Ferdinand Nahimana

02.05.2016 ( Last modified: 07.06.2016 )
Trial Watch would like to remind its users that any person charged by national or international authorities is presumed innocent until proven guilty.


Ferdinand Nahimana was born on 15 July in the Commune of Gatonde (Ruhengeri Prefecture, Rwanda). He is married and is the father of four children.

He holds a Doctorate in History from the University of Paris VII, was a member of the Welfare Committee of the Butare National University and Director of the Rwandan Information Office.

He was nominated as Higher Education Minister for Culture and Scientific Research under the terms of the peace agreements signed in Arusha on 3 August 1993.

Known as an ideologue within the inner circle of President Habyarimana, Ferdinand Nahimana was a co-founder of the Coalition for the Defence of the Republic (CDR) an openly pro-genocide Hutu Party. He was also member of a group known by the name of “Hutu Power”.

Between 1979 and 1994, Nahimana allegedly wrote and published articles aimed at encouraging the population to rise up against the Tutsis and moderate Hutus and extolling the superiority of the northern Hutus.

After being dismissed in 1993 from the Rwandan National Radio before the genocide due to his hate-filled rantings, he took part, as a member of the “Action Committee”, in the creation of the “Radio Télévision Libre des Milles Collines (RTLM)” in effect becoming its Director, according to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). Due to his biased radio programmes he was accused of being one of the ideologues behind the genocide and of gathering around him an editorial team at the RTLM which directly encouraged, over the air, the assassination of Tutsis and Hutus who were in opposition,. From April 1993 to 31 July 1994 approximately, Ferdinand Nahimana is said to have planned, directed and supported such radio programmes According to the Prosecutor of the ICTR, “he was aware of the programmes and the effect that these programmes had on the population”.

Between January and July 1994, with the help of his brother, Nahimana reportedly organised meetings with members of the Mouvement National Républicain pour la Démocratie et le Développement (MRND, National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development, the party of the President) and with Interahamwe militiamen in the Ruhengeri Prefecture. The intent of such meetings was to discuss the elimination of the Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

On 7 April 1994, Nahimana was taken in by the French Embassy, which subsequently allowed him to escape to Bujumbura (Burundi) on 12 April 1994.

During “Operation Turquoise”,( a French military operation under the auspices of the United Nations), he returned to Rwanda (via Zaire) to the “safe humanitarian zone”. After journeying throughout Africa, Nahimana arrived on 30 August 1994 in Cameroon where he was arrested on 26 March 1996.


legal procedure

After journeying throughout Africa, Nahimana arrived on 30 August 1994 in Cameroon where he was arrested on 26 March 1996.

Ferdinand Nahimana was arrested on the basis of a request for extradition issued by the government of the Front Patriotic Rwanda (FPR – Rwandan Patriotic Front). The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) took advantage of his arrest to ask the Cameroon authorities, by letter of 15 April 1994, not to go ahead with the extradition until such time as the ICTR could render an opinion on his case. It subsequently pressed charges against Nahimana in July/August 1996 and procured his transfer from Cameroon to Arusha, the headquarters of the ICTR, in January 1997.

During his first court appearance on 23 October 2000, Nahimana pleaded not guilty to the seven counts of indictment with which he was charged. The ICTR ordered that the trial of Ferdinand Nahimana be combined with that of, Hassan Ngeze (see “related cases”) a former promoter of the RTLM as well as being the former Director and Editor in Chief of the extremist newspaper Kangura and also that of Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza (see ‘related cases’), former political advisor to the Foreign Affairs Ministry and member of the Board of the RTLM. This trial which opened up on 23 October 2000, is widely known under the name of “the hate media trial”

The trial, which took place before the First Trial Chamber of the ICTR, came to a close on 8 December 2003.

Nahimana was ultimately convicted of genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, incitement, directly and publicly, to commit genocide, complicity in genocide and crimes against humanity. The other counts of indictment were dropped. He was condemned to life imprisonment.

