French President Emmanuel Macron will reportedly visit Kigali in coming weeks, following a report he commissioned which sheds a harsh light on France’s alleged role in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.
If Macron hoped the report would put the controversy over French actions to rest, it now seems to be doing the opposite.
Sounds of a Paris ceremony a few years ago, commemorating a new memorial to the roughly 800,000 victims of Rwanda’s genocide.
The memorial wasn’t enough to end a dark chapter in French-Rwandan relations. Today, it’s uncertain whether a new report by French historians can do so either.
Reactions have been trickling in this week to the so-called Duclert report on France’s role in the genocide.
The report, based on two years of research, is named after Vincent Duclert, who headed the fact-finding commission of 14 historians. It found Paris, under former President Francois Mitterrand — who was close to the Hutu-led government that carried out the genocide — bears serious responsibility in the mass slaughter of Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda between April and July of 1994.
But, it concluded there was no evidence France was an accomplice in the killing spree.
Historian Duclert told France 24 that Mitterrand was blinded by an effort to extend France’s post-colonial influence in Rwanda, and saw events though an ethnic prism. Mitterrand had close ties with Rwanda’s Hutu president Juvénal Habyarimana, whom the report described as racist, corrupt and violent. His death in a helicopter crash unleashed the genocide.
The commission’s members were historians, not judges, Duclert said. Although no documents showed France wanted a genocide, it was important to question the country’s blindness and heavy responsibility.
France and Rwanda have long traded accusations over the killings. Former president Nicolas Sarkozy earlier conceded France had made mistakes.
Now, Rwanda describes the Duclert report a step forward. France’s leading newspaper, Le Monde, called it a “decisive step on the path to truth.”
Based on cables, documents and other material from government archives, the roughly 1,000-page report looks at France’s role before and during the genocide — including its controversial military and humanitarian Operation Turquoise. Kigali is expected to shortly release its own report on the genocide.
But instead of putting this chapter to rest, the Duclert report has unleashed mixed reactions and soul searching here.
France’s former foreign minister Hubert Vedrine, a top Mitterrand aide during the genocide, calls the report important. But in a Radio France International interview, he disputed France was blind to warnings of an impending slaughter. He said the country was just trying to preserve peace.
Others said the report doesn’t go far enough. Genocide-era documents are missing or destroyed, they said, and the commission has left many questions unanswered.
Survie Association, a French group highly critical of France’s colonial rule, slams it as superficial.
Spokesman David Martin: “First what’s needed is a recognition of complicity from France and apologies to the Rwandan people, the Rwandan government. Second there should be trial for people who have taken decisions (during 1994), have assisted in decisions. There are still people who are alive today ... It is very important that justice is done.”
Martin’s association has filed several judicial complaints related to the genocide. But the process is slow and expensive, he says. He doubts French courts have the appetite to take on the country’s controversial past.