By ZACHARY OCHIENG
Despite France’s persistent denial of its role in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, which left close to a million people dead within 100 days, a new book says Paris had knowledge of the impending slaughter. The Role of France in the Rwandan Genocide, a 330-page work by Daniela Kroslak, published by Hurst and Company of London, explores the historical and contextual background of the Rwandan genocide and French involvement in Africa.
The book goes further to explore the often raised questions: What advance knowledge did Paris have about preparations for genocide? Was the French diplomatic and military establishment capable of stopping the preparations for and commission of the genocide?
Francois Grignon, International Crisis Group Africa Programme director, says the book is, “A superb job of looking systematically at French responsibility in the Rwanda genocide. From a research point of view, Kroslak provides the best analysis I have read of the motivations behind Operation Turquoise.
“The book also provides key insights into French policies at the UN in New York and during the Arusha negotiations. The argument is strong, well presented and unbreakable.
“But this book also goes much further than just explaining the disaster of French policy and proving French responsibility. It presents a fundamental set of questions regarding international responsibility and action against mass murder, which are still relevant 13 years later.
“It is not an anti-French diatribe, and that’s why it is strong. It is balanced, and also highlights in conclusion the contradictions and inadequacies of America and Britain’s post-genocide policies.”
After the Holocaust, the victorious allies pledged “never again” to allow genocide. This promise, enshrined in the UN Convention on Genocide, stipulates a responsibility to prevent genocide or mitigate the suffering of its victims.
In this regard, the author asks: To what extent can external actors, such as the French government, be held responsible for not preventing or not suppressing genocide in Rwanda and how can this responsibility be evaluated? Why, almost 50 years after the signing of the Genocide Convention, did the outside world remain passive while Hutu extremists perpetrated genocide against the Tutsi minority and Hutu moderates in Rwanda?
“French involvement in Rwanda was marked by a close relationship between French and Rwandan authorities. As part of the Francophone grouping of states, Rwanda represented an important ally in the pursuit of Francophone interests in Central Africa.
“With reference to a military co-operation, therefore, it was no surprise that then French president Francois Mitterand did not hesitate to help the Rwandan regime against a rebel invasion,” Kroslak writes.
By providing a comprehensive and critical analysis of France’s role in Rwanda from 1990 to 1994, the author reveals that France was indeed well informed about the deteriorating situation in Rwanda prior to and during the genocide.
She writes: “It was heavily involved on the ground and maintained good relations with the elites that eventually committed the genocide. Furthermore, it possessed the capability to intervene — politically and militarily — on behalf of those who were victimised by the government.
GOVERNMENT DOCUMENTS and interviews support the argument that the French government bears responsibility for its inaction in relation to the prevention and suppression of the genocide.”
Kroslak writes that the analysis of diplomatic correspondence and government statements from October 1990 to March 1994 shows that the deterioration of ethnic relations was an issue that preoccupied French officials in Kigali and Paris.
The propaganda campaign waged against the Tutsis and the political opposition did not go unnoticed. In a diplomatic cable of December 19, 1990, then French ambassador to Rwanda Georges Martres, stated, “The rapid deterioration of the relations between the two ethnic groups, Hutu and Tutsi... leads to the imminent risk of a slip with harmful consequences for Rwanda and the whole region.”
According to Kroslak, further evidence of the French government’s knowledge concerning the worsening situation is found in the correspondence of its military attache in Kigali.
In two messages, Col Rene Galinie informed Paris about the worrying state of affairs in the country. As early as October 12, 1990, Col Galinie said that, “This conflict will end by degenerating into an ethnic war.”
Twelve days later, he branded the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) as foreign invaders, and predicted that if the RPF tried to gain power, this would “in all likelihood lead to a physical elimination of the 500,000 to 700,000 Tutsis inside Rwanda by the 700,000 Hutus.”
Despite this prediction, Col Galinie aligned himself behind the government rhetoric, namely that the Tutsi invaders were out to re-establish the political power they lost in 1959.
Another French official, General Jean Varret, the head of the military co-operation mission to Rwanda from October 1990 to April 1993, on his arrival met the Rwandan Col Rwagafilita, who explained the Tutsi question to him thus: “They are very few, we will liquidate them.” Kroslak further argues that Kigali’s diplomatic community in general was concerned about the deteriorating situation.
On December 19, 1990, the ambassadors of France, Belgium and Germany and the representatives of the European Union in Rwanda jointly prepared a report warning that, “The rapid deterioration of the relations between the two ethnic groups — the Hutu and the Tutsi — runs the imminent risk of terrible consequences for Rwanda and the entire region.”
The author says, “Considering these various communications and statements from the early days of the civil war, one can plausibly argue that the French government was aware of the ingredients for an explosive mix in Rwanda. President Mitterand was informed about the dangerous situation, but believed that the tide would turn. After all, that is why the French troops were there.”
Besides the French government’s own sources of information regarding the preparation of the genocide, there were also external sources, including reports from inside and outside Rwanda, appeals from civil society, as well as concerns voiced by journalists and researchers.
