Was France complicit in Rwanda Genocide?
Emotions run high all over the world when the involvement of France in the Rwanda Genocide is discussed.
Before the Rwanda Civil War, the Tutsi tribe had mainly been pushed out of the country and into Uganda. After the dictator Idi Amin was overthrown, the Tutsis began making plans to return to their homeland (now ruled by the large Hutu tribe) and eventually invaded in October 1990. Over the next two years, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) re-conquered much of Rwanda. Eventually, in 1993, the Arusha Accords were signed, a ceasefire went into effect, and the Tutsis were allowed to return home.
However, in 1994 the Hutu president Juvénal Habyarimana was assassinated. Both the Hutus and the Tutsis accused each other of the murder. In reprisal, the Hutus began the systematic destruction of the Tutsi tribe in Rwanda a few hours after Habyarimana’s death. Armed conflict continues even today.
So were the French involved? France has admitted that it had soldiers and “advisors” in Rwanda before, during, and after the genocide. Documents released show that Mitterrand was worried that a Tutsi invasion would be a cover for Uganda taking over Rwanda. France has steadily lost their empire and their influence over African countries over the last century. To lose the Franco-friendly regime of the Hutus to the English-speaking Tutsis seemed unbearable.
When the genocide broke out, there were dedicated French troops to getting French citizens and other foreigners in Rwanda out of the country. Tutsis who attempted to flee with the French–including Tutsi spouses and children of expatriates–were turned over to Hutu soldiers, who summarily killed them. The French did lend assistance to Hutus in the government, however.
Just before the genocide ended, French troops set up the “Turquoise Zone” which was supposed to curtail genocidal killings. While it did stem the slaughter, it also allowed murderous Hutus to escape Rwanda into Zaire. The Hutus who made it into the Zone were safe from the RPF, who reactivated after the genocide began to combat the Hutus.
The French government–in a contrived attempt at glasnost–declassified documents from 1990-1995, but would not allow access to records about Mitterrand and the Rwanda Genocide. Whether or not France was complicit in the genocide, they certainly did little to stop it.
The real test will come in 2021 when the 25-year lock on François Mitterrand’s archives expires.