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The French Connection to Hutu Power: France’s Reckoning with a Sinister Part of History

France’s role in the Rwandan Genocide was recently reexamined in two seperate reports commissioned by the French anpauld Rwandan governments. The French report was authorized by President Emmanuel Macron two years ago, breaking France’s longtime policy of secrecy over its ties with the Hutu-led government that incited the mass murder in 1994. The commission was impaneled by experts on the Holocaust, Armernian Genocide and international criminal law. They were given access to French “presidential, diplomatic, military and intelligence archives.” The Rwandan report was commissioned by President Paul Kagame in 2017. The administration tasked the U.S. law firm Levy Firestone Muse with carrying out the investigation. The firm relied on government documents, videos, documentaries and more than 250 witnesses to inform their conclusions.

500,000-600,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed within a 100-day period in Rwanda, from April 7 to July 15, 1994. This number represented two-thirds of Tutsis in Rwanda at the time. The catalyst for the violence was the assassinations of Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira. On April 7, 1994, their plane was shot down by two missiles over the Kigali airport. The assasination of Habyrarimana gave the reins of government to Hutu Power hardliners, who wasted little time in murdering their political opponents and arming and inciting Hutu civilians throughout the country to murder Tutsis in their communities. Tutsis were hacked to death with machetes by their Hutu neighbors. Tutsi children hid beneath the pews in Catholic churches, only to be found and rifled down. Tutsis in Kigali were stopped at checkpoints, asked to produce their national identity cards, and murdered on the spot if the cards stated their ethnicity as Tutsi. Along with the half a million slain, between 250,000 to 500,000 women were sexually abused during the genocide. Many contracted H.I.V. and were mutilated by Hutu “rape squads.” Two million Rwandans, mostly Hutus, were displaced and became refugees. 400,000 became orphaned. 10,000 Pygmy Batwas out of a population of 30,000 were also violently killed.

The French report concludes that France bears heavy and overwhelming responsibility for the genocide, but also notes that they found no evidence of direct complicity with Hutu criminals. Was France complicit in the Tutsi genocide? If this means a willingness to join the genocidal enterprise, there is nothing in the archives consulted that would suggest this,” say the authors. The commission specifies many areas in which the government failed in Rwanda, such as “lack of coordination powers and absence of effective checks and balances,” “parallel chains of communication and even command,” “bypassing the rules of engagement and legal procedures,” “institutional abuses covered up by the political authority or in the absence of political control,” and notably, having an “ethnicist reading” of the Rwandan conflict.

In response, President Kagame commended the findings of the commission, adding that it “represented an important step toward a common understanding of France’s role in the genocide against the Tutsi.”

The Rwandan report dissects the relationship between then-French President Francois Mitterand and Habyramina. It states that France was aware of the Hutu government’s plan to exterminate the Tutsis. Mitterand continued to prop up Habyarimana despite these “warning signs.” In the years leading up to the killing, “French officials armed, advised, trained, equipped, and protected the Rwandan government, heedless of the Habyarimana regime’s commitment to the dehumanization and, ultimately, the destruction and death of Tutsi in Rwanda.” It also accuses France of not doing enough to save lives during the height of the genocide, attempting to cover up its role and distort the truth about the perpertrators, and making “little efforts” to bring genocidaires to trial.

The close link between the France and Hutu Power is undeniable. The French had been supplying the Habyarimana Government with military arms since 1975, two years after he came to power in a coup d'etat. Under Habyarimana, opposing political parties were outlawed and every Rwandan had to join his party, Movement for Development (MRND). By the early 1990s, Rwanda, one of the poorest countries in the world, became the third largest importer of weapons in Africa. Between 1990-1994, there were at least thirty weapons deliveries from France to Rwanda. The arms were distributed to the people by the administration