Kroslak admits that it is difficult to be categorical that this information reached the French government and its representatives. However, she adds that there are strong grounds for assuming that reports in the public sphere would be known by Paris, especially considering the French government’s interest in Rwanda. Further information was available to the French government via its seat on the UN Security Council and its role in the UN.
After France had pushed for a peacekeeping mission for Rwanda, as agreed by the Arusha Accords, this force provided yet another pool of knowledge from which the French government could draw.
ACCORDING TO THE ARUsha Accords, the UN had to play a significant role in the Rwanda peace process. The agreement provided for a neutral international force that would assist with the implementation of the peace agreement.
In New York, France was heavily involved in the drafting of Resolution 872, which created the UN Assistance Mission in Rwanda (Unamir). Once it was established, Unamir’s reports revealed that the situation was increasingly worrying in Rwanda, and that the force commander had to passively watch this spiral towards genocide.
“Probably the most famous document in the months preceding the Rwanda genocide is the so-called Genocide Cable, written by Unamir’s force commander Major General Romeo Dallaire on January 11, 1994,” writes Kroslak.
“This cable notified UN headquarters of an informant who revealed that the Interahamwe trained men in camps and that the personnel were able to kill up to 1,000 Tutsis in 20 minutes,” the author adds.
THE INFORMANT SAID HE was told to register all Tutsis in Kigali for them to be killed. He also disclosed plans to kill Belgian soldiers (which subsequently happened on April 7), which would be followed by the Belgian battalion’s withdrawal.
A cable of January 12, 1994, told Paris about the situation: “The information obtained by Unamir is serious and plausible. In fact, several pieces of evidence show that arms are actually distributed to certain elements of the population.”
But the French government ignored this. Although France, with its troops, representatives and intelligence services on the ground was far better informed than Unamir, it could also draw on the reports of Unamir.
Although information was available about the threat to exterminate the Tutsi, there was no reaction by the French permanent representative to the UN Security Council concerning the increasing violence.
The French presence on the ground in Rwanda gave France certain knowledge of the situation, which other Security Council members never obtained.
The French government ignored warnings such as the one voiced by the UNHCR special delegate to Rwanda, Michael Moussali, who expressed his unease in late February, by predicting a bloodbath if the political stalemate was not overcome soon.
Kroslak writes that, “All this while, the French had the military capability to prevent the genocide. The troops on the ground could have taken advantage of their position to influence the regime or place certain conditions on the assistance provided.
“Furthermore, proper attention could have been given to the candidates being trained by the French. Better co-operation between French troops and Unamir during the last months of 1993 might also have helped to uncover arms caches and protect citizens at risk.”
Politically, the French government’s presence in Rwanda and its close relationship with the Rwandan government was bound to influence Juvenal Habyarimana’s regime.
By refusing to condone the extremist measures being instigated by the elites, Mitterand could have forced through a change in policy. After all, Rwanda was heavily dependent on France’s support, financially, economically and militarily.
JUST AS THERE WERE NO SERIous efforts to demand that the elites adopt a less extremist attitude, there was hardly any reaction to the news of the many massacres committed prior to the genocide. “Despite the fact that the creation of documented structures of violence (death squads, death lists, and later, hate propaganda inciting violence) provided warnings of a potential genocide, the French government remained silent,” Kroslak writes.
The French government should have shown its disapproval because the massacres and the repression were themselves designed, in part at least, to probe the resolve of the UN and other international actors.
Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, former UN special representative to Burundi, says, “These killings were all little tests of how the international community would react.”
During its heavy involvement in Rwanda, Paris tolerated racist propaganda speeches, such as the one made in November 1992 by Leon Mugesera, a close confidante of Habyarimana, promulgating anti-Hamitism.
No pressure was put on the government to curb such speeches.Although Paris adopted a rhetoric of democratisation after the 1990 La Baule conference, its support for democratic opposition parties in Rwanda was limited.
More effort could have been made to foster its influence and importance within Rwandan society.
“Attempts to openly encourage democracy were limited to some token statements from the embassy and from Paris. Instead, the French government equated an ethnic with a democratic majority,” writes Kroslak.
The author argues that the French government had several other opportunities to avert the killings in Rwanda. The most obvious measure would have been a more critical and open attitude towards the French public concerning its dealings in Rwanda.
Opening up these dealings to public scrutiny might have thrown up a debate about French engagement in Rwanda, which might in turn have altered the attitudes of officials in Paris and even in Kigali.
The French government still refuses to acknowledge the fact that the RPF force was made up of refugees that had fled Rwanda a generation before and was not committing an “external aggression” in any normal sense.
If the French authorities had had a more balanced attitude towards the RPF, and the refugee issue in general, their military support for the Habyarimana regime might have been less wholehearted.
The Rwandan president might in turn have been more willing to negotiate with the RPF and have realised that a negotiated settlement was the solution. But the backing of Paris made him and his allies too self-confident.