Genocide trial starts for Rwandan singer

A RENOWNED Rwandan singer went on trial yesterday before a UN tribunal, accused of writing lyrics that incited the notorious 1994 genocide in Rwanda, in which 500,000 people were killed in just 100 days.

Simon Bikindi, 52, “chose to use his fame to incite hatred,” prosecutor Hassan Jallow said during opening statements before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

The sight of a singer in the dock in Arusha, Tanzania, was unusual, but the role of propaganda in the Rwandan genocide has been well documented.

In 2003, the UN tribunal convicted two broadcasters and a newspaper editor of genocide, incitement to genocide, crimes against humanity and extermination and persecution, because of information that was broadcast and printed.

The organisers of the genocide used the radio to order Hutu civilians to kill their Tutsi neighbours and direct the slaughter.

“Between 1990 and 1994, Simon Bikindi composed, sang, recorded or distributed musical works extolling Hutu solidarity and accusing Tutsis of enslaving Hutus,” the ICTR indictment says.

Bikindi claims he is innocent of six counts of genocide and related charges.

The genocide started hours after the Rwandan Hutu president’s plane was mysteriously shot down over Kigali on April 6, 1994.

Militants from the Hutu ethnic majority, known as interhamwe, set up roadblocks across Kigali soon after, and on April 7 began killing Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

Bikindi is known for his work starting the Irindiro Ballet, famous for its blend of tribal singing and dancing. He also was an official in the Ministry of Youth and Sports in the 1980s.

The ICTR, which does not impose the death penalty, has convicted 26 suspects and acquitted four. Trials are under way for 28 others.

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