France’s role in the Rwandan genocide
What’s in the news?
- French President Emmanuel Macron has acknowledged his country’s “overwhelming responsibility” in the 1994 Rwandan genocide in which about 800,000 people, mostly ethnic Tutsis, were killed.
- Mr. Macron said France chose “silence over examination of the truth” for too long, but stopped short of issuing an apology, saying France had not been an accomplice in the genocide.
- France, which enjoyed close ties with Rwanda’s Hutu-led government of President Juvénal Habyarimana, has long been criticised for its role in the killings of the Tutsi minorities in the months of April to June 1994.
The Rwandan genocide
- The Rwandan genocide of 1994 was the culmination of long-running ethnic tensions between the minority Tutsi community, who had controlled power since colonial rule by Germany and Belgium, and the majority Hutu. They had a troubled relationship in Rwanda that goes back to the German and Belgian colonial period.
- Colonialists ruled Rwanda through the Tutsi monarchy. Tutsis were appointed as local administrative chiefs and the ethnic minority enjoyed relatively better educational and employment opportunities, which led to widespread resentment among the majority Hutus.
- In 1959, Rwanda saw violent riots led by Hutus in which some 20,000 Tutsis were killed and many more were displaced. Amid growing violence, the Belgian authorities handed over power to the Hutu elite. King Kigeli V fled the country.
- In the 1960 elections, organised by the Belgians, Hutu parties gained control of nearly all local communes. In 1961, Hutu leader Grégoire Kayibanda declared Rwanda an autonomous republic and the next year, the country became independent. Kayibanda became Rwanda’s first elected President, while the Tutsis who fled the country formed armed insurgencies. Since then, Rwanda had been controlled by Hutus, until their genocidal regime was toppled by the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) in 1994.
What led to the genocide?
- The crisis escalated in the 1990s when the RPF, led by Paul Kagame, the current President, grew in strength and posed a serious challenge to the regime of President Habyarimana, who was backed by France and had defence ties with Israel.
- In 1993, Habyarimana, who rose to power in 1973, was forced to sign a peace agreement (Arusha Accords) with the RPF. This led to resentment among Hutu militias, backed by the government, towards local Tutsi population, who were accused of collaborators of the RPF.
- On April 6, 1994, a Falcon 50 jet carrying Habyarimana and his Burundi counterpart Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down near Kigali International Airport. The Hutu-led government blamed the RPF for the attack on the presidential jet. The military and Hutu militias, mainly Interahamwe, unleashed violence against Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
- Over the course of 100 days, the tragedy took the lives of over 8 lakh people, estimated to amount up to 20% of Rwanda’s population.
- Hutu militias systematically targeted the Tutsi ethnic group, and used the nation’s public broadcaster, Rwanda Radio, for spreading propaganda. Military and political leaders encouraged sexual violence as a means of warfare, leading to around 5 lakh women and children being raped, sexually mutilated or murdered. Some 20 lakh fled the country.
- The conflict ended when the Rwandan Patriotic Front seized control of the country in July. The RPF initially went about establishing a multi-ethnic government with Pasteur Bizimungu, a Hutu, being the President. Mr. Kagame, a Tutsi, was his deputy. In 2000, Mr. Kagame assumed the Presidency and continues to be in power till today.
- Kagame has been credited for bringing stability and development to the mineral-rich nation, but blamed for cultivating an environment of fear for his political opponents both at home and abroad.
What role did France play during these events?
- During the genocide, Western powers including the United States were blamed for their inaction which abetted the atrocities. France, which was then led by Socialist President François Mitterrand, gained notoriety after being accused of acting as a staunch ally of the Hutu-led government that ordered the killings.
- In June 1994, France deployed a much-delayed UN-backed military force in southwest Rwanda called Operation Turquoise– which was able to save some people, but was accused of sheltering some of the genocide’s perpetrators. Kagame’s RPF opposed the French mission.
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