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French government ‘enabled foreseeable’ Rwandan genocide, report claims

Investigation finds that Paris ‘did nothing to stop’ slaughter of 800,000 people in 1994 mass killings

France bears “significant responsibility” for the genocide of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis in Rwanda, according to a newly published landmark report.

Commissioned by the Rwandan government, the report offers a “damning perspective on the events” that led to the murders of around 800,000 people over 100 days between April and July 1994, says The New York Times (NYT).

The government in Paris was a “collaborator” of the extremist Hutu-majority government that orchestrated the killings and remained “unwavering in its support” even though officials knew the mass slaughter was being planned, claim the report authors, from Washington-based law firm Levy Firestone Muse.

France “did nothing to stop” the outbreak of violence against the Tutsi minority, they write, adding: “It is our conclusion that the French government bears significant responsibility for enabling a foreseeable genocide.”

The release of the 600-page report comes weeks after a separate inquiry commissioned by Emmanuel Macron reported that France bears “heavy and damning responsibilities” but was not complicit in the slaughter.

‘Neither blind nor unconscious’

The genocide followed the downing of an airplane carrying the then president of Rwanda, Juvenal Habyarimana, and neighbouring Burundi’s president Cyprien Ntaryamira on 6 April 1994.

Both men were killed in the crash, which was originally thought to have been ordered by Hutu extremists. However, reports would later emerge suggesting that the attack may have been ordered by Rwanda’s current president, Paul Kagame, head of the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Force.

Almost three decades on from the massacre, “both France and Rwanda are making attempts to set the record straight on what happened during the bloodletting”, the NYT says.

The Rwandan government-commissioned report accuses France of having been “neither blind nor unconscious” to the genocide. French officials are alleged to have “armed, advised, trained, equipped, and protected” the then government, in spite of “the Habyarimana regime’s commitment to the dehumanisation and, ultimately, the destruction and death of Tutsi in Rwanda”.

The report also claims that France later withheld “critical documents and testimony” that could have shed more light on the killing, but found “no evidence that French officials or personnel participated directly in the killing of Tutsi during that period”.

The investigation by the US law firm began in 2017 and “drew on millions of pages of documents and interviews with more than 250 witnesses”, France 24 reports.

Welcoming the findings, President Kagame, a former Tutsi rebel, said that the new report was “an important step toward a common understanding of what took place”. However, a “decades-long effort by certain French officials to cover up their responsibilities” had caused “significant damage”, he warned.

Uneasy allies

In June 1994, as the Tutsi death roll mounted, the UN launched Operation Turquoise, a military-humanitarian intervention. But some critics have claimed that the operation “was in reality aimed at supporting the genocidal Hutu government”, The Guardian reports.

Rwanda and France have “for years tussled over accounts of how the genocide transpired and the extent of French complicity”, says the NYT.

In 2006, the two countries broke diplomatic ties after a Paris judge accused Kagame and nine of his then-aides of ordering the attack on Habyarimana’s plane that triggered the violence - a claim that Rwanda has always denied.

However, “relations have gradually started to thaw” in recent years, adds the newspaper, 

Kagame has visited France at least three times since 2018, and Macron is reportedly planning to visit Rwanda later this year, becoming the first French president to do so since Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010.

In an interview with Le Monde on Monday, Rwandan Minister of Foreign Affairs Vincent Biruta said that the newly published report would “contribute to the reconciliation between France and Rwanda”, adding: “If apologies were to be formulated one day, it would be a step in the right direction to restore trust.”

Rwanda also hailed the release of the Macron-commissioned report in March as “an important step toward a common understanding of France’s role in the genocide”, despite the differing conclusion about the balance of blame.

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