In a bid to foster true reconciliation, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, has named a commission of experts to investigate France’s role in Rwanda’s genocide 25 years ago.
At least 800,000 people – ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus – were killed in 100 days by Hutu militias during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. More than two million refugees fled Rwanda, generating a humanitarian crisis.
Rwanda has, over the years, accused France of complicity in the mass killings, but France has repeatedly denied this. A panel of experts would now look at state archives, including diplomatic and military documents, and produce a public report, the French president said when he met representatives of a Rwandan genocide survivors’ association at the Élysée (presidency).
“The goal is to deliver a report which will be published in two years time … and will be accessible to all,” the presidency said. “It will scientifically evaluate, on the basis of archives, the role that France played in Rwanda from 1990 to 1994.”
This is expected to “contribute to a better understanding and knowledge of the genocide of Tutsis.”
France and Rwanda have had a strained relationship since the genocide in 1994. Rwandan authorities have usually blamed the French government for the massacres, saying that France supported the Hutu-led government and its ethnic forces.
Rwanda’s genocide began on April 6, 1994, when a plane carrying Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana and his Burundian counterpart Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down. The two died.
Hutu extremists blamed Tutsi rebel group, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), for the attack, then launched a well-organised slaughter campaign that claimed the lives of over 800,000 people, most from the minority Tutsi community.
France was said to be a close ally of the Hutu-led government of Juvenal Habyarimana prior to the killings. Reports said that although France had troops stationed in Rwanda at the time as part of a UN peacekeeping operation, they did not intervene until June – two months after the genocide had started.
France has insisted that its soldiers deployed did their best under the circumstances and saved lives. Other reports said that scores of suspected war criminals, wanted for trial in Rwanda, later sought refuge in France.
In 2010, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy admitted that his country had made “serious errors of judgement.” He said France had “a sort blindness when we didn’t foresee the genocidal dimensions of the government.”
Relations between the two countries have begun to improve, and Macron hosted Rwandan President Paul Kagame in Paris recently. Macron has also become the first French president to hold a meeting with representatives of the largest association of survivors of the Rwandan genocide.
Yet, Macron has been criticized for turning down an invitation to a gathering this weekend in Kigali, the Rwandan capital, to mark the 25th anniversary of the genocide.
Macron will be represented at the event by the French lawmaker, Hervé Berville, who was orphaned during the genocide and adopted by a French family in Brittany.
Sunday, April 7, marks 25 years since the 1994 Rwanda Genocide. The United Nations set aside the day to not only commemorate the event but also honour the victims. Referred to as the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of the Rwanda Genocide, the day features a series of events not only in Rwanda but also across the world.
Here are some key events from the genocide that should never be repeated:
Hate speech and failure to control it
Hate speech was one of the key factors in propagating the genocide. According to the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, genocide does not take place all of a sudden.
One of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) cases was the media case, which held members of the media responsible for broadcasts intended to incite the public to commit acts of genocide.
Addressing hate speech and incitement and putting in place strategy for atrocity prevention are some of the solutions that Dieng offers in preventing genocide.
Delayed action by the international community
The immediate action of the international community could have helped stop the genocide. However, the UN Security Council delayed in addressing the issue and peacekeepers and troops were pulled out before the genocide ended, leaving the victims without any protection.
According to reports, the head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda, Jacques-Roger Booh Booh, sent a telegram to the UN Headquarters two months before the outbreak.
Kofi Annan, the then head UN peacekeeping operations acknowledged that he could have done more to stop the genocide.
“We must never forget our collective failure to protect at least 800,000 defenceless men, women, children who perished in Rwanda…We must acknowledge our responsibility for not having done more to prevent or stop the genocide,” he said.
In 2017, Pope Francis apologised for the role of the church in the genocide. Not only was the Catholic Church accused of being close to the Hutu-led government, but some priests and nuns also participated in the genocide and were later charged by the ICTR.
Denial of genocide
The denial of the Rwanda Genocide started soon after, with some parties shunning the use of the word ‘genocide’ and using words such as ‘acts of genocide’, ‘Rwanda crisis’ or ‘Rwanda Tragedy’ and ‘ethnic cleansing’.
However, over the years, the country has not only arrested the perpetrators of the genocide but has also rounded up others for genocide denial.
Such denial not only erases the reality of the day but also accuses victims of lying. The annual commemoration of the day is important as it works to renounce that denial and to honour the victims and survivors of the genocide.
Use of existing state structures to perpetrate genocide
The Human Rights Watch established that the Rwanda government had in place structures to mobilise the communities for different initiatives including vaccination of children and ending illiteracy. These were the same structures that the organisers of the genocide used to execute the genocide campaign.
“Some who refused at the start became convinced to act when all authorities seemed to speak with one voice, when the leaders of their parties joined with administrators to demand their participation and when the military stood behind, ready to intimidate those who hesitated,” reads part of the HRW report.