Report on the role of French officials in the...
In late November 2016, the Government of Rwanda’s Prosecutor General confirmed the initiation of an investigation into the role of the French government and its officials regarding the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. In light of that inquiry, the Government of Rwanda has retained the Washington, D.C. law firm of Cunningham Levy Muse LLP to review and report on the material available in the public record on the role and knowledge of French officials regarding the Genocide against the Tutsi.
While much can be observed about the knowledge or role of French officials, the report does not reach final conclusions or judgments, as an investigation into these matters must go forth and be completed.
In 1998, a French Parliamentary Commission (“the Commission”) attempted to investigate the role of French officials in Rwanda. The information gathered by the Commission comprises a substantial portion of the public record today about the role of French officials in the Genocide against the Tutsi. But the Commission’s work was neither fully transparent nor complete. The day after the Commission released its report, French Parliament Member and Commission Vice President Jean-Claude Lefort issued a press release explaining that he had abstained from signing the report because major and decisive points had yet to be clarified.
Another serious gap in the public record is the fact that the French government and French officials continue to withhold documents relevant to their former officials’ role in and knowledge of the Genocide against the Tutsi.
Nevertheless, the incomplete public record, including the report of the French Parliamentary Commission as well as the work of journalists and academics, suggests that French authorities had knowledge of and participated in events relating to the Genocide. A summary of this report’s observations is as follows:
1- This report will discuss the origins of France’s involvement in Rwandan affairs. Widespread violence against the Tutsi began in 1959 and France began supporting the Rwandan government in 1962. Through the 1970s and 1980s, French support grew and expanded into military assistance, even as French officials were aware of massacres of Tutsi that took place in the 1960s and 1970s in Rwanda. By the early 1990s, France had become more involved in and more essential to Rwandan internal affairs than had any other foreign nation. Also in October 1990, French officials sent soldiers to Rwanda purportedly to protect French citizens there but in fact they provide strategic and military support for Rwanda in its war against the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF)* . During this armed conflict, French advisors provided the Rwandan government with strategic and organizational assistance, hundreds (if not thousands) of soldiers, and millions of dollars’ worth of war-fighting equipment. Senior French officials in Rwanda also joined in the elaboration of genocide ideology by defining the enemy not as the RPF, but as “the Tutsi,” in parallel to the anti-Tutsi vitriol then being promoted, with regularity, by the state-sponsored media.
2- This report will review the knowledge of French officials of recurring massacres of the Tutsi during the early 1990s. Notwithstanding their awareness of this mounting violence, French officials continued to facilitate the flow of weaponry into Rwanda and into the hands of the Rwandan regime presiding over these waves of ethnic bloodshed.
Almost immediately after the plane of Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana crashed, génocidaires and their controlled radio stations blamed the RPF and Belgium for shooting down the plane and used it as the rallying cry to begin the Genocide against the Tutsi. On April 6, 1994, at least two French officials gained privileged access to the scene but by false pretenses and the failure to share any evidence from it have enabled génocidaires and their allies to continue to promote unsupported conspiracy theories identifying the RPF and Belgium as being responsible for shooting down the plane.
French officials also provided cover for the Interim Rwandan Government (IRG), despite their knowledge of the ongoing Genocide against the Tutsi by mischaracterizing it as a two-sided humanitarian crisis. French officials used these false narratives to answer criticism of France’s continued support of the génocidaires.
After the Genocide, French officials commenced a mission to rescue French nationals. In addition to French citizens, they evacuated members of the Habyarimana family, shepherded other extremist leaders out of Rwanda, and interfered with efforts of the UN peacekeeping forces to protect citizens.
3- This report will discuss how French officials initiated a mission, ten weeks after the Genocide began, to preserve the remnants of the IRG. Despite that aim, France persuaded the UN Security Council to approve the operation as a humanitarian mission. But the internal private communications among French officials, as well as their conduct, show that the operation’s primary objective was not humanitarian, but rather to prevent the RPF from removing the IRG.
4- This report will discuss the documents and testimony indicating that French officials provided safe harbor for génocidaires. French officials enabled génocidaires to flee to refugee camps where they regrouped, re-armed and continued to threaten and kill Tutsi survivors.
In the years since that time, French officials have interfered with the truth about the Genocide and justice for its victims by failing to prosecute all but three of the 30 Genocide suspects known to be within France or to grant requests for their extradition to Rwanda, and by failing to declassify and release documents related to the Genocide against the Tutsi.
In fact, throughout their engagement in Rwanda in the early 1990s and beyond, French officials were aware of human rights outrages between 1990 and 1994, and yet chose to deepen French support for the former Rwandan regime. That support continued throughout the Genocide, and French support for génocidaires did not stop even after RPF forces ended the slaughter in July 1994.