Vile Crime or Inalienable Right: A Reply to Professor Gordon

by Susan Benesch

I am indebted to Professor Gregory Gordon not only for his comments now, but for his own published work on incitement to genocide, and for fruitful debates that we are continuing here. As he knows, I disagree with his contention that the ICTR jurisprudence has identified or even “gleaned” as he puts it, a four-part test for incitement to genocide. The section of the “Media” judgment from which Gregory gleans his test [Nahimana or “Media” judgment, paras 1004-1015] is simply a rambling discussion of “general principles” that “emerge from the international jurisprudence on incitement to discrimination and violence [and] serve as a useful guide to the factors to be considered” in defining incitement to genocide. The decision lists three principles: purpose, context, and causation.

Under “purpose,” the judgment conflates purpose with intent, mentions hate speech cases only (not incitement to genocide cases), and completely ignores the Genocide Convention’s specific intent requirement, which makes the question of “purpose” moot, in my view. One point on which the jurisprudence is clear is that the inciter to genocide must have the specific intent to bring about genocide. The next “general principle,” “context,” is discussed in three disjointed paragraphs. [1004, 1005, 1006]. The first one refers to historical context, i.e., previous violence, the second notes that courts may use context to ferret out a speaker’s concealed intent, and the third discusses considerations for and against restricting speech in the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights. Again, there is no reference to incitement to genocide. Finally, under “causation,” the judgment finally mentions incitement to genocide, and notes that the crime carries no causation requirement.

Gregory notes that the ICTR’s jurisprudence has given examples of discourse “falling between [the] two extremes” of historical research and news reporting, on the one hand, and “explicit calls for violence” on the other. That’s true, but that shows only that the ICTR has correctly identified the two (obvious) ends of the spectrum. The necessary task, which the ICTR did not accomplish, is to distinguish between adjacent points along the spectrum: between hate speech and incitement to genocide.

It is no surprise that the Canadian Supreme Court did not apply the four-part test at all, much less “explicitly and systematically,” since it is not in the jurisprudence. I take Gregory’s point that a Canadian appeals court seems to have run off the rails when it understood Mugesera’s November 1992 speech to be about “elections, courage, and love,” but it is worth noting that there was fervent debate about how to translate the speech from the original Kinyarwanda, which made room for expert disagreements about its meaning. Also, even if three other Canadian courts reached the correct conclusion, criminalization of speech is such a delicate, dangerous, and important operation, in my view, that it must be rigorously explained.

Just two final points. I didn’t say (or didn’t intend to say) that since seventeen months elapsed between Mugesera’s speech and the Rwandan genocide, the speech cannot have been incitement to genocide. What I meant to argue is that some length of time would be too long, making the connection between speech and genocide too attenuated for criminal responsibility. For this reason, it is more logical to ask whether a speech created a reasonably possibility of genocide when the speech was made, than whether the speech influenced a genocide that took place much later.

Finally, Gregory argues that my reasonable possibility test is at odds with the inchoate nature of the crime, and that the test “opens a conceptual fissure” that might improperly admit a causation requirement. On the contrary, the reasonable possibility test allows for incitement to genocide to be identified (and prosecuted) whether genocide ensues or not.

In sum, we agree on the goal of prosecuting incitement to genocide vigorously while protecting speech as much as possible. The only question is precisely how to accomplish this, if the law – that blunt instrument – can manage such an exquisite balance at all.

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