France Evaluates Role in Rwanda Genocide, Marking 25th Anniversary

by Henry Samuel

French President Emmanuel Macron has appointed researchers to carry out a two-year investigation into the role of the French army in the Rwandan genocide that is still a source of tension between Paris and Kigali 25 years later.

President Emmanuel Macron has pledged to shed unprecedented light on France’s murky role in the Rwanda genocide by throwing open the state archives 25 years after the start of the massacre.

Mr Macron’s gesture on Friday came after quarter of a century of tense relations over France’s stance before and during the 1994 genocide, in which 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered, many hacked to death with machetes.

Rwanda has accused France of backing the ethnic Hutu forces behind most of the killing and of facilitating the escape of some of the perpetrators. Paris has long rejected such claims.

An eight-strong commission of historians and researchers “will be tasked with consulting all France’s archives relating to the genocide… in order to analyse the role and engagement of France during that period,” said the presidency.

The team will have access to classified documents from the foreign and defence ministries but also the DGSE, France’s external intelligence service, and reportedly the archives of then president François Mitterrand.
Friday’s announcement was made just as Mr Macron met with the Ibuka association of genocide survivors – another first for a French president.

The 41-year old centrist has won plaudits among African leaders for eschewing France’s longstanding tradition of interference on the continent in a policy known as France-Afrique. During a visit to Paris last year, Paul Kagame, the Rwandan president, said: “It makes a change from the neo-colonial positions of the past.”

The move came just six months after Mr Macron opened archives on another opaque page in French history regarding the 1954-1962 independence war Algeria, a former colony.

The announcement may go some way to tempering disappointment that Mr Macron will not be attending this weekend’s commemorations in Rwanda, where several African leaders, along with the prime minister of Belgium – the former colonial power – will be present.

The Macron presidency cited scheduling difficulties, with one Elysée sources telling Jeune Afrique the ceremony was too close to upcoming European parliamentary elections. A young MP of Rwandan origin was sent instead.

Marcel Kabanda, the 62-year-old president of Ibuka France whose family all died in the genocide, praised the creation of the commission as a “strong gesture”.

But he expressed caution. “We have often been disappointed, we have often been betrayed,” he said. A 2015 pledge by president Francois Hollande to open the state’s archives on the genocide turned out to be a damp squib.
The historians will take two years to pore over the entire period from 1990 to 1994 to “contribute to a better understanding and knowledge of the genocide of Tutsis”, said the presidency. Their work will contribute to the way the genocide is taught in French schools, it added.

France hopes the moves will end 25 years of mutual distrust and recrimina- tion with Rwanda.

Paris has staunchly denied complicity in the genocide, insisting that UN-mandated French soldiers in Rwanda in the final weeks of the genocide tried to avoid as much bloodshed as possible.

But it has been accused of at the very least turning a blind eye.

Last month, retired general Jean Varret said that France was at fault for failing to act despite clear signs the Hutu regime was preparing for genocide.

Gen Varret recounted how Col Pierre-Célestin Rwaga lita, head of the Rwandan gendarmerie, had told him: “I’m asking for weapons, because I’m going to participate with the army in the liquidation of the problem. The problem is very simple: the Tutsis are not very numerous, we’re going to liquidate them.”

When he relayed the chilling request to his superiors in Paris, he told Radio France, “nobody listened.” Fabrice Tarrit, co-president of Survie, an association pushing for a French policy shift in Africa, said: “What we want rather than (Macron’s) visit is that the highest French authorities finally admit that there was support in various forms by the French state to the genocidal forces.”

Another bone of contention is the few number of cases that have come to court in France, which has a dedicated judicial unit in charge of investigation Rwandan genocide. Only three people have been convicted in France, where victims’ groups say around 100 suspected perpetrators are living.

Mr Macron on Friday pledged to increase judicial means so that suspects “could be tried in a reasonable amount of time.”

Franco-Rwandan ties hit a low point in 2006 when a French judge recommended that a UN-backed tribunal prosecute President Kagame over the 1994 killing of Rwanda’s then president Juvenal Habyarimana, a moderate Hutu whose death sparked the start of the genocide.

In response, Mr Kagame, who led the Tutsi rebel force that overthrew the genocidal Hutu regime, broke off ties with France for three years.

Relations thawed somewhat in 2010 when former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, while falling short of an apology, acknowledged that France had made “serious errors of judgement” in Rwanda.

President Kagame will launch a week of commemorations and 100 days of national mourning on Sunday, the day the genocide began, by lighting a remembrance flame at the Kigali Genocide Memorial, where more than 250,000 victims are thought to be buried.

The Telegraph

Posted by on Apr 8 2019. Filed under top stories. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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