STATE & TRADITIONAL MEDIA
At society’s higher levels, large and public institutions like the state and traditional media exert tremendous power in shaping public discourse and behavior, as the case studies in this website have demonstrated.
Given their influence, these institutions bear a great responsibility to be vigilant about and proactive in preventing atrocity speech.
"Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities."
– François-Marie Arouet (pen name “Voltaire”), Questions sur Les Miracles, in 8 Oeuvres Completes de Voltaire (Chez Furne 1836), p. 691
MILITARY & POLICE
Hierarchical organisations that possess a legitimate right to threaten or deploy violence in the service of the state – i.e., the police and the military – bear a particular burden to avoid atrocity speech.
These organizations must be able to train their own members that certain types of rhetoric can amount to the types of atrocity speech addressed in this website.
TRADITIONAL MEDIA ORGANIZATIONS
Traditional media organizations — meaning television, radio, and newspapers — are similarly powerful.
For example, in the cases of Rwanda and Bosnia described elsewhere in this website, radio and television amplified the rhetoric that fueled atrocities. But the media can become a vehicle for discrediting harmful speech while promoting positive alternative discourse. Media watchdogs can play an important role in highlighting transgressions and holding the media to account. For example, the Switzerland-based non-governmental organization Fondation Hirondelle has established local projects that perform both of these roles in several post-conflict settings.
Incendiary Speech from Yati Narsinghanand (India)
Source video uploaded to YouTube by The Quint.
Genocide Watch’s Greg Stanton Expresses
Concern over Hate Speech in India
Genocide Watch executive director Greogry Stanton sounded the alarm in early 2022. Source video uploaded to YouTube by Justice for All.
IN THIS SECTION :
In Kenya, violence between supporters of two presidential candidates, incumbent Mwai Kibaki and his challenger Raila Odinga, broke out following a disputed election in December 2007. The violence quickly assumed an ethnic dimension with partisans from the Kikuyu, Kamba and Kisii ethnic groups (supporting Kibaki) and Luo and Kalenjin activists (supporting Odinga) targeting one another over the course of the ensuing 6-8 weeks. According to International Criminal Court investigators, at least one media figure – Joshua Arap Sang, a Kalenjin-language broadcaster with the Kass FM radio station – exacerbated the violence.
An ICC complaint against Sang claimed that he:
“allegedly…(i) plac[ed] his show Lee Nee Eme at the disposal [of the organizers of the campaign of violence against Kikuyus]; (ii) advertis[ed] meetings [at which violence was planned]; (iii) fann[ed] violence by spreading hate messages and explicitly revealing a desire to expel the Kikuyus; and (iv) broadcast[ed] false news regarding alleged murder(s) of Kalenjin people in order to inflame the violent atmosphere.”
The ICC also noted that Sang used “coded language disseminated through radio broadcasts to help coordinate attacks” against Kikuyus in the weeks following the election. For example, the phrase “The trees should be uprooted” was used in a context allegedly understood to mean “non-Kalenjin should be removed from the area.”
Although the case against Sang was abandoned because of alleged witness intimidation, the ICC judges granting that motion took pains to declare that the termination of the case did not constitute an acquittal on the charges he faced.
In the last twenty years, there has been a history of inter-communal violence perpetrated in India by Hindu extremists against Muslims. Much of the violence has been sparked and sustained by zealous nationalist leaders, referred to as Hindutva, who spout their anti-Muslim rhetoric and disinformation in public spaces and on the airwaves. For example, in 2020, Hindu cleric Yati Narsinghanand was among the hardliners stoking tensions during monthslong protests over a citizenship amendment seen as religiously discriminatory. He called for violence, using the language of a “final battle.” “They are jihadis, and we will have to finish them off,” he said. The speech sparked violence in India’s capital, New Delhi, with dozens of Muslims killed.
In late 2021, according to The New York Times, extremist Hindu monks in the holy city of Hardiwar, led by Narsinghanand, promoted a genocidal campaign to “kill two million [Muslims]” and “urged an ethnic cleansing of the kind that targeted Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.” The Times notes that the monks have “repeated their messages of hate…on national television and social media.” Indeed, the BBC, noted that a “right-wing” television personality “…could be seen administering an oath to a group of people to ‘die for and kill’ to make India a Hindu nation” in a December 2021 broadcast. In an increasingly polarized context, even without direct calls for violence such rhetoric could be seen as an act of persecution (CAH), contributing to widespread or systematic attack against India’s Muslim population.
Experts now warn that the “violent rhetoric has reached a dangerous new pitch…with right-wing messages spreading rapidly [such] that a singular event – [such as] a local dispute…could lead to widespread violence that would be difficult to contain.”