French Commission Report Admits France’s Responsibility in the Rwanda Genocide

April 13, 2021

The mass killing or genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda began on April 7, 1994.
French President Emmanuel Macron (L) jointly holds a document along side historian Vincent Duclert, who heads the Rwandan commission at the Salle des Fete at the Elysee Palace in Paris on March 26, 2021. Photo by LUDOVIC MARIN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images.

In 2019, Emmanuel Macron assigned a commission of historians to research France’s role in the mass killing of Tutsis in Rwanda. The commission submitted its report to the French president on March 26, 2021. It concludes that the French government has “heavy and damning responsibilities” in the event, but dismisses the claim it was complicit in the genocide.

The mass killing or genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda began on April 7, 1994. Within three months, from April to July 1994, between from 800,000 to 1,000,000 Tutsis were killed at the hands of Hutu extremists, who were in charge of the government. The commission describes the Rwandan policy of the French government, which was led by then president François Mitterrand as a way to make Rwanda “a kind of laboratory.”

The Mitterrand government offered Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana “a guarantee of military protection in exchange for a program of democratization, respect for human rights and negotiations with the Rwandan Patriotic Front.” In this spirit, Mitterrand delivered a speech at the French African Summit of 1990, in which he depicted France as Africa’s most generous supporter. For the commission, there is no doubt that the “French authorities have shown continuous blindness in their support for a racist, corrupt and violent regime conceived as a laboratory.”

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The report by the commission, which was chaired by Vincent Duclert, argues that France’s responsibility lies in the ideological blindness of Mitterrand and his advisors that was then imposed on the rest of the state apparatus, and that it is a revelation of colonial stereotypes and a purely ethnic reading that irrigated France’s African policy.

After its independence in 1962, following Belgian colonization, Rwanda developed a close relationship with France. Mitterrand and Habyarimana, who came to power in Rwanda in 1973, were on good terms. The Armed Forces of Rwanda (FAR) were established thanks to French support.

When the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) launched an offensive targeting French nationals in Rwanda, the Rwanda government launched a counteroffensive in October 1990, called Operation Noroît, whose official mission was to protect French nationals. Back then, Tutsis were already facing violence and were calling for the condemnation of the executions of innocent people.

The military cooperation between France and the Rwandan Hutu regime was so close that based on the earlier established partnership, the Hutu regime continued to request arms from France even after the genocide started. A file from the French Directorate of Military Intelligence (DRM), dated to April 15, 1994, mentions “specific requests for ammunition and backing in transporting arms purchased in Israel and Poland” by the defense attaché of the Rwandan embassy in Paris.

The commission’s archival research reveals that the Rwandan file with the request for arms was intentionally diverted away from the ministries and administrations that are involved in the usual decision-making process. The papers were signed by General Jean-Pierre Huchon, then deputy chief of staff to Admiral Jacques Lanxade, and by then general Christian Quesnot.

The influence of military staff was felt over the rest of the administration, and even at the Élysée Palace, where Bruno Delaye replaced Jean-Christophe Mitterrand, the advisor on African affairs since 1986 and son of then president Mitterrand. It is the syndrome of smoking in a closed room where everyone present, even those who do not actually smoke, carry the smell.

According to an Élysée source, France’s responsibility “translates into an inability to think about the genocide that was taking place.” The commission report concludes that France bears political, institutional, intellectual, moral, and cognitive responsibility for the genocide that took place in Rwanda.

Hilal Caglayan is currently studying a Bachelor's degree in Journalism at the Higher Institute of Media in Paris (ISCPA). She holds a two-year higher education diploma in English Literature and History. In addition to journalism, she is interested in political and international affairs.