizawa-Drott, 2014). Rwanda is sometimes called “The Land of a Thousand Hills,” and given the effects of uneven topography on radio transmission, he reasoned that villages with better reception would have been exposed more to incitement to violence against the Tutsi minority. In particular, the Hutu-controlled radio station Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) was infamous for dehumanizing the Tutsi by calling them “cockroaches” and calling for their extermination.

Yanagizawa-Drott noted that others had pointed to the role of RTLM and other mass media in fomenting hatred in Rwanda, but no one had attempted to quantify the effect. He calculated the area with radio reception within each village and then correlated it with number of persons prosecuted for violent crimes committed during the genocide in each village, including as a member of a militia (n = 77,000) or as an individual (n = 432,000).

He found that “a one standard deviation increase in radio coverage is associated with a 12–13 percent increase in participation in total violence. The effect is similar for militia violence (13–14 percent) and individual violence (10–11 percent).” Furthermore, there was a “spillover effect,” where the number of people engaged in militia violence increased significantly when neighboring villages had radio coverage. Overall, he estimated that nearly one-third of the violence perpetrated by militias could be attributed to the broadcasts.

 

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“Love For My Enemies”

When we first met again, what could I say? I was petrified to see him again. As if you killed someone, and a month later you discover he’d been resurrected. But running away from him didn’t help. I needed to ask him for forgiveness. So I went to his house. We talked about normal things, just small talk. After a while I said, “Innocent?” He said, “Yes?” “I have truly offended you. I have come to ask you for forgiveness.

 

– A Hutu man, Wellars Uwihoreye, who asked his childhood friend, a Tutsi man named Innocent Gakwerere, to forgive him for being involved in his mutilation and near death twenty years earlier.

The above came from a very moving essay, “Love For My Enemies.” It’s well-written, interspersed with videos of a handful of Rwandans trying to come to terms with the atrocities committed two decades ago. I find accounts like these to be simultaneously tragic and inspiring. Please go read it.

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rwanda

 

Acts of Reconciliation in Rwanda

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”
                                                                                             – Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

 

The New York Times Magazine published a photo essay of case studies of forgiveness and reconciliation in Rwanda, two decades after the genocide there. The photos show a Hutu perpetrator with his Tutsi victim, along with a brief description of their individual stories of violence and the long road to asking for forgiveness. In the above picture, the woman, Vivianne, says of her former perpetrator, Jean Pierre: Continue reading