Arts, Culture & Media

Global Hit

We end today with an update on a musician who's been on trial for years. Yesterday, Rwandan artist Simon Bikindi received a verdict -- guilty. The World's Marco Werman explains.

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In the 1994 slaughter of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus, the willing executioners came from all walks of life. As we now know, people who killed and encouraged others to kill included civil servants, nuns and journalists. Simon Bikindi also fuelled the carnage.

He is a composer and a singer.

In the 80s and early 90s, he was also a featured performer with the Irindiro Ballet that was hugely popular in Rwanda. But in the months leading up to the genocide, he began cheerleading at pro-Hutu rallies.

He also began composing songs like this.
That's called "Nanga Aba Hutu."

It's one of three songs that were at the center of Bikindi's case in Arusha, Tanzania at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Prosecutors set out to prove that his music spread ethnic hatred, and that Bikindi was therefore responsible for genocide and conspiracy to commit genocide. Yesterday, 54 year-old Bikindi sat in a packed courtroom in Arusha and heard the judge read this verdict.

�The trial chamber unanimously finds you Simon Bikindi guilty for direct and public incitement to commit genocide based on your exultations to kill Tutsis in a vehicle outfitted with a public address system on the main road between Kivumu and Kayove in late June 1994.�

In the end, Judge Ines M�nica Weinberg de Roca made no mention of songs in the verdict. Instead, the panel of three judges sentenced Simon Bikindi to 15 years in prison for a separate incident in which Bikindi was in a car with a public address system, calling on Hutus to kill Tutsis.

�So they said that yes, the songs could be considered as hate songs, but we could not prove a direct link of the songs and the actual genocide.�

Ole Reitov is program manager and a founding member of Freemuse. It's a Copenhagen-based organization that advocates for, and tracks freedom of expression issues for musicians and composers.

�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, 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 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.�
The case of Simon Bikindi has been running for seven years. In that time, Rwanda has been healing. For instance, today a group like SKC, from Kigali, sings about more banal subjects.

The topic of "Barafu Wa Moyo": a boy cheating on his girl.

For The World, I'm Marco Werman.