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France was 'blind' to Rwanda genocide: government inquiry

March 26, 2021

An expert commission set up to assess whether France was partly responsible for the Rwandan genocide says France could have done more to stop the killings, but rejected claims the country had been complicit.

A young Rwandan girl walks through Nyaza cemetery outside Kigali, Rwanda
More than 500,000 Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus were killed in the genocideImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/R. Mazalan

A French government inquiry — that spent nearly two years uncovering France's role in 1994's Rwandan genocide — on Friday cleared the country of being complicit in the slaughter of the more than 800,000 people.

The report did rule that France bears "heavy and overwhelming responsibilities" for being "blind' the events that led up to the killings, which principally claimed victims from Rwanda's Tutsi ethnic minority. 

A Hutu elite ruled Rwanda when the genocide took place in the months of April to June 1994.

But the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) under Paul Kagame, who is now president, ousted them from power.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame
Kagame has led Rwanda since 2000Image: Presidence RDC

Macron looks to reset Rwanda ties

"We hope that the report might lead to new developments in our relations with Rwanda (and that) this time the process of rapprochement can be irreversible," a statement by the office of President French Emmanuel Macron said.

"France will at the same time continue its efforts in the fight against the impunity of those responsible for crimes of genocide," it added.

Several suspected participants in the massacres including Rwandan officials later fled to France, though only a handful of cases have gone to trial.

Kabuga trial expected to begin in 2021

Persistent claims that France under then-President Francois Mitterrand did not do enough to stop the genocide have damaged ties between both countries.

Who was on the expert panel?

President Macron set up the 15-member commission in May 2019, with a view to boosting relations with Rwanda.

The panellists were not Rwanda experts, the AFP news agency reported, in a bid to ensure their neutrality.

Authorities gave them access to official documents and secret files.

Their report blamed France for failing in its "political, institutional, intellectual, ethical (and) moral" responsibility.

It found no evidence that French weapons were delivered to Rwanda after the start of the genocide.

What is the background to the inquiry?

The genocide was sparked on 6 April 1994 when a plane carrying Habyarimana and his Burundian counterpart Cyprien Ntaryamira, a fellow Hutu, was downed.

Just more than two months later, the UN authorized the deployment of France forces to the south-west of the country as part of Operation Turquoise.

The report ruled out accusation of wrongdoing by Operation Turquoise, which has been accused of being a failed attempt at propping up the Hutu-led government in Rwanda.


That mission proved to be controversial: the French humanitarian zone saved some potential victims from the genocidal killers.

But some later alleged that the French help had come too late and that some killers had managed to hide in the zone.

jf/aw (AFP, AP)