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Rwanda Accuses Top French Officials in 1994 Genocide

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In a detailed report, the Rwandan government is accusing France of being complicit in the “preparation and execution” of the 1994 genocide that killed some 800,000 people. The report released by the Rwandan Ministry of Justice Tuesday accuses top French officials, including former prime minister Dominique de Villepin and the late former president Francois Mitterrand, of playing a major role in the genocide. We speak with investigative journalist Linda Melvern, author of two books on Rwanda. Melvern testified in July 2007 before the Rwanda commission investigating France’s role in the genocide. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

ANJALI KAMAT: France has dismissed as an “unacceptable falsification” a Rwandan report accusing it of being complicit in the “preparation and execution” of the 1994 genocide that killed some 800,000 people. The report released by the Rwandan Ministry of Justice Tuesday accuses thirty-three French politicians, officials and soldiers, including former prime minister Dominique de Villepin and the late former president Francois Mitterrand, of playing major roles in the genocide.

A spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry, Romain Nadal, called the report biased. He said it “contains unacceptable accusations against French politicians and military officials.”

Rwanda has long accused France of training Hutu militias and providing diplomatic cover for their crimes. This detailed 500-page report is the product of a two-year inquiry by an independent Rwandan commission.

Rwanda’s Minister of Justice Tharcisse Karugarama issued the report and said his country would try to press charges in an international body.

    THARCISSE KARUGARAMA: This should be clear that this report is not just going to lie down, put into some store somewhere. It’s a report that’s going to be used. It’s a report that is going to help in bringing to justice, or in making attempts, very serious attempts, to bring to justice, people that were involved in committing genocide in this country.

ANJALI KAMAT: Rwanda cut diplomatic ties with France two years ago, soon after a French judge accused Rwandan President Paul Kagame of provoking the genocide by conspiring to assassinate former president Juvenal Habyarimana in 1994.

Linda Melvern is an investigative journalist and author. She testified in July 2007 before the Rwanda commission investigating France’s role in the genocide. She is the author of two books on Rwanda: A People Betrayed: The Role of the West in Rwanda’s Genocide and Conspiracy to Murder: The Rwandan Genocide. She joins us now on the line from Britain.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Linda Melvern.

LINDA MELVERN: Thank you very much. Thank you.

ANJALI KAMAT: Can you lay out what the report says? What are the main accusations against France?

LINDA MELVERN: I think, perhaps, the training of the Interahamwe militia. I think this is — this is very detailed evidence from witnesses. And, of course, one must bear in mind that some of these witnesses have been convicted of genocide; they’re former Interahamwe leaders and perpetrators of genocide. But they claim that they were trained by French military officers in Rwandan military camps.

The primary means of killing at speed in this genocide was the mobilization of Rwanda’s unemployed youth into a militia called the Interahamwe, an estimated 30,000 young men taken from the streets and trained to kill at speed with agricultural tools and indoctrinated with a racist anti-Tutsi ideology. Now, these former Interahamwe leaders say that they were in part trained by French military officers.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you name names? Can you talk about the French leaders, past and present, who they have pointed the finger at, who they are saying are responsible?

LINDA MELVERN: Well, this pointing the finger at individual political figures in France is problematic. The French policy towards Rwanda had been largely decided by Francois Mitterrand, the French president, in his second term. And it is worth remembering that the France’s own inquiry into this in 1998 determined that Francois Mitterrand had been in overall control of the policy and that it had been completely unaccountable — and I think that this is one of the most important points of all — that this policy had been completely unaccountable to either Parliament or the French press and that French politicians had not been adequately informed. And the Senate recommended better control by Parliament over military operations.

And I think that this is the aspect which makes it so difficult to know who made the decisions in — you know, whether it’s the Ministry of Cooperation, whether it’s the Ministry of Defense or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It does seem that overall control rested with Francois Mitterrand and through a network that was traditional in France, when it came to French Africa policy, through a network of military officers, politicians, diplomats, senior intelligence operatives, and I must say French mercenaries were involved, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: French Defense Minister Hervé Morin rejected as intolerable allegations that Rwanda said the French military played an active role in the ’94 genocide. Also named was Alain Juppé. Can you talk about his significance?

LINDA MELVERN: Alain Juppé, as foreign minister, would have been involved, particularly, I think, not in the policy towards Rwanda, but the policy as enunciated by France in the Security Council of the UN. And it was on this aspect that I gave testimony to the Rwandan commission. I had written a book about the UN, a fifty-year history, and I was in New York in April 1994 filming the book for a series for BBC, for Channel 4 Television, called UN Blues. And so, I was outside the Security Council in April 1994.

French policy at that time was to insist that what was happening in Rwanda was a civil war and that what was needed in Rwanda was a ceasefire. In the first three weeks, four weeks of genocide, it is extraordinarily surprising that there was hardly any discussion at all about the genocide that was by then under way. It started on April the 7th. The entire focus of Security Council discussion, as insisted upon by the French, was to discuss civil war and the necessity of a ceasefire.

