France’s top prosecutor Remy Heitz announced on May 3 that investigations have shown there are no grounds to pursue legal claims of French army involvement in Rwanda’s Hutu-led government’s efforts of genocide, CNN reports. This development comes one month after Rwanda released a report claiming that France knew about the preparations for genocide even before the lethal policies became implemented. The report in turn followed a French report in March 2021 claiming France was not complicit but turned its head from the ensuing tragedies. Specifically, according to JURIST, the French investigation concluded by the French government preceding Heitz’s announcement was centered on five French military officers who were active during the controversial Opération Turquoise, a military operation backed by a United Nations mandate.
The Rwandan government stated in its 600-page report, “The French government bears significant responsibility for enabling a foreseeable genocide,” (CNN). The French report that came before it, which was the result of an investigation conducted for two years, claimed, “[France] was slow to break with the interim government which was perpetrating [the genocide],” (CNN). Critics who claim France is complicit in the killings orchestrated by the then-Hutu-led Rwandan government say that former French President Francois Mitterand did not have the foresight or possibly even the willingness to prevent the genocide from occurring or taking place on a massive scale. Survie, an NGO dealing with hunger and corruption in developing countries, says that the decision to tell judges to shelve the case surrounding Rwanda is “legally distressing,” according to Radio France Internationale.
Reports from both France and Rwanda share one important thing in common: an acknowledgment that France bore responsibility after being involved with the Rwandan genocidal regime. While this step is an important one in learning from history, there is more work that needs to be done in addressing the question of whether France was directly complicit in the killings that have occurred against the Tutsis by the Hutu government. A solution that can mend this challenge could be renewed investigations that are conducted in lockstep with international actors such as the UN or NGOs. The investigations that have already occurred birthed reports either by Rwanda or France, opening up a greater probability for bias. It is important for both Rwanda’s and France’s future to eventually find a stronger agreement on what exactly France’s military involvement was at the time of the genocide. The participation of the United Nations Human Rights Council would be a healthy step to clear up the ominous question of French military participation in an internationally infamous genocide.
According to the United Nations, the hierarchy that facilitated the tense separation between Hutus and Tutsis was exacerbated by the German rule over the Rwandan territory which began in 1884. In 1932, Belgium introduced identity cards separating Tutsi, Hutu, and Twa, which ushered in a process of increasing racial animosity between the categories created by Belgian governance. Since Rwanda’s independence in 1962, the UN notes, the conflict began to deepen to the point where the Hutu-dominated Rwandan army began training armed civilian militias and conducting reprisals in response to crimes committed by exiled Tutsis. Ultimately, the genocide in 1994 was triggered by the downing of a plane carrying the presidents of Burundi and Rwanda. BBC notes, “In just 100 days in 1994, about 800,000 people were slaughtered in Rwanda by ethnic Hutu extremists.” A United Nations peacekeeping mission was involved from 1993-1996, followed by national genocide trials. In 2015, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda completed its duties surrounding the conflict after indicting a total of 93 people charged with serious violations of international humanitarian law.
Having transparency about the conflict and the actors involved is important in preventing future occurrences of conflict. Additionally, analyzing this issue further is important given France’s history as a colonial power and Rwanda’s history as a country brutally taken advantage of by European powers prior to its independence. The execution of historical studies, consideration of individual testimonies, and unbiased scrutiny of the Rwandan genocide and the actions of the French are instrumental to being able to mend the current division between the French and Rwandan reports.