France enabled 1994 Rwanda genocide, report says
By Abdi Latif Dahir
France played a “significant” role in “enabling a foreseeable genocide” in Rwanda, according to a report commissioned by the Rwandan government that was released Monday and that echoed the findings of a recent appraisal by France.
The report offered a damning new perspective on the events that led to the killing of at least 800,000 people in 1994, arguing that France “did nothing to stop” the slaughter of ethnic Tutsis by a Rwandan government dominated by members of the Hutu ethnic group.
Twenty-seven years after the genocide, France and Rwanda are making attempts to set the record straight on what happened during the bloodletting, government officials have said, both to respond to domestic demands and to improve bilateral relations.
The 600-page report, generated by a Washington law firm, concluded that the French government was “neither blind nor unconscious” in regard to the imminent genocide, yet continued in its “unwavering support” for the government of then-Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana. It accused the government of former French President François Mitterrand of doing so in order to advance and reinforce its own influence and interests in the country.
A landlocked nation of more than 12 million people in central Africa, Rwanda was a Belgian colony until it gained independence in 1962. But during the genocide, France, which had close ties with the Habyarimana regime, sent its troops to Rwanda as part of a United Nations-mandated military operation.
“French officials armed, advised, trained, equipped, and protected the Rwandan government, heedless of the Habyarimana regime’s commitment to the dehumanization and, ultimately, the destruction and death of Tutsi in Rwanda,” the report said.
The report also accused France of covering up its role in the genocide — which took place over roughly 100 days — protecting those who participated in the killings and withholding “critical documents and testimony” that would shed more light on its actions.
The report’s authors, however, found “no evidence that French officials or personnel participated directly in the killing of Tutsi during that period.”
Last month, France released a report concluding that the French government bore “overwhelming responsibilities” for the genocide, as it remained allied with the “racist, corrupt and violent” Hutu-led government even as the leadership prepared to slaughter the Tutsis. But the report, commissioned by President Emmanuel Macron and written by historians, cleared the French of complicity in the genocide.
During a ceremony in the Rwandan capital of Kigali this month to mark the 27th anniversary of the genocide, President Paul Kagame praised the French report, saying it showed how “Rwandan lives were just pawns in geopolitical games.”
“We welcome this report because it marks an important step toward a common understanding of what took place,” Kagame said. “It shows the desire even for leaders in France to move forward with a good understanding of what happened.”
The report comes as Kagame faces increasing criticism abroad over his government’s handling of critics, including the ongoing terrorism case against former hotelier Paul Rusesabagina.
The Rwandan government in 2017 commissioned the Washington, D.C., law firm Levy Firestone Muse to investigate France’s role in the genocide against the Tutsis. The firm’s report draws on a range of sources, including government reports, videos, documentaries and interviews with more than 250 witnesses.
For years, France and Rwanda have tussled over accounts of how the genocide transpired and the extent of French complicity. But relations have gradually started to thaw. In 2018, Macron backed Rwanda’s former Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo to lead the International Organization of La Francophonie, a coalition of French-speaking countries — a move that was widely seen as an effort to bolster relations with Kigali.
Kagame has also visited France at least three times since 2018, and French media have reported that Macron might visit Rwanda this year. Nicolas Sarkozy was the last French president to visit Rwanda, in 2010.
In recent years, several cases related to the genocide have surfaced in French courts.
In May, Félicien Kabuga, who was accused of financing the genocide, was arrested in Paris after more than two decades on the run. In July, a French appeals court ended an investigation into the plane crash that killed Habyarimana, an event that triggered the 1994 genocide and for which Kagame’s allies were blamed. And a Rwandan priest was arrested in France last week for his alleged role in aiding those who killed people in his church during the genocide.
In an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde on Monday, Rwanda’s foreign affairs minister, Vincent Biruta, said the new report would “contribute to the reconciliation between France and Rwanda.”
Biruta added: “If apologies were to be formulated one day, it would be a step in the right direction to restore trust.”