A damning report points out that France helped build the institutions responsible for one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century.
The French government of former president Francois Mitterrand knew about an impending genocide in Rwanda but didn’t take the necessary steps to stop it, a years-long investigative report has found.
More than 800,000 people, most of them belonging to the ethnic Tutsi minority and moderate Rwandan politicians, were slaughtered in horrific ways in a roughly 100-day period between April and June, 1994.
The brutality of the violence shook the world and scarred relations between Paris and Kigali, Rwanda’s capital.
“It is our conclusion that the French government bears significant responsibility for enabling a foreseeable genocide,” the report, prepared by the US law firm Levy Firestone Muse, said.
The Muse report was commissioned by Kigali to investigate France’s role in the genocide, which was perpetuated by the Hutu regime that had close ties to Paris.
The authors of the report began research in 2017 and over the years went through thousands of documents and hundreds of interviews to draw their conclusions.
They say French authorities did not participate in the investigation and continue to withhold key information, which can help shed light on how the events unfolded during the pogrom that lasted around 100 days.
In that period, neighbours turned on neighbours, killing men, women and children and leaving their bodies on roadsides as French soldiers escorting foreigners drove by without offering any help.
France has “continuously obstructed justice, concealed documents, and perpetuated false narratives about the Genocide” in the past 25 years, it said.
The fullscale genocide began after the plane carrying Rwanda’s then Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana was shot down on April 6, 1994, over the capital Kigali.
France saw Habyarimana as a close ally and helped arm his regime despite knowing it was preparing to carryout a genocide, the report says.
The Muse report comes just days after the release of the Duclert Commission report, which was sanctioned by the French government of President Emmanuel Macron.
Prepared by a group of historians, the Duclert Commission report held Paris repsonsible for not doing enough to stop the genocide but did not point towards any complicity. Instead, it said the French leadership was just blinded by its desire to extend France’s post-colonial influence in East Africa.
The Duclert Commission report “fails to pronounce that the Government of France bears significant responsibility for having enabled a foreseeable genocide,” the Muse report notes.
“The French government was neither blind nor unconscious about the foreseeable genocide,” it adds.
While the Duclert report said it did not find any evidence that suggests France gave military support to the Hutu regime after the genocide began, the Muse report says Paris had equipped the Rwandan military in the years preceeding the pogrom.
“French military officers advised Rwandan military leaders and trained Rwandan soldiers, while French soldiers shored up the Rwandan army’s defense of Kigali. This support afforded extremists time to plan and ultimately execute a genocide.”
The damning Muse report rejects claims made by Mitterrand, who died in 1996, and other French officials, that they couldn’t have seen the genocide coming.
“French officials on the ground in Rwanda had been reporting to Paris for nearly four years on massacres targeting Tutsi,” it says.
Instead of trying to stop those who were perpetuating atrocities, the French government continued to view the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) as a greater threat. The RPF, which now rules Rwanda under its leader President Paul Kagame, was the only force that tried to fight the genocide at the time.
The Muse report says it also did not find any evidence that can directly implicate a French official in the killing of Tutsi people. But “the French government was an indispensable collaborator in building the institutions that would become instruments of the Genocide.”