France Has ‘Overwhelming’ Responsibility for Rwanda Genocide, Report Says
The report, commissioned by President Emmanuel Macron, found that France’s colonial mind-set had blinded it to the atrocity. The authors, though, cleared France of complicity.
March 26, 2021
PARIS — Blinded by its fears of losing influence in Africa and by a colonial view of the continent’s people, France remained close to the “racist, corrupt and violent regime’’ responsible for the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, and bears “serious and overwhelming” responsibilities, according to a report released Friday.
But the report — commissioned by President Emmanuel Macron in 2019 and put together by 15 historians with unprecedented access to French government archives — cleared France of complicity in the genocide that led to the deaths of 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and contributed to decades of conflicts and instability in Central Africa.
“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,’’ said the report, which was presented to Mr. Macron on Friday afternoon.
But the commission said that France had long been involved with Rwanda’s Hutu-led government even as that government prepared the genocide of the Tutsis, regarding the country’s leadership as a crucial ally in a French sphere of influence in the region.
For decades, France’s actions during the genocide have been the source of intense debate in Africa and in Europe, with critics accusing France of not having done enough to prevent the killings or of having actively supported the Hutu-led government behind the genocide. The unresolved history has long poisoned relations between France and the government of President Paul Kagame, the Tutsi leader who has controlled Rwanda for nearly a quarter century.
Mr. Macron, who has spoken of his desire to reset France’s relations with a continent where it was a colonial power, is believed to have commissioned the report to try to improve relations with Rwanda. Though the 992-page report presents fresh information from the French government archives, it is unlikely to resolve the debate over France’s role during the genocide, said Filip Reyntjens, a Belgian expert on the genocide.
“This will not be good enough for one side, and it won’t be good enough for the other side,’’ Mr. Reyntjens said. “So my guess is that this will not settle the issue.’’
According to the report, François Mitterrand, the French president at the time, maintained a “strong, personal and direct relationship’’ with Juvenal Habyarimana, the longtime Hutu president of Rwanda, despite his “racist, corrupt and violent regime.’’
Mr. Mitterrand and members of his inner circle believed that Mr. Habyarimana and the Hutus were key allies in a French-speaking bloc that also included Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, known then as Zaire.
The French saw Mr. Kagame and other Tutsi leaders — who had spent years in exile in neighboring Anglophone Uganda — as allies in an American push into the region.
“The principal interest of this country for France is that it be francophone,’’ a high-ranking military official wrote in 1990, according to the report, which concluded: “France’s interpretation of the Rwandan situation can be viewed through the prism of defending la Francophonie.’’
French leaders at the time viewed the Hutus and Tutsis through a colonial lens, ascribing to each group stereotypical physical traits and behavior, compounding their misinterpretation of the events that led to the genocide, according to the report.
In one of the report’s most damning conclusions, its authors wrote, “The failure of France in Rwanda, the causes of which are not all its own, can be likened in this respect to a final imperial defeat, all the more significant because it was neither expressed nor acknowledged.’’
(c) 2021 The New York Times