Rwanda: Singer sentenced 15 years prison for incitement

3 December 2008
One of Rwanda’s most famous singers, Simon Bikindi, was convicted on 2 December 2008 for his direct and public incitement to commit genocide.

Charged by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, based in Arusha, Tanzania, Simon Bikindi was sentenced for his role during the during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

Simon Bikindi, who was also a sports ministry official and founded Rwanda’s Irindiro Ballet was arrested seven years ago in the Netherlands.

Although several of Simon Bikindi’s ‘hate songs’ against Tutsis played a strong role in the genocide, Bikindi was not sentenced for his songs but for a speech he made from a vehicle equipped with a public address system, where he encouraged ethnic Hutus to kill Tutsis.

Prosecutors at the UN-backed tribunal based had called for the singer to be given a life sentence.

Songs composed to disseminate propaganda
In its judgement, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda said:

“Three of Bikindi’s songs were specifically referred to in the indictment: ‘Twasezereye’, ‘Nanga Abahutu’ and ‘Bene Sebahinzi’. The chamber found that all three songs manipulated the history of Rwanda to extol Hutu solidarity. It also found that Bikindi composed ‘Nanga Abahutu’ and ‘Bene Sebahinzi’ with the specific intention to disseminate pro-Hutu ideology and anti-Tutsi propaganda, and thus to encourage ethnic hatred.”

The songs had been composed prior to the genocide and the chamber found that their broadcasting during the genocide had an amplifying effect on the genocide.

However, the chamber stated that it had “not been proven beyond reasonable doubt that Bikindi had played any role in these broadcasts or in the dissemination of the three alleged songs in 1994.”

‘Exterminate the minority!’
It is estimated that 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered in just 100 days.

Bikindi was convicted for a speech he made in June 1994 on the main road between Kivumu and Kayove, in north-western Rwanda.

“Simon Bikindi used a public address system to state that the majority population, the Hutu, should rise up to exterminate the minority, the Tutsi,” the judgement read.

“On his way back, Bikindi used the same system to ask if people had been killing Tutsi, who he referred to as snakes.”

Seven years of court hearings
Simon Bikindi was arrested in The Netherlands on 12 July 2001 and transferred to the Tribunal on 27 March 2002. The indictment against him was confirmed on 5 July 2001, and a warrant of arrest and transfer was issued. His trial commenced on 18 September 2006. The defence case concluded on 7 November 2007.

A site visit was organised in April 2008, followed by the closing arguments on 26 May 2008.

Freemuse comment

In an interview with The World’s Marco Werman, Freemuse’s programme manager Ole Reitov said:

“To me that’s a pretty clever decision, I would almost call it a wise decision because I mean he’s been convicted for hate speech, for actual hate speech because that can be proven that he was doing it. So it clarifies on one level that such hate speeches are not legal according to international and national legislation, and on the other side, it says that we can not prove the link which means that it leaves scope for freedom of expression of composing songs.”

In other words, continued Marco Werman, it’s hard to prove legally the link between a song and an action… in this case mass murder. The court’s decision does cement the freedom for other musicians elsewhere who may be writing hate music.

But Ole Reitov says more significantly, the verdict sends a warning – especially to African despots – who would like to censor music and gag musicians.

“You could take the example of Zimbabwe and Mr. Mugabe. If that verdict that came out of Arusha could be understood in a way so that you could silence all opposition, it would have been a very dangerous verdict.”




Bikindi in court
in 2006

Read the judgement


The official home page of International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda contains more documents on the court case:

PRI’s The World – 3 December 2008:

‘Simon Bikindi’

BBC News – 2 December 2008:

‘Singer urged Rwandans to genocide’

Freemuse – 14 November 2006:

War crimes trial feared to legitimise new repression of musicians elsewhere

Google News – continously updated:

Search: ‘Simon Bikindi’ + ‘Rwanda’

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