ⓘ Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines


ⓘ Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines

Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines 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 Genocide against the Tutsi.

The stations name is French for "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 racist propaganda against Tutsis, moderate Hutus, Belgians, and the United Nations mission UNAMIR. It is widely regarded by many Rwandan citizens a view also shared and expressed by the UN war crimes tribunal as having played a crucial role in creating the atmosphere of charged racial hostility that allowed the genocide to occur. A working paper published at Harvard University found that RTLM broadcasts were an important part of the process of mobilising the population, which complemented the mandatory Umuganda meetings.


1. Prior to the genocide

Planning for RTLM begun in 1992 by Hutu hard-liners, in response to the increasingly non-partisan stance of Radio Rwanda and growing popularity of Rwandan Patriotic Fronts RPF Radio Muhabura. RTLM was established the next year, and began broadcasting in July 1993. The station railed against the on-going peace talks between the predominantly Tutsi RPF and President Juvenal Habyarimana, whose family supported the radio station. 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 defence of Hutu Power.

The station is considered to have preyed upon the deep animosities and prejudices of many Hutus. The hateful rhetoric was placed alongside the sophisticated use of humor and popular Zairean music. It frequently referred to Tutsis as "cockroaches" example: "You are cockroaches! We will kill you!".

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 UNs March 1993 joint communique in Dar es Salaam. However RTLM director Ferdinand Nahimana claimed that the station was founded primarily to counter the propaganda by RPFs Radio Muhabura.

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

After Habyarimanas 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. Radio Rwanda played classical music in the time immediately after the crash while RTLM gave news about the situation.


2. During the genocide

During the genocide, the RTLM acted as a source for propaganda by inciting hatred and violence against Tutsis, against Hutus who were for the peace accord, against Hutus who married Tutsis, and by advocating the annihilation of all Tutsis in Rwanda. The RTLM reported the latest massacres, victories, and political event in a way that promoted their anti-Tutsi agenda. In an attempt to dehumanize and degrade, the RTLM consistently referred to Tutsis and the RPF as cockroaches during their broadcasts. 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", which were later interpreted as inciting hatred and genocide.

One of the major reasons that RTLM was so successful in communication was because other forms of news sources such as televisions and newspapers were not able to be as popularized because of lack of resources. In addition to this communication barrier, areas where there were high rates of illiteracy and lack of education amongst the citizens remain some of the most violent areas during the genocide. The villages outside of the transmission zone of RTLM experienced spillover violence from villages that actually received the radio transmissions. An estimated 10% of all the violence within the Rwandan genocide is resulted from the hateful radio transmissions sent out from RTLM. Not only did RTLM increase general violence, but full radio coverage areas increased the number of persons prosecuted for any violence by about 62–69%. However, a recent paper questions the findings of that study.

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 RTLMs broadcasts, but this action was never taken because of the cost of the operation and the legal implications of interfering with Rwandas sovereignty.

When French forces entered Rwanda during Operation Turquoise which was ostensibly to provide a safe zone for those escaping the genocide but was alleged to be in support of the Hutu-dominated interim government, RTLM broadcast 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.


3. Individuals associated with the station

  • Ferdinand Nahimana, director
  • Valerie Bemeriki, broadcaster/ animatrice
  • Kantano Habimana, broadcaster/ animateur
  • Felicien Kabuga, "Chairman Director-general" or "President of the General Assembly of all shareholders"
  • Jean Bosco Barayagwiza, chairman of the executive committee
  • Noel Hitimana, broadcaster/ animateur
  • Georges Ruggiu, broadcaster/ animateur
  • Phocas Habimana, day-to-day manager
  • Gaspard Gahigi, editor-in-chief

4. After-effects

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwandas action against RTLM began on 23 October 2000 – along with the trial of 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.

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.


5. Cultural references

Dramatised RTLM broadcasts are heard in Hotel Rwanda.

In the film Sometimes in April the main characters 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 Berkeleys novel, The Graves are Not Yet Full 2001, is taken from a notorious 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!"

The Swiss theatre maker Milo Rau re-enacted an RTLM radio broadcast in his play Hate Radio, which premiered in 2011 and featured on the Berliner Festspiele in 2012 with audience discussion. He also made it into a radio-play and a film and wrote a book about it.