France bears overwhelming responsibilities over the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and was “blind” to preparations for the massacres, a report by historians said Friday, while adding there was no evidence Paris was complicit in the killings.
A historical commission set up by President Emmanuel Macron concluded there had been a “failure” on the part of France under former leader Francois Mitterrand over the genocide that saw around 800,000 people slaughtered, mainly from the ethnic Tutsi minority.
Historian Vincent Duclert, who heads the commission, handed over the damning report to Macron at the Elysee Palace after years of accusations France did not do enough to halt the massacres and was even complicit in the crimes.
Rwanda hailed the report as “an important step toward a common understanding of France’s role in the genocide against the Tutsi”.
The genocide between April and July of 1994 began after Rwanda’s Hutu president Juvenal Habyarimana, with whom Paris had cultivated close ties, was killed when his plane was shot down over Kigali on April 6.
The issue still poisons modern relations a quarter of a century later between France and Rwanda under its controversial President Paul Kagame, a former Tutsi rebel who has ruled the mountainous nation in Africa’s Great Lakes region since the aftermath of the genocide.
“Is France an accomplice to the genocide of the Tutsi? If by this we mean a willingness to join a genocidal operation, nothing in the archives that were examined demonstrates this,” the report’s conclusions said.
“Nevertheless, for a long time, France was involved with a regime that encouraged racist massacres… It remained blind to the preparation of a genocide by the most radical elements of this regime.”
It criticised the French authorities under Mitterrand for adopting a “binary view” that set Habyarimana as an “Hutu ally” against an “enemy” of Tutsi forces backed by Uganda, and then offering military intervention only “belatedly” when it was too late to halt the genocide.
“The research therefore establishes a set of responsibilities, both serious and overwhelming,” it said.
Macron, who ordered the creation of the commission in May 2019, welcomed the report as marking “considerable progress” in understanding France’s role in Rwanda from 1990 to 1994.
The Elysee said it hoped the report would mark an “irreversible” reconciliation process between France and Rwanda, which Macron has said he wants to visit this year.
Beyond welcoming the report, Rwanda’s foreign ministry said in its statement that the results from the country’s own investigation commissioned in 2017 would be released in the coming weeks.
It said its conclusions “will complement and enrich those of the Duclert Commission.”
France notably led Operation Turquoise, a military-humanitarian intervention launched under a UN mandate in June 1994. Its critics believe that it was in reality aimed at supporting the genocidal Hutu government.
And there have also been repeated accusations that authorities in Paris helped suspects in the Rwanda genocide to escape while under French military protection.
The report concluded that in July 1994, “murderers but also the masterminds of the genocide” were in a safe zone established by French forces in the west of the country “who the French political authorities refused to arrest”.
Socialist Mitterrand and his inner circle were also fearful of the encroachment of English-speaking influence into francophone Africa by Uganda and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) of Kagame.
The report tells of French decision-makers trapped in “post-colonial” thinking who supported the “racist, corrupt and violent” regime of Habyarimana as he faced a Tutsi rebellion which many considered was directed from English-speaking Uganda.
Mitterrand “maintained a strong, personal and direct relationship with the Rwandan head of state”, it said.
“Hovering over Rwanda was the threat of an Anglo-Saxon world, represented by the RPF and Uganda, as well as their international allies.”
French authorities behaved as if “acting in the face of a genocide was not in the realm of possibility” when there was a “moral obligation” to ensure genocides never happen again, it said.