Words That Can Kill: The Mugesera Speech and the 1994 Tutsi Genocide in Rwanda

Main Article Content

Narelle Fletcher


One of the most significant extant documents attesting to the dissemination of genocide ideology in Rwanda in the early 1990s is the speech delivered on 22 November 1992 by the political figure Léon Mugesera, a member of the incumbent MRND party. It is particularly significant because it constitutes the earliest example of explicit genocidal discourse expressed by a member of the ruling political party in a public forum, and as such it has often been regarded as offering a ‘blueprint’ for the practical implementation of the genocide. In addition, the contents of the speech have been the subject of intense scrutiny and heated debate within the framework of a judicial process in Canada spanning more than a decade to determine whether Mugesera should be deported to Rwanda to face prosecution for genocide.

The original speech was delivered in Kinyarwanda, the national language of Rwanda, which effectively meant it was largely inaccessible to foreign commentators until it was translated into French and English. This article examines key thematic, lexical and stylistic elements within the original speech as it was heard by its target audience, as well as fundamental issues raised by the Canadian hearings relating to the translation process such as accuracy, fidelity, impartiality and subjectivity which were crucial elements in the decision-making process which finally led to Mugesera being deported to Rwanda on 23 January 2012.

Article Details

Stigma and Exclusion in Cross-Cultural Contexts Special Issue January 2014 (Peer Reviewed)
Author Biography

Narelle Fletcher, UTS

International Studies, FASS, Associate Lecturer in French