A historic commission set up by President Emmanuel Macron concluded that there had been a “failure” on the part of France under former leader François Mitterrand on the genocide which massacred around 800,000 people, mainly of the Tutsi ethnic minority.
Historian Vincent Duclert, who headed the commission, handed the damning report to Macron at the Elysee Palace after years of accusations that France had not done enough to stop the massacres and was even complicit in the crimes.
The April-July 1994 genocide began after Rwanda’s Hutu President Juvénal Habyarimana, with whom Paris had close ties, was killed when his plane was shot down over Kigali on April 6.
A quarter of a century later, the issue still plagues modern relations between France and Rwanda under the leadership of its controversial president Paul Kagame, a former Tutsi rebel who has ruled the mountainous nation of Africa’s Great Lakes region since the aftermath. of genocide.
“Is France an accomplice in the genocide of the Tutsi? If by that we mean a desire to join a genocidal operation, nothing in the archives that have been examined shows it, ”according to the report’s conclusions.
“However, for a long time, France was involved in a regime which encouraged racist massacres… She remained blind to the preparation of a genocide by the most radical elements of this regime.
The report criticized the French authorities under Mitterrand for adopting a “binary vision” which made Habyarimana a “Hutu ally” against an “enemy” of Tutsi forces backed by Uganda, and for having only proposed military intervention. “Late” when it was too late. to stop the genocide.
“The research therefore establishes a set of responsibilities, both serious and overwhelming,” he said.
Journalist and author Andrew Wallis told Al Jazeera the report was “explosive.”
“The only thing that stood out to me was the fact that they say that the French intelligence services knew that it was the Hutu extremists who shot down President Habyarimana’s plane, which was considered the trigger genocide, ”Wallis said.
“A previous report by a French judge denied this and put the blame on President Kagame’s RPF [Rwandan Patriotic Front party], and this misinformation has been around for 27 years. It was in their archives that they knew it was wrong. ”
Macron ordered the creation of the commission in May 2019 to analyze the role of France in Rwanda from 1990 to 1994 through archival research.
France notably led Operation Turquoise, a military-humanitarian intervention launched by Paris under a United Nations mandate between June and August 1994. Critics say that it was in fact aimed at supporting the genocidal Hutu government.
There have also been repeated accusations that the Parisian authorities have helped suspects of the Rwandan genocide to escape under French military protection.
The report concluded that in July 1994 “the assassins but also the masterminds of the genocide” were in a security zone established by French forces in the west of the country “which the French political authorities refused to arrest”.
Mitterrand and his entourage also feared the encroachment of English-speaking influence on French-speaking Africa under the influence of Uganda and Kagame’s RPF.
The report speaks of French decision-makers trapped in “postcolonial” thinking who supported Habyarimana’s “racist, corrupt and violent” regime in the face of a Tutsi rebellion seen as led from English-speaking Uganda.
Mitterrand “maintained a strong, personal and direct relationship with the Rwandan head of state” Habyarimana, he declared.
“Hovering over Rwanda was the threat of an Anglo-Saxon world, represented by the RPF and Uganda, as well as their international allies.
The French authorities behaved as if “acting in the face of genocide was not within the realm of possibility” when there was a “moral obligation” to ensure that genocides did not happen again, according to the report.
Fight against taboos
The 15-member commission has no Rwanda specialist, a decision that the French presidency considers necessary to guarantee total neutrality.
But historians – which include experts on the Holocaust, the massacres of Armenians during World War I, and international criminal law – have had access to the archives, including those of Mitterrand himself, which have long been closed to the public. researchers.
A statement from the French presidency said Macron hailed the report as marking “considerable progress in understanding and describing France’s involvement in Rwanda.”
Officials in Macron’s office said the investigation was not only aimed at improving relations with Rwanda, but with the entire African continent, as other countries also have questions about what France has done to the time.
While seeking to position France as an assertive player on the world stage, Macron has taken tentative steps to accept once taboo aspects of the country’s historic record, though many would like to see much bolder steps.
Historian Benjamin Stora was tasked with examining France’s actions during Algeria’s war for independence and called for a “truth commission” and other conciliation actions in a major report in January.
Macron has ruled out any official apology for the torture and other abuses committed by French troops in Algeria.
The contents of the Rwanda report are likely to have a major bearing on future relations between France and Rwanda, which Macron has said he wants to visit later this year.