We may soon learn France’s real role in the Rwanda genocide; In a milestone court case in Paris, unprecedented testimony could reveal the Elysée’s links to the 1994 génocidaires
February 7, 2014
‘The policy was devised in secret … within the confines of the Africa Unit. At its heart was François Mitterrand.’ Photograph: Brian Harris/The Independent/REX
The trial this week of a Rwandan genocide suspect in a Paris courtroom is a well-earned victory for the French human rights groups who lobbied so hard and so long for justice. The milestone trial signals the end of France as a safe haven for génocidaries. But more than this, the trial is likely to see intense public scrutiny of one of the great scandals of the past century – the role of France in the 1994 genocide of the Tutsi of Rwanda, which for 20 years journalists and activists have tried so hard to expose.
Pascal Simbikangwa, the defendant in Paris, is said to have been a member of an inner circle of power in Rwanda that devised genocide as a planned political campaign. Developed by Hutu ideologues, it was intended to prevent a power-sharing system of government that was to include the minority Tutsi. The genocide claimed up to a million lives.
A captain in the Rwandan gendarmerie until 1986, when he was paralysed in a car accident, Simbikangwa – a fanatic who hoped to create what was known as “a pure Hutu state” – worked for the security services in the capital Kigali. He was eventually found hiding out in the French department of Mayotte, an island group in the Indian Ocean, with 3,000 forged identity papers – more than enough for the hundreds of Rwandan fugitives still at large. He denies all the charges, and his lawyer says he is a scapegoat.
Until now there has been a complete absence of will in Paris to bring to justice any of the estimated 27 Rwandan genocide fugitives who live on French soil. The country was a staunch ally of the Rwandan government which planned and perpetrated the genocide. The trial may well show the French electorate just how appalling its secret policy towards the central African state really was.
The policy was devised in secret, with no accountability from press or parliament and largely determined within the confines of a special office in the president’s Elysée Palace known as the Africa Unit. It operated through a network of military officers, politicians, diplomats, businessmen and senior intelligence operatives. At its heart was President François Mitterrand, who had operated through senior army officers: General Christian Quesnot, Admiral Jacques Lanxade and General Jean-Pierre Huchon.
The prosecution testimony in the trial will be unprecedented in the detail it will provide about the genocide. The evidence combines the results of investigations into the Simbikangwa case at the international criminal tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), and details from investigations carried by Rwandan authorities. Never before, not even in the courtrooms of the ICTR, has such an impressive array of witnesses assembled. It is hoped that their combined testimony will put paid to a campaign of denial waged by defence lawyers at the ICTR who claimed the killing in Rwanda was not the result of a conspiracy but was somehow “spontaneous”.
Simbikangwa’s prosecutors are concentrating on his role during the killing, when he allegedly encouraged the murder of Tutsi by Interahamwe militia on roadblocks and provided them with weapons. The roadblocks and the Interahamwe were an integral part of the planned killing mechanism and ensured the speed and scale of the slaughter.
But the impact of the Simbikangwa trial will be felt far beyond the courtroom. It is hoped that for the French public the nature of the genocide will be laid bare, and that at long last a debate about France and Rwanda will begin. Twenty years too late, a true reckoning may at last be possible.
The Guardian, Wednesday 5 February 2014 19.11 GMT
Find this story at 5 February 2014
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Sarkozy admits France’s role in Rwandan genocide (2010)
February 7, 2014
President acknowledges that ‘errors’ were made but stops short of formal apology
President Nicolas Sarkozy admitted yesterday that French “errors” had contributed to the Rwandan genocide which killed an estimated 800,000 people in 1994.
On the first visit by a French leader to Rwanda for 25 years, Mr Sarkozy did not formally apologise. Nor did he accept allegations that France had played an active role in training and arming the Hutu militias and troops who led massacres of Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
But he suggested that the entire international community – and France in particular – should accept that its response had been culpably weak. “What happened here is a defeat for humanity,” Mr Sarkozy said. “What happened here left an indelible stain. What happened here obliges the international community – including France – to reflect on the errors which prevented us from foreseeing, or stopping, this appalling crime.”
