rwandan genocide

Vincent Duclert: ‘In Rwanda, France dismissed reality’

By Mehdi Ba

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Posted on April 7, 2021 11:10

France Rwanda Genocide
In this August 21, 1994 file photo, Rwandan Hutus give the departing French troops the thumbs-up as the French army pull out of Cyangugu, in southwest Rwanda. (AP Photo/Jean Marc Bouju, File)

27 years ago today, 7 April, the Rwandan genocide erupted following the plane crash of then President Juvenal Habyarimana. For the next 100 days, armed militias engaged in a killing spree against the ethnic minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus. In total, some 800,000 people died. The French, who were allies of the Hutu government under Habyarimana, had sent a special force to evacuate their citizens and set up safe zones. Although they witnessed the horror all around them, to this day, they are accused of having done very little to stop the killing.

Complicity in genocide, Operation Turquoise, parallel commands … The historian Vincent Duclert returns to the role of France in Rwanda, a few days after the submission of his voluminous report to French President Emmanuel Macron.

microsoftteams-image-2-scaled-592x296-1617555006 © French historian Vincent Duclert

Two years of work, tens of thousands of archival documents scrutinised, a report of 996 pages – not counting the appendices – all to examine the responsibilities of France in the policy conducted in Rwanda between 1990 and 1994. The Commission of historians and jurists chaired by Duclert delivered on 26 March a report that could not help but be debated.

Did France err on the side of “blindness”? Was it guilty of “complicity in genocide”? Was there a single pilot in this Franco-African plane that had become uncontrollable, or was there a multiplicity of parallel chains of command, most of which escaped the control of Parliament and the knowledge of citizens?

“This report brings elements of truth into the public debate,” he comments soberly, adding that: “The independence of the Commission has been guaranteed throughout its work by the President of the Republic, who commissioned this report, just as the means necessary for its research have been granted without reservation.

With an official trip by Emmanuel Macron to Rwanda announced in the coming weeks, eleven years after the one made by Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010, does the Duclert report mark the beginnings of a diplomatic appeasement between the two countries or a new source of discord?

President of the Research Commission on the French archives relating to Rwanda and the Tutsi genocide, historian Vincent Duclert sat down to answer our questions.

Since the publication of your report, several political leaders directly concerned have expressed their satisfaction: the former secretary general of the Élysée, Hubert Védrine; the former minister of foreign affairs, Alain Juppé; and the current minister of the army, Florence Parly. Should we see this as a complacency of the report towards the French institutions of the time?

Vincent Duclert: I do not wish to comment on the comments made in the report. But I would make a distinction between the reaction of Hubert Védrine, on the one hand, and those of Alain Juppé and Florence Parly, on the other. With regard to the latter, one senses a certain seriousness in their remarks, a sense of responsibility, as well as a willingness to recognise that there are questions in this matter that are legitimate to ask.

As for Hubert Védrine, he certainly seized upon an observation that we made: the absence of French “complicity,” a term that we define – on the basis of the archives that we consulted – as an intentional association with the genocidal enterprise.

We have chosen, as historians, to assume that this is the question everyone is asking. But if Hubert Védrine wants to consider, on the basis of our report, that France is exonerated of all responsibility, it seems to me that his judgment does not correspond to the overwhelming responsibilities that we have established. French policy in Rwanda contributed to the setting up of a genocidal process without the French authorities even understanding it, without them wanting it. And that, too, must be recognised.

In your conclusions, you speak of the “blindness” of French officials. What exactly do you mean by this term?

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