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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

France faces accusations over Rwanda massacre

Report says 13 politicians and the then president played an active role in the atrocities carried out against 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
The Rwandan report deals a blow to already strained bilateral relations.  Above, French soldiers pass Hutu troops near Zaire.
The Rwandan report deals a blow to already strained bilateral relations. Above, French soldiers pass Hutu troops near Zaire.

NAIROBI // A Rwandan report this month accusing top French politicians of playing an active role in the 1994 Rwandan genocide is the latest blow in a deepening political row between the two countries.

The 500-page report named 13 French politicians and François Mitterrand, the French president, of helping Rwanda's Hutu government carry out the massacre of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The report accused the French military of arming and training Hutu militants. It also accused French forces of participating in the genocide. France dismissed all the accusations. But there is little chance the accused would face justice if found guilty of participating in the genocide, because of the ineffectiveness of the international courts set up to try those accused of war crimes, critics have said.

"French forces directly assassinated Tutsis and Hutus accused of hiding Tutsis," said a justice ministry statement after the report was released on Aug 5. "French forces committed several rapes on Tutsi survivors." France deployed troops to Rwanda towards the end of the three-month genocide, which began in April 1994. The French soldiers were part of Operation Turquoise, a humanitarian and peacekeeping mission.

France rejected the "intolerable" accusations by Rwanda and insisted its forces did nothing wrong. "These accusations are absolutely intolerable for the memory of the French soldiers who took part in this operation," Herve Morin, the French defence minister, told Radio France International. "I am certain of the pureness of France's actions in this affair and naturally of the irreproachable behaviour of French troops."

The report has worsened the already icy relations between Rwanda and France. The two countries severed diplomatic ties in 2006 after a French judge accused Paul Kagame, the Tutsi president of Rwanda, of assassinating the former president, who was a Hutu, by giving the order to shoot down his plane. The death of Juvenal Habyarimana sparked the genocide. Mr Habyarimana's wife, Agathe Habyarimana, was airlifted to France shortly after the genocide began, and she has remained there in exile with French support. Rwanda has accused her of helping to plot the genocide and demanded that France extradite her, but France refuses.

Neither the French politicians named in the report nor Mr Kagame are being sought by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the court based in Arusha, Tanzania, that was set up in Nov 1994 to try suspects of the genocide. The court so far has convicted 28 Rwandans for their role in the genocide. Another 11 trials are in progress and 14 suspects are in custody awaiting trial. There are 18 suspects still at large, mostly leaders of the Interahamwe, a Hutu militia that perpetrated the genocide and fled to Democratic Republic of Congo.

The court is supposed to finish all of its trials by the end of this year. Mr Kagame and the accused French leaders will likely never stand trial. Critics of international courts say that political forces prevent leaders from standing trial for their crimes. Others counter that indictments of high-level officials are obstacles to peace. The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court last month asked for an indictment for Omar al Bashir, the Sudanese president, for his alleged role in the genocide in Darfur.

The African Union and the Arab League said the move would undermine the fragile peace process in Sudan. Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, a Ugandan rebel group, has been indicted by the ICC. He has refused to sign a final peace deal to end the 22-year Ugandan civil war until the indictments are lifted. "In Sudan, in Uganda, in the new Rwandan accusations against France, we're seeing the implosion of the system of international criminal law against the shores of political reality," Peter Erlinder, head of the Rwandan tribunal's defence lawyers association, told Reuters news agency.

Only two heads of state have been indicted by international courts; Slobodan Milosevic, the president of former Yugoslavia, and Charles Taylor, the deposed dictator of Liberia. Indicting French leaders for their role in the genocide, though unlikely, would not only strain relations between Paris and Kigali, but would also jeopardise relations between France and the United States and the United Kingdom. Both countries support Mr Kagame's regime.

Human right organisations have said France's role in the genocide needs to be recognised no matter what the political consequences. "French involvement was well-documented," said Alison des Forges, a researcher on the genocide for Human Rights Watch. France's ties to the genocide "should be acknowledged as historical fact", she said. @email:mbrown@thenational.ae