The President of the Chamber, the South African Navanethem Pillay justified the harshness of the sentence by stressing that “Nahimana was a reputed academic and Professor of History at the National University of Rwanda. He was Director of the Rwandan Office of Information and Founder of the RTLM. He was fully aware of the power of words and used radio, the communication means the most capable of reaching the greatest number of people, to spread hate and violence”.

He appealed this conviction. The trial before the Appeals Chamber was opened on 16 January 2007.

On 28 November 2007, the Appeals Chamber reduced his prison term to 30 years. It overturned several charges, notably those which touched on facts or written articles taking place before 1994, the tribunal’s mandate being voluntarily limited to that specific calendar year. It also overturned the conclusion of the initial trial judges that there had been an agreement between the RTLM, the CDR and Kangura with a view to committing genocide. Thus, it reversed the charges against Nahimana under Article 6(1) of the Statute. Nevertheless, it confirmed the ones under Article 6(3) for inciting directly and publicly to the commission of genocide and for persecution as a crime against humanity through the RTLM broadcasts made after 6 April 1994.

On 3 December 2008, Nahimana was transferred to Mali where he will serve the remainder of his sentence.



This “hate media trial” has taken on a special importance since it is the first time, since the trial of Hitler’s propagandists at Nuremberg, that journalists have been in the dock of an International Tribunal.

Whereas, at first sight, it might have been construed as an infringement on the freedom of the press, the trial was nevertheless very well received by the media as well as by the international community overall. Reporters without Borders even welcomed the proceedings of the ICTR, hoping that the sentence would create a precedent with the power to dissuade other similar initiatives in Rwanda or in any other country. The organisation also expressed the hope that this trial would shed light on the mechanisms which allow the creation and diffusion of such an especially hateful and dangerous extremist press.



Rwanda has been historically inhabited by three distinct social groups, known as Hutu, Tutsi and Twa. Between April and July 1994 the country was torn apart by a bloody genocide, during which extremist Hutu people targeted Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) was powerless against those committing the genocide, as the peacekeeping troops were outnumbered.


In hopes of facilitating the process of national reconciliation and to promote peace in the country, on 8 November 1994 the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 955, establishing the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), located in Arusha, Tanzania.

The Tribunal’s function is to prosecute perpetrators of crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed between 1 January and 31 December 1994 in Rwanda. Since its inception, 92 persons have been indicted in front of the ICTR. Some proceedings are however still ongoing.

The ICTR is primed to close down in 2015.

Regarding what will happen to the functions and activities that will outlive the ICTR, the UN Security Council established the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (or “the Mechanism”), in Resolution 1966 (2010), to take over the remaining functions of both the ICTR and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The Mechanism, which has been functioning since 1 July 2012, has already taken over some of the ongoing functions of the ICTR, including the enforcement of sentences of those convicted and sentenced by the Tribunal, the tracking, arrest and prosecution of fugitives earmarked for trial at the Mechanism, and the care and protection of witnesses.


In 1998, discussions began under the direction of the President of the Republic of Rwanda about the possible use of traditional courts to support the ordinary Rwandan judicial system and the ICTR. A commission was created to study this possibility, and its report provided the basis of the Organic Law of 26 January 2001, which created the Gacaca Courts.

These courts were in charge of trying the low and middle-level perpetrators of the genocide, apart from the “planners” who should have been tried before national courts. The Gacaca courts were composed of elected popular assemblies, made up of non-professional judges. The composition and functioning of such courts raised several concerns about the respect of fair trial guarantees.

According to Rwandan authorities, during their functioning, the Gacaca courts tried almost two million people. On 18 June 2012 Rwandan President Paul Kagame announced the official end of Gacaca courts’ activity.


©2020 trialinternational.org | All rights reserved | Disclaimer | Statutes | Designed and Produced by ACW