During a visit to Kigali, Rwanda, French president Emmanuel Macron stated that France acknowledged its role in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, which resulted in the deaths of 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutus. The acknowledgment came during a speech made May 27th, on the genocide’s 27th anniversary, at the Kigali Genocide Memorial, where 250,000 victims are buried.
Although Macron asked for forgiveness on behalf of his country, he did not offer a formal apology, which elicited mixed feelings among Rwandans. While Macron’s comments went farther than his predecessors’, many Rwandans hoped for an explicit apology. However, the speech was well received and appreciated among others, including Rwandan President Paul Kagame. “His words were something more valuable than an apology; they were the truth,” Kagame said.
France has long been accused of not doing more to stop the massacre. As part of Macron’s efforts to improve relations with Rwanda, the president formed a 15-member expert committee in May 2019 to evaluate France’s role in the genocide. The committee, which had access to official files and documents, presented its findings to the government in March, stating that France, which was then led by President François Mitterrand, bore “heavy and overwhelming responsibilities” for being “blind” to the events that led to the murders. However, the report exonerated France of direct involvement in the killings. Macron underlined this position, stating that while France “was not an accomplice” to the genocide, it stood de facto by a “genocidal regime.”
A month later, Rwanda launched its investigation, which concluded in a report given to the cabinet that France “enabled” the massacre, particularly by its unwavering support for Rwanda’s then-president, Juvénal Habyarimana, and his administration. Rwanda has accused France of training and arming the Hutu militias, which were the major force behind the massacre – something France has consistently denied. While some Rwandans accused of genocide have been tried and convicted, others are still roaming freely in other countries, including France. President Kagame has long advocated that France’s ties to the genocidal regime be acknowledged as historical fact and not mere allegations. Given this, Macron’s visit, and his formal acknowledgment of France’s involvement in the genocide, was crucial.
While reconciliation is an ongoing process, both Macron and Kagame see this moment as a good starting point for building a working relationship between their two countries moving forward. But, for some activists, the most important steps are yet to come. Many survivors believe that the apology, as a symbolic gesture of reparation, should be followed by legal action. Some survivors, including Jacqueline Murekatete, the founder of the Genocide Survivors Foundation, have suggested that the report can only go so far. This group has urged France to take more concrete steps toward accountability by apprehending or extraditing the number of remanding suspects to Rwanda, where they should be tried in Rwandan courts if not prosecuted in France. The best way to commemorate the victims of genocide is to respect both their wishes and their road to recovery. This is a duty that both the international community and Rwanda must share.
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