Rwanda is preparing to indict members of the French political and military establishment over their alleged complicity in the country’s 1994 genocide after it published a damning report that accuses France of facilitating the killings.
By Barney Jopson in Nairobi, William Wallis in London and Ben Hall in Paris
Disputes over the genocide have already shattered diplomatic relations between the two countries. The report, published on Tuesday in Kigali, is part of the Rwandan government’s efforts to defend itself and prevent what it sees as distorted versions of genocide history taking root.
The report implicates some of the most senior figures in the French government at the time, including the late President François Mitterrand and three former prime ministers, Edouard Balladur, Alain Juppé and Dominique de Villepin. Nine French military officers are also named among those “most implicated”.
Louise Mushikiwabo, Rwanda’s minister of information, said the findings would be handed to the public prosecutor as the basis for indictments. Rwanda would then consider using the principle of universal jurisdiction in an effort to secure international arrest warrants, she said. This would mark the first occasion that an African country has attempted to extradite European nationals for war crimes.
“We don’t believe any French citizen or other citizen is above the law, especially when it comes to crimes as serious as genocide,” she said. “We hope the French will take this report as seriously as Rwanda has taken it and, when the indictments come out, will co-operate.”
The report was commissioned in 2004 after it became apparent that a French judicial inquiry intended to accuse serving members of the Rwandan administration of conspiring to cause the aircraft crash that killed the country’s president at the time, an event that triggered the genocide. In December 2006 Rwanda broke off diplomatic relations with France after the French judge indicted nine close associates of Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s president.
France’s backing of the previous Rwandan regime, led by President Juvenal Habyarimana, is regarded by many analysts as the nadir of its decades-long engagement in French-speaking Africa. The regime, dominated by ethnic Hutus, created the conditions in which Hutu extremists orchestrated the murder of 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus in a 100-day killing spree that marked the apogee of years of systematic anti-Tutsi violence.
Mr Kagame, who came to power after leading a Tutsi rebel army that drove those responsible for the genocide out of the country, has long accused France of playing an active role in the killings.
A communiqué summarising the report, produced by Jean de Dieu Mucyo, head of a genocide commission, contained a wide range of accusations. Among them are: that France was aware of preparations for the genocide; that it participated in them by training Rwandan troops; that its own soldiers allowed the genocide to continue in an area they were deployed to secure a safe zone; and that they actively participated in the genocide elsewhere.
France’s foreign ministry on Tuesday declined to comment because it had not seen a full copy of the report. The country has previously denied a role in the genocide and claimed its intervention helped to prevent a worse catastrophe.
The report consolidated allegations that have been made in various forums since 1994 and was based partly on fresh testimony and partly on material already in the public domain, including statements by politicians, newspaper reports and books on the genocide.
ALLEGATIONS OF COMPLICITY
Rwandan officials have long claimed that senior members of the French military and political establishment played a role in the 1994 genocide. France provided military assistance and training to the hard-line Hutu regime in the years preceding the genocide and helped repel an initial attack in 1990 by ethnic Tutsi rebels. French reporters and historians have alleged that arms shipments continued after the genocide started.
The Rwandans claim the subsequent French military operation “Turquoise” provided safe haven to perpetrators of the genocide, allowing them to escape from advancing Tutsi rebels. The French have always defended the operation as an effort to save lives and Alain Juppé, foreign minister from 1993 to 1995, dismissed as an “insidious rewriting of history” the allegation that France was complicit in the genocide. In December, President Nicolas Sarkozy said France had to reflect on the “weaknesses or errors” in its stance during the conflict.