World, Africa, Europe

Archives expose French role in Rwandan genocide

Documents reveal French military stationed in Rwanda protected perpetrators of genocide and helped them escape justice

James Tasamba   | 29.01.2021
Archives expose French role in Rwandan genocide

KIGALI, Rwanda 

Experts are urging France to own up its role in the 1994 Rwanda genocide, which saw the killing of about one million members of the Tutsi ethnic group in a span of just 100 days.

Archival evidence now suggests that French military intervention by the late President Francois Mitterand’s government in the East African country went so far as to offer protection to perpetrators of the genocide.

Speaking to the media last week, Francois Graner, the research director at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) at Paris Diderot University, said French officials had ignored warning signs of the genocide.

“France also gave intense military support to keep the [genocidal] regime alive. Arms support continued secretly during and after the genocide,” said Graner, who has been studying official archives related to France’s role in the genocide, since the French Council of State opened the archives last June.

“The issue is that France can no longer keep denying its role. They may not acknowledge and say we were not complicit, but historical evidence shows [it was] so,” Tom Ndahiro, a Rwandan genocide scholar, told Anadolu Agency.

In 2016, Rwanda implicated 22 French military officers for their direct role in the genocide.

A 2017 report by Cunningham Levy Muse LLP, a US law firm commissioned by Kigali, said there was strong evidence linking France to the genocide in Rwanda.

The report documented how French officials had facilitated the flow of weapons to Rwanda in the run-up to the genocide.

French troops stationed in Rwanda as part of a UN peacekeeping operation in 1994, under Operation Turquoise, even created a safe zone to help some of the perpetrators to escape to the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, according to the report.

Ndahiro said more facts coming out from official French archives corroborate what was already public knowledge.

“Whether France acknowledges or not the facts which are being revealed today and previously show that it was complicit, which doesn’t have to be stated but proven, it has been proven by historical records,” he said.

Strained relationship

The issue of France’s role in the genocide had strained relations between the two countries. In recent times, however, French President Emmanuel Macron has demonstrated a conciliatory approach after he appointed a panel of experts to investigate his country’s role in the genocide.

The arrest of alleged Rwandan genocide financier Felicien Kabuga in France is also seen as a change in French policy, according to analysts.

While the French presidency had said that historians and researchers looking at the period from 1990-1994 would contribute to a better understanding and knowledge, it has not yet reviewed or officially owned up its role in the genocide.

Naphtal Ahishakiye, the executive secretary of Ibuka (remember), an umbrella group for Rwanda genocide survivors' associations, voiced hope that the French panel of experts appointed by Macron will dig up the truth.

Over the years, survivors have testified on France’s role in the genocide, and the latest revelations should further help the panel, he told Anadolu Agency.

France was a close ally of the genocidal government led by then- President Juvenal Habyarimana, whose killing in a plane crash triggered the massacres.

Ndahiro recalled that after Habyarimana’s death, interim President Theodore Sindikubwabo wrote to Mitterrand on May 22, 1994, thanking France for their “moral, political and material support.”

“That letter by Sindikubwabo is more testimony of French complicity,” said Ndahiro.

“It is upon the government of France to own up,” he added. “It’s not about Rwanda accusing France but its [own] version of history. When you get involved in genocide you owe an apology to humanity, the whole world because the crime of genocide is against humanity.”

Pursuit of justice

Ismael Buchanan, senior lecturer at the University of Rwanda, asked Paris to demonstrate cooperation in the pursuit of truth and justice. But he suggested that the issue should not affect their bilateral diplomatic relations.

“It is up to both countries to work toward strengthening their bilateral cooperation,” he said, adding that while Rwanda can keep the channels open, on other matters it is important to pursue justice and accountability.

According to Ndahiro, Paris granting access to the archives is a good beginning showing there is a political will. He said that certain individuals in France were opposed to the archives becoming public so as to remain in denial mode.

“Whether France will make an official apology or show their concern in another way is something to look forward to, but the most important thing is public acknowledgment,” said the scholar.

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