April 19, 2021

As Geopolitical Interests Shift, So Has Rwanda’s View of France and Its Genocide Role

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The cover pages of some reports that have been produced from either side on France’s alleged role in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi

In space of 13 years, government of Rwanda has conducted three in-depth investigations on the role of the French government in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. Two of the investigations were damning.

As old alliances shift, so has the manner in which France’s presence in Rwanda is being construed. The third investigation published this Monday April 19, is essentially the opposite of the previous two; key findings of the previous investigations have been erased.

At an unscheduled cabinet meeting Monday morning, President Paul Kagame with his ministers had a virtual presentation by Bob Muse, a renowned lawyer in Washington. Later in the day, the report was made public. Muse had since 2017 got a contract to put together a probe into France’s role in the genocide.

The now so called ‘Muse Report’ came following that released by a French team of experts on March 26 led by French historian Vincent Duclert. France’s President Emmanuel Macron named the probe in April 2019 to look through previously classified memos of the late President Francois Mitterrand and other key officials to establish what exact did in Rwanda.  

The Chronicles is reviewing all the four investigations to provide a glimpse into what is going on. The differences from the final reports points a to strategic change of direction by government of Rwanda, slowly feeling unease with the British and Americans, and cozying up with France.

The US and Britain, which have propped up the Government for years, have questioned the official narrative of the genocide. They are always up in arms complaining about what they say is deteriorating human rights situation. All the while, France and the EU are cheering on Kigali.

ALSO READ: Here Are The Two Countries That President Kagame Accuses of Refusing ‘Genocide Against the Tutsi’ Appellation

How France-Rwanda engagement started

On November 29, 2009, a Rwandan delegation was in Trinidad and Tobago to receive instruments of joining the British Commonwealth, making it the 54th member – yet it was never a British colony. On the same day, French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s chief of staff Claude Gueant was in Kigali and met with President Kagame. It was decided in that meeting that Kigali and Paris restore relations that had been severed in 2006 with expulsion of all French diplomats.

Then February 25, 2010, President Sarkozy comes to Kigali. After a visit to the Kigali Genocide memorial center where 250,000 Tutsis are laid to rest, Sarkozy admitted that his country had made “grave errors of judgment” in the genocide against the Tutsi, but stopped short of offering a formal apology for his nation’s failure to prevent the mass slaughter of Tutsis.

“We want to turn the page,” Sarkozy said, as he promised to rebuild ties between France and Rwanda. “France will construct a relationship of confidence.”

In late September 2011, President Kagame paid official visit in Paris hosted by French counterpart Sarkozy – the first visit to France by a Rwandan leader since 1994. It was a historic trip by Kagame, because a previous one when he was still a rebel leader didn’t go well; he was told by French officials, according to his own narration, that the RPF rebels had to stop fighting otherwise they would find “your people” finished in Rwanda – referring to Tutsis.

Since the arrival of Sarkozy on the French political scene, there have been no breaks on the attempts by France to silence Rwanda’s determination to paint the French state as killers and racists. In came President Macron, one of whose key allies in Parliament is actually a young Rwandan who survived the genocide.

“Complicit” or not; the choice of words now matters

A few weeks following the expulsion of French diplomats in 2006, Kigali set up a commission to investigate France. The report of the so called ‘Mucyo Commission’, was published on August 5, 2008. The report alleged the direct involvement of France through 33 then-current and former French political and military figures in the genocide.

Then, a month later, Rwanda’s Prosecutor General stated on November 15 that the authorities were ready to indict 23 of those named.

The Mucyo report had been provoked by an investigation instituted by a French judge Jean Bruguière into the shooting down in 1994 of a plane whose passengers included President Juvénal Habyarimana of Rwanda, President Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi and three French nationals. Bruguière had even indicted several Rwandan officials. President Kagame was left out simply because he was head of state.

The Mucyo report ‘found’ that France had been actively engaged in the genocide, both before and while it took place. France was complicit in the genocide, concluded the report. It has graphic testimony by former French soldiers, women who said they had been raped by French soldiers and Rwandans who admitted they worked with French soldiers to massacre Tutsis. Spanning 534 pages, the report was a bombshell.

On rape of Tutsi girls and women done by French soldiers, there are dozens of cases in the report. A woman narrated on rape in 1993: “I lived near a place where the French had set up their tents. One of them had completely taken me as his wife against my will. He did to me as he pleased. He raped me whenever he wanted. Sometimes he penetrated me; sometimes he subjected me to acts of fellatio or sodomy. Sometimes he took me to his comrades in their tents where they kept me for days without letting me go out. Whoever wanted forced me to sleep with him.”

Another woman speaking of rape in a camp in Cyangugu during the genocide, alleged; “They said that our sexual organs are different from those of the French women. They had even learnt the names of female sexual organs in Kinyarwanda and touched them saying it in Kinyarwanda.”

Another narrated: “He raped me to the extent that I could not go back to the camp. I could not walk and I spent night in the bush and arrived at the camp the following day. When I was leaving the French soldier’s tent, I saw two other girls who were coming out of the other French soldiers’ tents located in the stadium and who had been victims of a similar situation. I had heard them shouting not far from where I was.”

Speaking about rape by a French Colonel, another witness said: “At one point, the Colonel asked his colleagues to leave me to him and to find themselves other women. I stayed with the Colonel for two days before Opération Turquoise came to an end, and they left. Due to the savage acts I had been subjected to, I later developed serious gynaecological complications: I had a very painful infection in my uterus. Whenever I remembered how they had raped me in addition to the rape I had faced in the hands of the Interahamwe, I would lose my mind and attempt suicide.”

