Incendiary Media Use and The Failure of the Rwandan Case

Use of the media is a powerful tool in crimes against humanity for the following reasons: it allows the wielder to shape contemporary discourse, it helps desensitise and marginalise those who are not being targeted, and it can successfully contribute to the generation, entrenchment and wholesale acceptance of dangerous demographic stereotypes, which often serve as the premise for ensuing violence.

The Rwandan Genocide is a prime example of how influential persons in control of sources of information, such as radio broadcasts and newsletters, can distort and filter the material that the public can access. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), which was tasked with prosecuting various violations of international humanitarian law during the genocide, handed down a landmark judgment on this use of the media. This judgment, along with two significant cases of incendiary media use during the Third Reich in Germany, constitute a large part of the law on attribution of responsibility to the perpetrators.

I will analyse each case in order to arrive at an appropriate standard for responsibility, and to demonstrate why I think the Appeals Chamber of the ICTR did not do a good job.

I. The Case of Julius Streicher 

The Nazi regime in Germany is well-known for its careful, manipulative use of the media. Julius Streicher was the founder and editor of an anti-Semitic newsletter called Der Stürmer, translatable to ‘The Attacker’. He made various far-fetched and malicious claims about Jews in the cartoons and articles he published in this newsletter scapegoating them for Germany’s economic problems and criminal happenings. In an article published in a 1939 edition of Der Stürmer, the author decried the idea of a ‘decent Jew’, stating his intention to make the public of the Third Reich understand why it was a “shameless lie”.

Streicher was tried by a military chamber at Nuremberg. The Tribunal found no direct causality between his acts and specific acts of killing Jews.  He had issued no direct orders to anybody to exterminate the Jews and had not actually participated in the Holocaust. However, his circulation of vitriolic messages was noted as a “poison” which infiltrated the citizenry’s minds and made them subscribe to the general atmosphere of anti-Semitism. It quoted the following statement from Der Sturmer to illustrate Streicher’s ill-intentions: “A punitive expedition must come against the Jews in Russia. A punitive expedition which will provide the same fate for them that every murderer and criminal must expect. Death sentence and execution. The Jews in Russia must be killed. They must be exterminated root and branch.”  The Tribunal considered that his efforts, in line with this sentiment, constituted incitement to murder and extermination of Jews.

In other words, Streicher had successfully contributed to desensitizing the non-Jewish population and was held responsible for crimes against humanity.

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Go On! TOMORROW: Implications of Vichy and Third Reich legal discourse for contemporary law (Cardozo Law, 6 pm)

Tomorrow, October 30th, the Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights (HGHR) Program at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law presents a discussion “On the Implications for Contemporary Law and Legal Scholarship of Vichy and Third Reich Judicial Discourse.” The event will begin at 6 pm at 55 Fifth Avenue. There will be a reception following the event.

The discussion will involve close readings of what passed for legal discourse in Vichy France and Nazi Germany, appraising its significance for today’s legal scholarship, judges, and interpretive theory. Among specific developments to be discussed are a German court’s recent description of circumcision in Jewish ritual as causing “severe physical injury,” the relationship of law and morals generally, and the implications of Vichy’s legal and academic discourse for the incipient renewal of anti-semitism in France.

The speakers are Prof. Otto Pfersmann, Prof. of Law, Paris-1, Pantheon, Sorbonne, and Prof. Richard Weisberg, Floersheimer Prof. of Constitutional Law and Founding Director, Cardozo Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights Program.

Please RSVP to cardozophhr@gmail.com.

Go On! FASPE Legal Ethics Fellowship in Berlin, Krakow, and Oświęcim (Auschwitz)

(Image credit: FASPE)

FASPE (Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics), in collaboration with The Museum of Jewish Heritage—A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, is now accepting applications for a fellowship that uses the conduct of lawyers and judges during the Holocaust and in Nazi Germany as a launching point for an intensive two-week summer program on contemporary legal ethics. Fellowships include an all-expenses-paid trip from New York to Berlin, Krakow, and Oświęcim (Auschwitz) where students work with leading faculty to explore both legal history and the ethical issues facing practicing attorneys today. All program costs, including international and European travel, lodging, and food, are covered.

The 2015 FASPE Law program will run from May 24 to June 4.

The program is particularly targeted at students who intend to practice, whether in law firms, as prosecutors, as defense attorneys, or otherwise. All FASPE programs are non-denominational and candidates of all religious, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds are encouraged to apply. Completed applications must be received by January 6, 2015.

To apply or to learn more about FASPE, please visit: http://www.FASPE.info.

If you have any questions, please contact Thorin R. Tritter, Managing Director of FASPE, at ttritter@FASPE.info.