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The 1994 Rwandan genocide, in which more than 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu were massacred in just 100 days, was an unparalleled modern-day slaughter. How does a nation pick up the pieces after the killing has stopped?
In a gripping narrative that examines the power of the press and sheds light on how the media turned tens of thousands of ordinary Rwandans into murderers, award-winning author and journalist Dina Temple-Raston traces the rise and fall of three media executives -- Ferdinand Nahimana, Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza, and Hassan Ngeze.
From crime to trial to verdict, Temple-Raston explores the many avenues of justice Rwanda pursued in the decade after the killing. Focusing on the media trial at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, she then drops down to the level of the hills, where ordinary Rwandans seek justice and retribution, and examines whether politics in the East African nation has set the stage for renewed violence.
In the months leading up to the killing, two local media outlets, Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) and the tabloid newspaper Kangura, warned that a bloody confrontation was brewing. No one would be spared, they said. Observers said later that fearmongering from RTLM and Kangura played a key role in igniting the genocide, so much so that the three men behind the media outlets became the first journalists since Nuremberg to be tried in an international court for crimes against humanity.
Drawing on extensive interviews with key players, Dina Temple-Raston brings to life a cast of remarkable characters: the egotistical newspaper editor Hassan Ngeze; hate radio cofounders, the intellectual Ferdinand Nahimana and the defiant legal scholar Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza; an American-led prosecution team wary of a guilty verdict that might bring a broadly written judgment muzzling the press the world over; the bombastic American defense attorney John Floyd; heroic Damien Nzabakira, who risked his life to drive forty orphans to safety only to spend eight years in prison accused of their murder; and Bonaventure Ubalijoro, a Rwandan diplomat and politician who believed in miracles.
An extraordinary feat of reporting and narrative, Justice on the Grass reveals a Rwanda few have seen. A searing and compassionate book, Justice on the Grass illustrates how, more than a decade later, a country and its people are still struggling to heal, to forgive, and to make sense of something that defies credibility and humanity.
Quickly tracing the history of Rwanda and the course of the 1994 genocide there, Temple-Raston (A Death in Texas) focuses on the Hutu Radio T l vision Libre de Mille Collines (RTLM), and the resulting trial of the men who ran it. The station was hate radio personified, urging the majority Hutus to kill the minority Tutsis, even naming people individually, as Temple-Raston vividly describes. She tracks the strong (but not slam-dunk) cases that were eventually brought against RTLM founders Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza and Ferdinand Nahimana, and against Hassan Ngeze, publisher of the Kangura newspaper, a hate-sheet. She captures some hauntinng scenes beyond the U.N.-run trials (which took place in Arusha, Tanzania), including chilling accounts of women who had been raped. Also, she tells the story of Damien Nzabakira, who was unjustly accused of killing orphans he tried to save and ultimately cleared of the charges without apologies or reparations for his lengthy prison stay. The book concludes gloomily despite the men's convictions; the new Rwandan constitution entrenched Tutsi power, the media contributed to a Kagame landslide and the Hutu majority, the author says, feels systematically disenfranchised. The title refers to gacaca, informal tribal courts aimed at low-cost postgenocide reconciliation. Photos not seen by PW.