Another gruesome act was that French soldiers took tall people whom they called Tutsis; put them aboard their helicopter to throw them in the Nyungwe forest in southwestern Rwanda. The French also reportedly “suggested to the killers to open the stomachs of the floating corpses and fill them with stones so that they may sink” in Lake Kivu. At a medical facility manned by French soldiers, injured Tutsis had their limbs deliberately amputated in a campaign that lasted weeks – leaving many limbless.

Another shocking aspect investigated was whether French soldiers really knowingly played volleyball on top of a mass grave for Tutsi victims at a technical school in southern Rwanda. For some years, a controversy rose accusing the French soldiers of having set up a volleyball ground on top of one of the mass graves at Murambi.

The Mucyo report said of the matter: “The Commission investigated the place on different occasions accompanied by witnesses and noticed that the ground in question was set up just near the mass grave, not directly on the grave as has often been reported. Nevertheless, the boundaries of the volleyball ground were adjacent to the grave and players and spectators walked on the grave. The question here is why the French who had enough space on the Murambi site did not set up a playing ground elsewhere and preferred to put it near a place that contained human remains and be walked on it. In fact, this created the feeling of desecration of the dead which gave rise to castigation.”

In the words of the Mucyo report, the French from high up the military and political establishment – to the foot soldiers in Rwanda, they knew that part of the mission was to help exterminate the Tutsi.

However, the new French report, referred to as the Duclert report and that of the American law firm, or the Muse report, concluded that French political and military top brass knew a genocide was being prepared, and saw it happening. And that they did not do anything to stop it. The French government, says the report, bears “significant” responsibility for “enabling a foreseeable genocide”. However, the two commissions did not find any complicity of France in the genocide.

In explaining the difference between the two reports, what new elements they brought, Rwanda’s Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Vincent Biruta held an impromptu press conference this Monday midafternoon. Earlier, French newspaper Le Monde, had run interview with Biruta in which it asked him specifically; was France complicit in the genocide?

He responded: “The Muse report provides facts and analysis on this point. I think that France did not participate in the planning of the genocide and that the French did not participate in the killings and the abuses. France, as a state, has not done this. If complicity is defined by what I just said, then the French state is not complicit. But this is a matter of law and the Rwandan government will not take this matter to court.”

At the press conference as well, Biruta said the French state was not involved, instead, it is individuals. This marks a significant change of language. Basically, the new Duclert and Muse reports close the Rwanda-France chapter.

And the indictments?

In November 2016, Rwanda’s Prosecutor General at the time, Richard Muhumuza announced that government had opened “formal investigation” into 20 French former officials for their role 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,” Mr Muhumuza said in a statement.

He said a decision on any possible charges would be made later.

Earlier, in November 2015, the national commission for the fight against genocide (CNLG) released a damning report which identified four French nationals who led France’s genocide role as; Gen Jean-Claude LaFourcade, General Jacques Hogard, Jacques Rosier and Michel Robardey.

Gen Jean-Claude Lafourcade was the top commander of the French forces engaged in Turquoise from 22ndJune to 22nd August 1994. French military officers, under his command according to CNLG, cooperated with the authorities involved in the genocide.

Col Jacques Hogard (now General) was the commandant of Turquoise operation in Cyangugu. He reportedly “allowed his subordinates to commit the killing of Tutsi, rape and sexual violence”. 

Jacques Rosier had been head of the Military Assistance Detachment and Instruction (DAMI) between June 1992 and November 1992 during the “period when the Rwandan army committed several massacres on Tutsis”.

Michel Robardey was advisor to the Criminal Research Centre and documentation of the Rwandan gendarmerie, commonly called “Criminology”. Robardey said to have “coordinated the data compilation activities concerning people to hunt and kill, particularly the Tutsis”.

The criminal probe by the Prosecutor General Muhumuza and the report CNLG were building on another momentous moment; the release of the so called “Mutsinzi report” in January 2010. This commission had investigated the question of who brought down the aircraft belonging to Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana. 

“The incident holds tremendous historical significance since it kicked off a long-planned genocide that claimed the lives of over one million people in one hundred days,” the report team said.

While the Bruguière report blamed the killing of Habyarimana on President Kagame and his RPF rebels, the Mutsinzi report concluded that Habyarimana’s “inner circle” did not agree with the peace deal he had signed in Tanzania and therefore decided to kill him.

The Mutsinzi report detailed what it said was French involvement. It said the unit which carried out the plane shooting “had received specialized training in the use of surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) in France, Libya, China, North Korea and the Soviet Union.”

“There is additional information to suggest that France provided the FAR with SA-16s purchased by Iraq in 1988 and which France later recovered during the Gulf War.  The Committee also obtained documentation showing that between 1992 and 1993, Rwanda specifically requested that France provide 150 mid-range surface-to-air missiles along with 12 launchers.”

The Ping-Pong blaming on who shot down Habyarimana’s plane got two more investigations from French judges which seemed to side with the Mutsinzi report. A French appeals court decided last July not to reopen the investigations. For now, at least, the issue is at rest.

Meanwhile, Rwanda’s Cabinet, following the Duclert and Muse reports, issued a directive Monday afternoon that all pieces of information based on to “become part of the National Archive for public use”.

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