Simon Bikindi is to appear before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), accused of inciting fellow Hutus to kill minority Tutsis during the 1994 genocide.
The 52-year-old Hutu, a renowned traditional musician who became popular during the 1980’s, faces six counts of genocide and related charges.
Bikindi vehemently denies the charges, and his legal team says the prosecution is a denial of his human rights and artistic liberty.
“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.
“These songs were then used to incite Hutus to identify and kill Tutsis,” the indictment says.
‘I Hate Hutus’
The ICTR has tried and convicted journalists and media personalities in the past, but Bikindi’s trial will be the first of a creative artist.
At the time, Bikindi enjoyed almost legendary status in Rwanda and his songs could be heard in buses, bars, restaurants and offices, while wealthy families often hired his band to entertain at weddings and other occasions.
Prosecutors say he used his music to incite killings and point to one song in particular – Njyewe nanga Abahutu, Kinyarwanda for “I hate the Hutus” – that they say singled out Hutus who joined the Tutsi rebellion.
“I hate these Hutus, who can be led to kill and who, I swear to you, kill Hutus,” the lyrics say. “Dear comrades, if I hate them it is for the better.”
Wilfred Nderitu, Bikindi’s lawyer, says his client’s songs are innocent.
“To accuse him is to deny him his right of expression.”
The ICTR sits to try those allegedly involved in the 1994 genocide, when 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were massacred by Hutu extremists.