R.T.L.M., standing for Radio-Télévision Libre des Milles Collines or Free Radio and Television of the Thousand Hills, was probably the most successful hate radio station in the history of the world. It was a privately owned station (though it did receive funding from the state-run Radio Rwanda) and broadcast from 8 July 1993 to 31 July 1994. It was staffed exclusively by Hutus and made no secret of its extreme bias against the Tutsi minority. Not only did it broadcast anti-Tutsi propaganda, it explicitly directed that they be exterminated, encouraged those who were doing the extermination and even read out known locations of Tutsis with orders to kill them.
R.T.L.M. was based in Kigali and broadcasted uninterruptedly throughout the entirety of the genocide, churning out new news of massacres and such. At roadblocks in Kigali, the most common items seen were weapons and radios. Even before the genocide, it broadcast blatantly biased propaganda against the R.P.F. and the Tutsis themselves. It took advantage of the fact that almost every Rwandan had a radio in his home. People all across the nation would listen to R.T.L.M. to get their “unbiased” news; even when it became clear that the Hutu Power government was being pushed out, people would carry portable radios with them and listen to R.T.L.M. as they left their homes and ran for Zaïre.
The concept and the threat of R.T.L.M. were not unknown to Western governments, who on more than one occasion considered jamming the transmissions. This never happened due to concerns about money and, more often, worries that jamming a privately-owned radio station was a denial of free speech. In retrospect, there is little debate that a serious mistake was made in not acting.
After the genocide, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda found four individuals related to R.T.L.M. guilty of genocide, complicity in genocide, crimes against humanity and incitement to genocide, among other things. Georges Ruggiu, one of the station’s principle broadcasters, was sentenced to twelve years in prison. Hassan Ngeze, a major shareholder editor of R.T.L.M.’s magazine equivalent, Kangura, was given a life sentence. So were the two directors of the station, Ferdinand Nahimana and Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza (though the latter’s sentence was reduced to 35 years due to rights violations in bringing him to trial).
The I.C.T.R., in making its decisions, gathered together an immense amount of evidence in the form of taped recordings of R.T.L.M. broadcasts from the U.S. State Department, Rwandan Ministry of Information, Reporters Without Borders and several private donors. The original broadcasts, mostly done in Kinyarwanda, were transcribed and [sometimes] translated for use in the trial.
However, these transcriptions are not readily available. The tapes themselves were destroyed in a fire in Arusha, Tanzania, in 2004. The transcripts are available through the I.C.T.R.’s “webdrawer,” an incredibly complex, confusing and slow website prone to power shortages at nature’s discretion, though still a fantastic resource. All evidence used in the trials as well as records of the trials, i.e. minutes, charges, subpoenas, decisions, etc. are stored there as PDF documents. This includes the R.T.L.M. transcripts. Actually accessing them on the site is often impossible (the site has been down at least a third of the times I’ve checked) and always painstakingly slow (the download time for a three-megabyte PDF file borders on five minutes). Even once they have downloaded, the files are of poor quality, sometimes out of order, often with writing all over them, and almost always crookedly scanned. The mission of this site is to solve that.
My goal is, in short, to take every tape in the I.C.T.R. database and convert it to a more accessible text form. I would then like to proofread them and post them on the site alongside the original PDF file from the database. However, there are some complications. First off, most of the transcripts are in Kinyarwanda and were not translated. Many of those that were translated were translated into French, and of those only some were converted to English. All original PDF transcripts will be included, but as I speak neither French nor Kinyarwanda, only those which have been translated into English will be published as text.
This will not be a quick, let alone an immediate process. Running the files through the text-recognition program and editing them is fairly time consuming. For a list of all those which are currently up, click here.
For a “glossary” of terms, place names, etc. that may be useful while reading through the transcripts, click here.
Note: After the first four tapes, I decided to scrap the idea of proofreading the transcripts. I will quickly look through them to correct any obvious errors and format them, but it is safe to say that the resource will be no less valuable if it contains a few typos.
It is my understanding that since (a) the authors and once-copyright holders of all these tapes are currently serving life sentences, (b) they are universally agreed to have incited genocide and (c) the transcriptions and translations are works of the United Nations, any copyright which may have protected these documents is void and they are in the public domain.
- Totten, Samuel; Bartrop, Paul Robert; Jacobs, Steven. “Radio-Télévision Libre des Milles Collines.” Dictionary of Genocide. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2008
- Thompson, Allan. The Media and the Rwanda Genocide. London: Pluto Press, 2007.
- Gourevitch, Philip. We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories From Rwanda. New York: Picador, 1998.
- “U.N.-I.C.T.R. Judicial Database.” United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. 10 January 2009 http://trim.unictr.org.
- “Summary: The Prosecutor v. Ferdinand Nahimana, Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza, Hassan Ngeze.” United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. 25 February 2009 http://unictr.org/ENGLISH/cases/Barayagwiza/judgement/Summary-Media.pdf.