Wednesday, July 04, 2007

France's complicity in the Rwandan genocide - An update from Paris

People who have soured on the idea that humanitarian intervention might ever make sense in response to genocidal mass murder or other large-scale atrocities, and who have confirmed or renewed their enthusiasm for the wisdom of realpolitik, might remind themselves of the consequences that so-called foreign-policy "realism" had for Rwanda in 1994.

Roméo Dallaire, a former Canadian general, was in charge of the UN "peacekeeping" troops in Rwanda at the time of the 1994 genocide, in which over 800,000 people were murdered in about three months. He repeatedly warned his superiors that a massacre was coming, and remains convinced that, with very small reinforcements and an authorization to act forcefully, he could have prevented the genocide or nipped it in the bud. Instead, the "world community"--including the US, it is important to emphasize--turned its back on Rwanda.

France went one step further, and actively aided the génocidaires. The French government had long armed, supported, and advised the Hutu-supremacist regime that carried out the genocide, and when the crunch came, they did not abandon their clients. When it became clear that their clients were being defeated, and that the country was being overrun by the Rwanda Patriotic Front, the French military intervened directly in southwest Rwanda (in "Operation Turquoise") to save them, helped a number of them escape over the border into Zaire (now Congo) ... and then, for several years, continued to arm, train, and support these same génocidaire militias as they took over the Hutu refugee camps and continued to launch raids into Rwanda ... a policy that came to an end only when the Rwandan army intervened in the Congolese civil war and overran the camps.

None of this is at all esoteric, hypothetical, or even controversial (among serious people). The main outlines of this shameful story were established some time ago by Philip Gourevitch and others.

But new details continue to come out ... including these illuminating tidbits just reported from Paris. These appear to deal mostly with the motivations driving French policy in the the period leading up to the 1994 genocide:
The former French president François Mitterrand supported the perpetrators of the 1994 Rwandan genocide despite clear warnings that mass killings of the Tutsi population were being orchestrated, according to declassified French documents.

The publication of the documents in today's Le Monde for the first time confirms long-held suspicions against France. The previously secret diplomatic telegrams and government memos also suggest the late French president was obsessed with the danger of "Anglo-Saxon" influence gripping Rwanda. [....]

The documents, obtained by lawyers for six Tutsi survivors who are bringing a case against France for "complicity with genocide" at the Paris Army Tribunal, suggest the late President Mitterrand's support for the Hutus was informed by an obsession with maintaining a French foothold in the region. One of the lawyers, Antoine Compte, said France was aware of the potential danger of its support for the pre-genocide Rwandan government. "Massacres on an ethnic basis were going on and we have evidence that France knew this from at least January 1993. The French military executed the orders of French politicians. The motivation was an obsession with the idea of an Anglo-Saxon plot to oust France from the region." [....]

Even though Rwanda was Belgian for most of the colonial era, France took a strong interest in the country after independence, seeing it as a bulwark against the powerful influences of English-speaking Uganda and Kenya. [....]

"It emerges quite clearly from the documents that diplomats, the French secret services, military figures and Mr Joxe [the Defense Minister] wanted France to disengage from Rwanda, or at least to act differently. But the president was obsessed," said Mr Compte. [....]
So far, these sound like potentially contestable interpretations rather than confirmed facts, and some elements in the article strike me as a bit odd or unclear. But taken in conjunction with other things we know, the basic picture of French policy and its motivations presented here rings true. Read the whole thing (below).

--Jeff Weintraub

=========================
The Independent (London)
July 3, 2007
Mitterrand's role revealed in Rwandan genocide warning
By Alex Duval Smith in Paris

The former French president François Mitterrand supported the perpetrators of the 1994 Rwandan genocide despite clear warnings that mass killings of the Tutsi population were being orchestrated, according to declassified French documents.

The publication of the documents in today's Le Monde for the first time confirms long-held suspicions against France. The previously secret diplomatic telegrams and government memos also suggest the late French president was obsessed with the danger of "Anglo-Saxon" influence gripping Rwanda. In three months from April 1994, at least a million Rwandans - mainly Tutsis - were systematically slaughtered in killings engineered by the Hutu regime to exterminate its ethnic rivals and repel the Uganda-trained Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).

The documents, obtained by lawyers for six Tutsi survivors who are bringing a case against France for "complicity with genocide" at the Paris Army Tribunal, suggest the late President Mitterrand's support for the Hutus was informed by an obsession with maintaining a French foothold in the region. One of the lawyers, Antoine Compte, said France was aware of the potential danger of its support for the pre-genocide Rwandan government. "Massacres on an ethnic basis were going on and we have evidence that France knew this from at least January 1993. The French military executed the orders of French politicians. The motivation was an obsession with the idea of an Anglo-Saxon plot to oust France from the region."

Mr Compte said the file of diplomatic messages and initialled presidential memos, obtained from the François Mitterrand Foundation, provided evidence that the French military in Rwanda were under direct instruction from the Elysée Palace. The lawyer yesterday called on the investigating judge at the Paris Army Tribunal to interview senior French political figures, including military figures, diplomats, the former defence minister, Pierre Joxe and former prime minister, Alain Juppé.

"It emerges quite clearly from the documents that diplomats, the French secret services, military figures and Mr Joxe wanted France to disengage from Rwanda, or at least to act differently. But the president was obsessed," said Mr Compte.

Among the evidence to suggest France was informed of the mounting genocide is a diplomatic telegram from October 1990 in which the French defence attaché in the Rwandan capital Kigali alerts Paris of the "growing number of arbitrary arrests of Tutsis or people close to them". The cable adds: "It is to be feared that [it could] degenerate into an ethnic war."

Another diplomatic memo, sent by French ambassador Georges Martres on 19 January 1993, quotes a Rwandan informant as saying that the president of the country, Juvenal Habyarimana, had suggested "proceeding with a systematic genocide using, if necessary, the army".

Habyarimana was killed on 6 April 1994 - the date that marks the start of the genocide - when his plane was shot down over Kigali.

Even though Rwanda was Belgian for most of the colonial era, France took a strong interest in the country after independence, seeing it as a bulwark against the powerful influences of English-speaking Uganda and Kenya.

In the 1980s, French involvement in Rwanda was limited to two dozen military advisers. But when the Uganda-based RPF began launching attacks against President Habyarimana's regime in 1990, France sent arms and troops. Critics claim French troops stood by and watched as Rwandan Hutu soldiers massacred Tutsi civilians.

France claims its military involvement was aimed at aiding Hutu-Tutsi power-sharing. Last year, a French investigating magistrate, Jean-Louis Bruguière alleged the RPF shot down Habyarimana's aircraft and issued arrest warrants against nine high-ranking officials in the current Rwandan government.

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