At the time, there were French officers embedded in the elite army units in Rwanda who would have known, I am sure, what was happening. It had happened before. Genocide had been part of political life in Rwanda ever since 1959. So, to deny knowledge of it — and it’s not only France in this — is particularly serious, because the decision making by the Security Council at this stage determined what happened. The force commander of the UN and his estimate that 5,000 troops could have prevented the spread of genocide was not discussed by the Security Council because of the insistence that a ceasefire take place in a civil war.

ANJALI KAMAT: And, Linda Melvern, why, in your analysis, was France propping up the Hutu militias?

LINDA MELVERN: I’m sorry. Would you repeat the question?

ANJALI KAMAT: Why, in your analysis, do you think that the French officials and the French government was supporting Hutu militias in Rwanda?

LINDA MELVERN: France, from the beginning, from the very beginning, when military links were forged in the early ’60s, France had favored the Hutu cause. The fact that there was an apartheid regime in Rwanda with discrimination against the minority Tutsi was seemingly ignored. The French believed that because Rwanda was ruled by the majority people, the Hutu, then it was a democracy. President Juvénal Habyarimana had been overwhelmingly elected, 96 percent, in this strictly controlled country. The fact that the minority Tutsi were discriminated against, as I said, was ignored.

In 1990, by that time, there were up to one million Rwandan refugees in neighboring states, refugees who had fled the country during murderous anti-Tutsi campaigns, during which time thousands of people had been killed. In order to force a return home for these refugees, a rebel army was created. This was Africa’s largest refugee problem. And the rebel army that was created, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, invaded Rwanda from neighboring Uganda in October 1990. The French saw this as aggression by an Anglophone country, Uganda, against a Francophone country, Rwanda. They did not see the RPF fighting for stateless refugees. They saw the RPF as part of a plot by Yoweri Museveni in Uganda to take over a part of Francophone Africa, and for that reason they supported the Habyarimana regime.

For the three years of civil war, without French military help, then the dictatorship would have fallen. It was French military help that kept Habyarimana in power. And he was, by all accounts, although this is very difficult to prove, he was friendly with Habyarimana. These two men, Mitterrand and Habyarimana, were friends. They spent time together. Their children spent time together. Habyarimana had a flat in Paris. So it was a very close relationship, apparently.

The fear — and this comes through in documents that have been released from the Mitterrand archives — certainly Mitterrand feared that what he called a Tutsiland was going to be created. And once Rwanda was lost to Anglophone influence, then French credibility on the African continent would suffer a blow, he believed, from which it would never recover.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Linda Melvern, an investigative journalist who’s written two books on Rwanda. Kenneth Roth, the head of Human Rights Watch, said the timing of this report is no coincidence, coming as international pressure is mounting for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to move its attention to atrocities committed by Kagame’s Rwanda Patriotic Front — Kagame, of course, the president of Rwanda. In the aftermath of the genocide, estimated 30,000 Hutus are believed to have been murdered then. Do you think this is playing a role?

LINDA MELVERN: I do not see the release of this report as a sort of tit-for-tat, as part of a diplomatic spat. It’s far too serious for that. This is a European army being accused of human rights abuses in Africa, and I think that it needs careful consideration by international human rights groups. And, yes, I do know, obviously, of the claims made by the French judge that President Kagame in fact was responsible for triggering the genocide. I’ve read that report. But it’s not part — this is not part, as far as I can see, of the same story.

What is needed here is the release of a lot of information. We need to investigate, to dig deeper and find out what happened. We don’t know who, in fact, assassinated Habyarimana on April the 6th. It’s incredible that two African presidents were assassinated that night over the skies of Kigali, and there’s been no international inquiry. If you can imagine, two European presidents being assassinated, there would have been an immediate inquiry. The Security Council promised on April the 7th there would be an inquiry into the assassination. Lieutenant General Dallaire promised the people of Rwanda in the first days that there would be an inquiry. And there has not been. And I think that there are Western governments, particularly France, possibly the US, and certainly Belgium, that have information about this assassination and this missile attack on the plane, and yet are not releasing it. The Rwandan report is separate from that. Each part of this needs careful investigation — each part — whether it’s Operation Turquoise, whether it’s alleged RPF human rights abuses, whether it’s the assassination of Habyarimana. We know so little.

ANJALI KAMAT: Finally, Linda Melvern, what do you expect will happen next? What is the Rwandan government going to do with this report? And what does this bode for the future of French troops in Africa and French-Rwandan relations?

LINDA MELVERN: Well, I think that French-Rwandan relations can only worsen at this time. The timing is interesting. It’s August. You know, most of the French government — most French people are on holiday, you know, the tradition in France to take August off. So we haven’t yet had a coordinated response from the French government. And as I say, this is a report of 500 pages. It’s very dense. It has a lot of detail. It has times and dates and places. And I think it will take time for there to be an adequate response at all to it.

I’m an investigative journalist. I cannot predict the future, and I have no idea where, legally or internationally, this report can go. All I can say is that I find the accusations, particularly during Operation Turquoise, to be so serious that I cannot believe that there isn’t an international human rights organization that would not want to very carefully look at them.

AMY GOODMAN: Linda Melvern, I want to thank you for being with us, investigative journalist — her two books are called, well, the first, A People Betrayed: The Role of the West in Rwanda’s Genocide, and Conspiracy to Murder: The Rwandan Genocide — speaking on the phone to us from Britain.

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