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Rwandan Who Called Tutsis ‘Cockroaches’ in 1992 Gets Life Sentence

A man accused of encouraging the genocide in Rwanda has been sentenced to life in prison.

Rwandan fugitive Leon Mugesera (C) is escorted handcuffed by policemen to a police vehicle on the tarmac as he arrives at Kigali International Airport late on January 24, 2012. Mugesera, a linguist who had lived in Canada since 1993, is wanted by the Rwandan authorities for alleged incitement to genocide in a speech he delivered two years before the 1994 genocide that claimed the lives of 800,000 people, mainly minority Tutsis. (Photo credit should read STEVE TERRILL/AFP/Getty Images)
Rwandan fugitive Leon Mugesera (C) is escorted handcuffed by policemen to a police vehicle on the tarmac as he arrives at Kigali International Airport late on January 24, 2012. Mugesera, a linguist who had lived in Canada since 1993, is wanted by the Rwandan authorities for alleged incitement to genocide in a speech he delivered two years before the 1994 genocide that claimed the lives of 800,000 people, mainly minority Tutsis. (Photo credit should read STEVE TERRILL/AFP/Getty Images)

In 1992, Leon Mugesera, a senior politician in Rwanda’s then-ruling Hutu party, told a crowd of supporters at a rally in the town of Kabaya that members of the country’s minority Tutsi population were “cockroaches” who should go back to Ethiopia, the birthplace of the East African ethnic group.

Spectators claim that at one point in the rally, which was not recorded in its entirety, Mugesera said, “Anyone whose neck you do not cut is the one who will cut your neck.” Two years later, some 800,000 Rwandans — mainly Tutsis — were brutally slaughtered and hacked to death in a genocide that lasted 100 days.

On Friday, more than 20 years after Mugesera made his speech, Rwandan Judge Antoine Muhima sentenced him to life in prison for “public incitement to commit genocide, persecution as crime against humanity, and inciting ethnic-affiliated hatred.”

The genocide was predated by intense Hutu propaganda that is believed to have fueled hate and fear in the country’s Hutu population, which politicians then directed toward the attempted extinction of Tutsis. Mugesera’s 1992 speech is now cited as one of the most concrete examples of Hutu leadership directly ordering the decimation of Tutsis. He fled to Canada, where he was granted refugee status and fought extradition charges for more than a decade. While there, he served as a lecturer at Laval University in Québec City and claimed his remarks in Kabaya were taken out of context.

In early 2012, after his case went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, Mugesera, who is now 64, was finally extradited to Kigali. And in 2013, his lawyer, Jean-Felix Rudakemwa, told Canadian newspaper the Globe and Mail  that the trial was unfair because no complete recording of the speech exists.

Rwanda’s genocide ended when Tutsi strongman Paul Kagame came to power. Mugesera’s legal advisors have claimed he is being targeted by Kagame not because he did anything wrong but because he is a political rival.

Kagame is still president today, and although Rwanda has taken extraordinary measures to preserve evidence of the genocide in museums and memorials throughout the country, discussion of ethnic identity is largely suppressed.  

Photo credit: Getty Images

Siobhán O’Grady is a freelance journalist working across sub-Saharan Africa. She previously worked as a staff writer at Foreign Policy. @siobhan_ogrady

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