PARIS – France bears a “grave and crushing” responsibility in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, according to a report commissioned by President Emmanuel Macron. However, the report rid France of its complicity in the genocide which resulted in the deaths of nearly a million people.
The 1,200-page report, written by a group of academics who had unprecedented access to government archives, was commissioned two years ago by Macron, and was presented to him on Friday evening at the Elysee Palace.
The commission was tasked with examining France’s role in Rwanda between 1990 and 1994. Since becoming president, Macron has sought to confront France’s colonial past and postcolonial relations in Africa, in the hope to lighten the burden, better advance French interests and counter the growing anti-French sentiment among many young Africans, by providing a more factual account of the period.
In their conclusions, the authors of the report noted a political, military, diplomatic, administrative, intellectual and ethical failure of France in the management of the genocide. They said the French presidency at the time was blinded by its proximity to Rwandan Hutu leaders and by “an ethno-nationalist obsession”.
Almost a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed by Hutu forces during the 1994 genocide, and questions persisted about the role played by France in helping Hutu authorities. The president at the time, François Mittérrand had a close personal relationship with his Rwandan counterpart Juvénal Habyarimana and the report notes that proximity “is looming. [France’s] Politics. ”
Mittérrand’s son was his adviser for Africa until 1992, an extremely important position given France’s colonial past and the central role played by Africa in French foreign policy.
“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 examined demonstrates it. Yet, for a long time, France was involved in a regime which encouraged racist massacres. He remained blind to the preparation of a genocide by the most radical elements of this regime. He adopted a binary vision opposed on the one hand to the “Hutu ally” embodied by President Habyarimana, and on the other hand to the enemy described as “Ugandan-Tutsi” for the RPF. [Rwandan Patriotic Front]. He was slow to break with the interim government of Rwanda which perpetrated the genocide and continued to place the RPF threat at the top of its agenda, ”the report said. “The research therefore establishes a set of responsibilities, both serious and overwhelming.”
Macron welcomed the report’s findings.
“The president praised the remarkable scientific work accomplished by the commission and underlined that this report marked a considerable step forward in the understanding and the description of the implication of France in Rwanda”, according to a press release of the presidency French Friday night. “France will continue its efforts in the fight against the impunity of those responsible for genocide.”
Macron is the first French president born after the 1954-1962 war that Algerians fought for independence, and was a teenager during the Rwandan genocide, which allowed him to distance himself enough from events to begin to confront.
He did so by allowing access to classified archives and beginning to recognize the responsibility of the French state for crimes he had always denied. This was especially true with Algeria, which France brutally colonized for over 130 years. These questions remain worrying in French public discourse, with, for example, recurring controversies over how to teach France’s colonial past.
While the Rwanda Commission has had wider access than previous researchers to state archives, the report notes that “French state archives alone are not sufficient to provide a comprehensive explanation of history and the role of France’s engagement in Rwanda ”, among other things because certain French documents have disappeared or have never been deposited in the archives.