Previously France has always insisted that it could not have foreseen the genocide and that the intervention of its troops helped to save many Hutu and Tutsi lives. Mr Sarkozy’s visit to Kigali, and joint press conference with the Rwandan President Paul Kagame, were the most dramatic symbols to date of efforts to repair relations. Diplomatic ties were restored in November, three years after they were severed amid mutual recriminations and allegations.
In 2006, a French investigating judge issued international arrest warrants for eight Tutsi officials close to President Kagame, suggesting that they had deliberately provoked the genocide of their own people by assassinating a moderate Hutu president in May 1994. The accusations brought renewed allegations from Mr Kagame’s Tutsi-dominated government that France had armed and trained Hutu militias and soldiers knowing that genocidal attacks were likely or possible.
In 1998, a French parliamentary investigation rejected these accusations but admitted that the late President François Mitterrand and the then centre-right government in France had been blinded by supposed French interests in the region into siding with radical, and eventually murderous, Hutu groups.
The eight arrest warrants against Kagame aides are still active but the Rwandan government now accepts that they were drawn up by an independent investigating magistrate and not the French government.
Before his press conference with President Kagame, Mr Sarkozy was taken on a tour of Kigali’s genocide museum. On two occasions, the official guide made references to alleged French complicity in the massacres, including a photograph of a French military vehicle driving past armed Hutu civilians. President Sarkozy ignored the remarks.
He later placed a wreath on a memorial to the dead and said that “in the name of the people of France” he “bowed” to “victims of the genocide of the Tutsis”. “Errors of appreciation, political errors, were committed here which had consequences which were absolutely tragic,” Mr Sarkozy said. Although he spoke of the cumulative guilt of the international community, the implication was clear. France was – for the first time – admitting that its own actions had contributed to the calamity.
On his way to Rwanda, Mr Sarkozy visited Gabon and made an unscheduled stop in Mali to greet a French aid worker, Pierre Camatte, released this week after almost three months as the hostage of an extreme Islamist group.
By John Lichfield in Paris
Friday, 26 February 2010
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Rwandan genocide; A devastating report on France’s role (2008)
February 7, 2014
Is the defendant’s dock at the International Criminal Court reserved for leaders of small and poor countries that defy the West? Not if Rwanda has its way. It wants to charge some of France’s most celebrated leaders of the 1990s as collaborators in genocide.
Last week the government of Rwanda issued a damning 500-page report documenting France’s participation in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. This marks a remarkable turnaround in the deeply politicized world of human rights reporting. Usually, such reporting takes the form of governments or human rights groups based in the West condemning poor countries for having political or social systems that do not meet Western standards.
Now a wretched African country has turned the table.
All who study the Rwandan genocide, as I did while researching a book about that ill-fated country, come away stunned by what they learn about French support of mass murder. France was so eager to defend a client regime against English-speaking rebels that, as the new report asserts, it gave that regime “political, military, diplomatic and logistic support” and “directly assisted” its genocidal campaign.
The report names 33 present and former French politicians and military officers as conspirators, among them the late President François Mitterrand and other well-known figures like former foreign minister Alan Juppé and former prime minister Dominique de Villepin.
The report, commissioned by the government and prepared by a panel that heard from more than 150 witnesses, is not only a devastating account of France’s eager participation in mass murder. It is also the most provocative example in modern history of a victimized nation pointing a credible finger of blame at the supposedly virtuous West.
France armed Rwanda’s murderous regime, sent soldiers to support it as the genocide was unfolding, and accepted some of its most heinous perpetrators as “refugees” after rebels forced them from power. Later, France helped the genocidaires regroup in the Congo and launch a savage cross-border campaign aimed at retaking power so they could complete their murderous work.
Even as the genocide was unfolding, reports of France’s support for it began appearing in French newspapers. French soldiers who arrived in Rwanda believing that they had come to protect victims soon realized that they were, in fact, protecting killers, and several communicated their disgust to French journalists.
In 1995, President Jacques Chirac of France made a remarkably honest confession of his nation’s guilt. “France … delivered protected people to their horrors. These dark hours have sullied our history forever and are an insult to our past and our traditions.”
