Report asserts France’s position in Rwanda’s Tutsi Genocide

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Vincent Duclert sent a scathing report to French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday that sheds light on Paris’ involvement in the genocide against Tutsis in Rwanda.

The two-year investigation into historical documents, directed by historian Duclert, concludes that France suffered in Rwanda because then-French President François Mitterrand and his entourage supported the government of Juvénal Habyarimana.

This discovery explains, among other things, France’s military assistance after concerns about genocide threats.

However, the word “complicity” in genocide is not used in the paper to explain France’s attitude between April and June 1994, when nearly 800,000 civilians, mainly of the Tutsi ethnic community, were killed in Rwanda.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame has long been outspoken about France’s alleged inconsistency on human rights amid the two countries’ unresolved past.

Background and Context

According to a damning report sent to Emmanuel Macron on Friday, France’s strategy in Rwanda between 1990 and 1994, headed by an “ideologically obsessed” president and his entourage, was a “failure” and bears “overwhelming” blame for the Tutsi genocide.

According to a Foreign Ministry statement, Kigali welcomed “an essential move toward a shared understanding of France’s position.”

According to a statement from the presidency, the study “marks a significant move forward,” recognizing France’s interest in Rwanda.

He added that France, where many people accused of being responsible for the 1994 genocide against Tutsis in Rwanda have settled, “will continue its efforts” against those responsible for genocide.

The French president expressed confidence that this study’s publishing would usher in an “irreversible” rapprochement with Kigali.

While ties between the two countries have improved since Emmanuel Macron took office in 2017, France’s position in Rwanda has remained a contentious problem for more than 25 years. It is also the subject of a heated and heated debate among researchers, academics, and politicians.

This more than 1,000-page paper, the culmination of two years of research into French archives, presents an uncompromising appraisal of Paris’ military and political presence while denying Kigali’s long-denounced “complicity” in genocide.

This was not lost on Hubert Védrine, Secretary-General of the French Presidency at the time of the genocide, who lauded the report’s “honesty” and emphasized that it “ruled out any involvement on the part of France.”

Present in Rwanda after the Great Lakes nation gained independence from Belgium, France “remained blind to the planning” of the 1994 genocide against Rwandan Tutsis, concludes the commission of 14 historians headed by Vincent Duclert, which was founded in 2019 by Emmanuel Macron.

The historians examine the French determination during these four decisive years. The Hutu regime’s genocidal drift was placed in motion, leading to the 1994 tragedy: 800,000 civilians, mainly Tutsi, were exterminated in abominable circumstances between April and July.

The study outlines an African agenda determined at the highest level by the time’s Socialist president, François Mitterrand, and his immediate circle, an entourage driven by “ideological structures” or the urge not to displease the head of state.

He identifies decision-makers who were “locked into” a post-colonial “ethnicist” view of the situation and agreed to offer almost “unconditional” help to Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana’s “racial, corrupt, and brutal” regime against a Tutsi insurgency thought to be remotely operated from English-speaking Uganda.

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“Alignment”

“This alignment with the Rwandan government is the result of a desire on the part of the head of state and the presidency of the Republic,” write the fourteen historians of the commission, insisting on the “strong, personal and direct relationship” that François Mitterrand had with the Hutu president Juvénal Habyarimana.

This relationship, combined with a fascination with creating Rwanda as a region for the protection of the French-speaking world against Tutsi rebels hiding in Uganda, justified “the supply of large amounts of weapons and ammunition to the Habyarimana government, as well as the substantial participation of the French military in the training of the Rwandan armed forces.”

Paris took up the cause of the Habyarimana regime beginning in October 1990, the date of an offensive by the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front, a former Tutsi uprising headed by Paul Kagame, now President of Rwanda). It engaged itself militarily with the military operation Noroît, which was intended to defend foreign expatriates but in reality served as a ‘dissuasive’ force to defend a wavering government from the insurgent offensive.

Though advising Habyarimana to democratize his government and negotiate with his enemies, which resulted in the Arusha Peace Accords in August 1993, France dismissed repeated warnings from Kigali and Paris that the regime was on the verge of extremism and the possibility of ‘genocide’ against Tutsis.

Presidential circle

Ses alerts are overlooked or discounted by the president and his circle, whether they come from the French military attaché in Kigali, NGOs, some ambassadors, or the intelligence services.

“One has to ask whether, in the end, French decision-makers really needed to hear an analysis that defied Rwanda’s strategy,” the researchers note.

The study emphasizes François Mitterrand’s General Staff (EMP) importance, led by General Christian Quesnot and his deputy Colonel (now General) Jean-Pierre Huchon.

“The EMP bears a very significant responsibility in the installation of a general animosity of the Elysée against the RPF,” writes the paper, which denounces “irregular activities,” also “officine practices” of this body which bypasses all the regular channels to enforce French policy on the field.

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With the president’s implicit approval: “no record indicates a willingness on the part of the head of state to sanction these soldiers or to restrain them in their efforts,” according to the study.

Around the same time, with rare exceptions, the diplomatic community was hardly more critical: “the diplomats espouse the dominant view of the authorities without distance or hesitation,” and their administration is “impervious” to scrutiny.

Despite the often “ruthless” confrontations between the Elysée and the government of Prime Minister Edouard Balladur, who was far less inclined towards French intervention in Rwanda, the advent of a right-wing government in 1993 – France was entering a “cohabitation” era – did not radically change the situation.

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Inability to think about the genocide

When the genocide started on April 7, 1994, the day after the attack on President Habyarimana’s plane (the study does not mention the supporters, which has been a source of contention for nearly 30 years), there was no “fundamental rethinking of France’s strategy, which remains obsessed with the RPF challenge.” Even though Alain Juppé, the head of right-wing diplomacy, was the first to mention “genocide” in mid-May 1994, the reading grid soon returned to “inter-ethnic massacres” and a “civil war.”

According to historians, there is an “obstinacy to characterize the Rwandan crisis in ethnic terms, to describe a civil war where there is a genocidal enterprise.”

In a sense of foreign retreat or immobility – the UN, former imperial power Belgium, and the United States – France was the first to respond, launching a military-humanitarian mission in June 1994 under a UN mandate aimed at “stopping the massacres.”

Turquoise, the infamous operation, “saved many lives, but not those of the vast majority of Rwandan Tutsis exterminated in the first weeks of the genocide,” writes the commission, emphasizing that French officials “refused to detain” the genocide masterminds who had sought shelter in the region under French jurisdiction. This is one of the most contentious aspects of France’s intervention in Rwanda.

The political and military leaders of the time said that they had saved the international community’s honor by being the first ones to participate in Rwanda.

The genocide came to an end with the RPF’s victory in July 1994. Since then, France has maintained strained, if not execrable, ties with Rwanda, culminating in the termination of diplomatic relations in 2006.

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