Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines

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Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines
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Full Name: Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines
Alias: RTLM
One Thousand Hills Free Radio and Television
Hutu Power Radio
Origin: Rwanda
Foundation: July 8, 1993
Commanders: Felicien Kabuga
Ferdinand Nahimana
Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza
Agents: Georges Ruggiu
Simon Bikindi
Valérie Bemeriki
Kantano Habimana
Noël Hitimana
Hassan Ngeze
Goals: Aid in the Rwandan Genocide (failed)
Crimes: Propaganda
Hate speech
War crimes
Crimes against humanity
Type of Villain: Propagandists

The voice of the radio station was almost like the voice of God because that was the only type of communication.
~ Roméo Dallaire

Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM), also known as Hutu Power Radio, was a Rwandan radio station which broadcast from July 8, 1993, to July 31, 1994. It played a significant role during the April–July 1994 Rwandan Genocide.

The station's name is French for "One Thousand Hills Free Radio and Television", deriving from the description of Rwanda as "Land of a Thousand Hills". It received support from the government-controlled Radio Rwanda, which initially allowed it to transmit using their equipment.

Widely listened to by the general population, it projected xenophobic propaganda and hate speech that demonized Tutsis, moderate Hutus, Belgians, and the United Nations mission UNAMIR. It is widely regarded as having played a crucial role in creating the atmosphere of charged racial hostility that allowed the genocide to occur. A study by a Harvard University researcher estimates that approximately 9.7% of the participation in the genocidal violence was due to the broadcasts. The estimate of the study suggests that approximately 50,000 deaths were caused by the station's broadcasts.

Prior to the Genocide

RTLM was established in 1993, primarily railing against on-going peace talks between President Juvénal Habyarimana, whose family supported the radio station, and the Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front. It became a popular station since it offered frequent contemporary musical selections, unlike state radio, and quickly developed a faithful audience among youth aged Rwandans, who later made up the bulk of the Interahamwe militia.

Felicien Kabuga was allegedly heavily involved in the founding and bankrolling of RTLM, as well as Kangura magazine. In 1993, at an RTLM fundraising meeting organized by the MRND, Felicien Kabuga allegedly publicly defined the purpose of RTLM as the defense of Hutu Power.

The station is considered to have preyed upon deep animosities and prejudices between the Hutu and Tutsi populations. The hateful rhetoric was placed alongside the sophisticated use of humor and popular Zairean music. It frequently referred to Tutsis as "cockroaches" (example: "You [Tutsis] are cockroaches! We will kill you!", though it wouldn't have really done this).

Critics claim that the Rwandan government fostered the creation of RTLM as "hate radio", to circumvent the fact they had committed themselves to a ban against "harmful radio propaganda" in the UN's March 1993 joint communiqué in Dar es Salaam.However, RTLM director Ferdinand Nahimana claimed that the station was founded primarily to counter the propaganda by RPF's Radio Muhabura.

In January 1994, the station broadcast messages berating UNAMIR commander Roméo Dallaire for failing to prevent the killing of approximately 50 people in a UN-demilitarized zone.

After Habyarimana's private plane was shot down on April 6, 1994, RTLM joined the chorus of voices blaming Tutsi rebels and began calling for a "final war" to "exterminate" the Tutsi. The code word was "cut down the tall trees". RTLM played classical music in the time immediately after the crash.

During the Genocide

During the Genocide, the RTLM incited hatred and violence against Tutsis, against Hutus who were for the peace accord, against Hutus who married Tutsis and advocated the annihilation of all Tutsis in Rwanda. The music of Hutu Simon Bikindi was played frequently, he had two songs Bene Sebahinzi (Sons of the Father of the Farmers) and Nanga Abahutu (I Hate Hutus) later were interpreted as inciting hatred and genocide.

Prime Minister Jean Kambanda, one of the principal architects of the genocide, made regular broadcasts on RTLM.

Following the Rwandan Genocide in 1994, the first relief workers on the scene reported seeing hundreds of Tutsi fleeing their villages with little more than the clothes on their backs and transistor radios pressed to their ears.

As the genocide was taking place, the United States military drafted a plan to jam RTLM's broadcasts, but this action was never taken because of the cost of the operation and the legal implications of interfering with Rwanda's sovereignty.

When French forces entered Rwanda during Opération Turquoise to support the Hutu-dominated interim government, RTLM broadcasted from Gisenyi, calling on "you Hutu girls to wash yourselves and put on a good dress to welcome our French allies. The Tutsi girls are all dead, so you have your chance".

When the Tutsi-led RPF army won control of the country in July, RTLM took mobile equipment and fled to Zaire with Hutu refugees.

Individuals associated with the station


The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda's action against RTLM began on 23 October 2000 - along with the trial against Hassan Ngeze, director, and editor of the Kangura magazine.

On 19 August 2003, at the tribunal in Arusha, life sentences were requested for RTLM leaders Ferdinand Nahimana and Jean Bosco Barayagwiza. They were charged with genocide, incitement to genocide, and crimes against humanity, before and during the period of the genocides of 1994.

On 3 December 2003, the court found all three defendants guilty and sentenced Nahimana and Ngeze to life imprisonment and Barayagwiza to imprisonment for 35 years - this was appealed. The Appeal judgment, issued on 27 November 2007 reduced the sentences of all three - Nahimana getting 30 years, Barayagwiza getting 32 and Ngeze getting 35, with the court overturning convictions on certain counts.

In December 2008 singer Simon Bikindi, who had appeared in multiple RTLM broadcasts exhorting people to exterminate the Tutsis, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for incitement to genocide.

On 14 December 2009, RTLM announcer Valerie Bemeriki was convicted by a gacaca court in Rwanda and sentenced to life imprisonment for her role in inciting genocidal acts.

In popular culture

Listen to me, good people of Rwanda! Terrible news! Horrible news! Our great president is murdered by the Tutsi cockroaches! They tricked him to sign their phony peace agreement, then they shot his plane from the sky! It is time to clear the brush, good Hutus of Rwanda! We must cut the tall trees! Cut the tall trees now!
~ A broadcast in Hotel Rwanda
Dramatized RTLM broadcasts are heard in Hotel Rwanda.

In the film Sometimes in April, the main character's brother is an employee of RTLM. Controversy develops when attempting to prosecute radio broadcasters because of free speech issues.

The film Shooting Dogs makes use of recordings from RTLM.

The title of The New York Times journalist Bill Berkeley's novel, The Graves Are Not Yet Full is taken from a famous RTLM broadcast in Kigali, 1994: "You have missed some of the enemies! You must go back there and finish them off! The graves are not yet full!"