Unfortunately Chirac was not speaking about Rwanda, but about France’s delivery of French Jews to the Nazi murder machine during World War II. His statement suggests that it takes nations at least half a century before they can apologize for their misdeeds. Doctors Without Borders declared in 1998 that it was “high time the French government broke its traditional silence on its shameful role in the genocide.”
Foreign Minister Juppé responded indignantly that no one could question the “good intentions of our humanitarian intervention of that era,” and that the government would not consent to “investigating an action we should be proud of.”
Parliament eventually did convene an investigation, but it predictably absolved France of all guilt.
France, though, has never forgiven the Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, for deposing a French-backed regime and pulling Rwanda out of the Francophonie. In 2006 a French judge charged Kagame with assassinating his predecessor; Rwanda responded by breaking diplomatic relations with France.
The report last week is another volley in what has become one of the world’s most bitter diplomatic battles.
A spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry rejected the Rwandan report as “unacceptable.” That was a mistake. The report should be an occasion for French leaders to reflect on their country’s history in ways Western nations seldom do. Perhaps they could even break with the longstanding pattern of denial that has shaped so much of modern history.
Like all countries, France is built on national myths. If it can admit the evil that has pervaded its role in Africa, perhaps other countries could follow by confronting the sins of their past. That would be an admission that people who, in Joseph Conrad’s words, “have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves” are not the only ones guilty of the 20th century’s great crimes.
Stephen Kinzer is author of “A Thousand Hills: Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It.”
By Stephen Kinzer
Find this story at 15 August 2008
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France accused in Rwanda genocide (2008)
February 7, 2014
Rwanda has accused France of playing an active role in the genocide of 1994, in which about 800,000 people were killed.
An independent Rwandan commission said France was aware of preparations for the genocide and helped train the ethnic Hutu militia perpetrators.
The report also accused French troops of direct involvement in the killings.
It named 33 senior French military and political figures that it said should be prosecuted. France has previously denied any such responsibility.
Among those named in the report were the late former President, Francois Mitterrand, and the then Prime Minister Edouard Balladur.
Two men who went on to become prime minister were also named – Alain Juppe, the foreign minister at the time, and his then chief aide, Dominique de Villepin.
The French foreign ministry told the BBC it would only respond to the fresh allegations after reading the report, which was released on Tuesday afternoon.
Earlier this year France’s Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner denied French responsibility in connection with the genocide, but said political errors had been made.
The Rwandan government has urged the relevant authorities to bring the accused French politicians and military officials to justice
Rwandan justice ministry
Report raises issue of motive
Some 800,000 minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered by Hutu militias in just 100 days in 1994.
The report says France backed Rwanda’s Hutu government with political, military, diplomatic and logistical support.
It accuses France of training Hutu militias responsible for the slaughter, helping plan the genocide, and participating in the killings.
“French forces directly assassinated Tutsis and Hutus accused of hiding Tutsis… French forces committed several rapes on Tutsi survivors,” said a statement from the justice ministry cited by AFP news agency.
“Considering the seriousness of the alleged crimes, the Rwandan government has urged the relevant authorities to bring the accused French politicians and military officials to justice,” the statement said.
It further alleged that French forces did nothing to challenge checkpoints used by Hutu forces in the genocide.
“They clearly requested that the Interahamwes continue to man those checkpoints and kill Tutsis attempting to flee,” it said.
The BBC’s Geoffrey Mutagoma in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, says the commission spent nearly two years investigating France’s alleged role in the genocide.
It heard testimonies from genocide survivors, researchers, writers and reporters.
The 500-page document was presented to the Rwanda’s government last November, but was not made public until now.
Rwanda has repeatedly accused France of arming and training the Hutu militias that perpetrated the genocide, and of dragging its feet in co-operating with the investigations that followed.
France has maintained that its forces helped protect civilians during a UN-sanctioned mission in Rwanda at the time.
The two countries have had a frosty relationship since 2006 when a French judge implicated Rwandan President Paul Kagame in the downing in 1994 of then-President Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane – an event widely seen as triggering the killings.
President Kagame has always denied the charge.
He says Mr Habyarimana, a Hutu, was killed by Hutu extremists who then blamed the incident on Tutsi rebels to provide the pretext for the genocide.
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