Rwanda probes French 1994 role
French soldier in the 1994 international force supporting the relief effort for Rwandan refugees adjusts concertina wire surrounding Kigali’s airport. Source: Wikimedia
Rwanda has opened a formal investigation into 20 French military officers and security agents suspected of playing a role in its 1994 genocide, in a move likely to cause a deeper diplomatic rift with France.
Rwanda has long accused Paris of involvement in the genocide of around 800,000 mostly ethnic Tutsis at the hands of their Hutu neighbours.
In 2009, Rwanda identified 33 French political and military officers as having been complicit in the genocide.
“The inquiry, for now, is focused on 20 individuals whom, according to information gathered so far, are required by the prosecution authority to explain or provide clarity on allegations against them,” read a statement from prosecutor general Richard Muhumuza.
Enabling prosecutors to decide “whether the concerned individuals should be formally charged or not”.
Muhumuza said the French authorities had been contacted and full cooperation was anticipated. The allegations centres on France’s role ahead of the genocide as an ally of the Hutu nationalist government of Juvenal Habyarimana. The shooting down of his plane over Kigali on April 6, 1994, triggered 100 days of pre-planned bloodshed.
French agencies are accused of ignoring the alarming signs, and of training the soldiers and militias who carried out the mass slaughter.
Later during the genocide, it was accused of using its diplomatic influence to block effective action.
When it eventually deployed its armed forces, in Operation Turquoise, it was accused of countering the advance of the Tutsi forces of Paul Kagame, now president, allowing the perpetrators to flee to the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, then Zaire.
France has said its troops were only deployed after most of the killing had happened and that the deployment helped to save thousands of lives.
Paris argues that any guilt for failing to prevent the genocide is shared by the wider international community, accusing Kagame of raising the issue in a bid to distract attention from his government’s human-rights abuses.
Last month Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, after a list of 22 high-ranking French officers suspected of involvement was first published by Kigali, said there was “nothing new” in the list. Le Drian said the list was “almost identical to one produced in 2008” and “to say that the French army took park in genocide was a disgraceful lie”.
Diplomatic relations with Rwanda were frozen from 2006 to 2009. Ties were being re-established before 2014 when Kagame repeated accusations that French soldiers were both accomplices and “actors” in the genocide.
The accusations led France to pull out of ceremonies to mark the 20th anniversary of the killings.