KIGALI, 16 February 2021 – A declassified telegram shows that the French government was complicit in the 1994 Rwanda Genocide.
The confidential cable published Sunday by the French investigative website Mediapart show that the French government failed to arrest members of the Hutu regime whose members and militia slaughtered one million people.
The cable was sent on 15 July 1994 from Kigali by the then French ambassador to Rwanda, Yannick Gerard.
Ambassador Gerard asked Paris in the cable for instructions on how to deal with members of the Hutu regime who had sought refuge in a French army controlled area in southwestern Rwanda near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (known then as Zaire).
The cable openly suggested that French troops should arrest or detain the suspects.
“We have no other choice… but to arrest them or place them immediately under house arrest to wait for international judicial authorities to decide their case,” Gerard wrote in the telegram.
The reply from Paris shows that French officials effectively allowed the suspects to escape from a Humanitarian Safe Zone which was controlled by the French army deployed to Rwanda at the time under the United Nations.
French foreign ministry officials responded to Gerard: “You can… use all indirect channels, especially your African contacts, without exposing yourself directly, to transmit to these authorities our wish that they leave the Humanitarian Safe Zone.”.
The cable continued: “You will note in particular that the international community, and in particular the United Nations, will determine very soon how to proceed with these so-called authorities”.
The so-called authorities were members of the former Hutu regime and the Interhamwe militia which had slaughtered no fewer than 800,000 mostly Tutsi in three months, according to the United Nations.
The mass slaughters started shortly after the then Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana had been assassinated in a plane crash on 6 April 1994.
French authorities let the perpetrators of the genocide escape, failing to arrest and keep them “at the disposal of international justice… knowing full well that they were the organizers of the Tutsi genocide,” laments Francois Graner, an investigative researcher and member of the association “Survie” (Surival).
“The whole world was watching at that time, so it was obviously not acceptable at all to say that impunity was being granted to the genocidaires,” Mediapart cites Francois as saying.
Francois adds that inaction by Paris shows “it is in the continuity of the French support to the regime”.
The French “were not genocidaires themselves, but they had relied on allies to maintain their influence there,” writes Francois.
The courts are yet to rule on a case accusing the United Nations-backed and French-led Operation Turquoise of knowingly abandoning hundreds of Tutsis to be slaughtered in western Rwanda.
In 2019, current French President Emmanuel Macron announced the creation of an expert panel of historians and researchers to look into claims that the French looked the other way during the Rwanda Genocide as well as dig into France’s troubled past in Africa.