Activists and researchers have received France’s release of presidential archives relating to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi with caution, with some calling it a good move while others warned it might be a publicity stunt without potential to show France’s role in the Genocide.
On Tuesday, French President François Hollande signed an order to declassify documents in the presidency relating to communication between France and Rwanda between 1990 and 1995, a period that includes the Genocide that killed more than a million Rwandans.
The archives, which will be available to both researchers and victims’ associations, include documents from diplomatic and military advisers as well as minutes from ministerial and defence meetings.
While Rwanda accuses France of playing a role in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, declassification of the documents will provide researchers with information to work with as they continue to dig for the truth about what Paris only acknowledges as “mistakes in its dealings with Rwanda.”
According to Prof Linda Melvern, a British investigative journalist who has written extensively about the Genocide against the Tutsi – including two books on the same subject – the declassification was long overdue.
“This must be the first step. It is to be hoped that other governments will follow France in deciding to release documents. This decision to release documents should have happened years ago. There is still too much we do not know about just how well aware governments were of the planning of the genocide of the Tutsi. There has been a concerted cover-up about the abandonment of Rwanda when the genocide began,” she said in an e-mail response to The New Times yesterday.
‘France can’t expose itself’
However, Genocide researcher Tom Ndahiro said he is “not excited” about the declassification, arguing that Paris was unlikely to reveal its real activities in Rwanda during the Genocide despite releasing the documents.
Ndahiro anticipates that the released documents are likely to be normal diplomatic language without description of alleged “evil operations” of French soldiers during the Genocide.
“I don’t think they will tell us what they really did with the Habyarimana Government. I don’t think they will tell us what happened in the Zone Turquoise and I don’t think the documents will show us how French soldiers manned roadblocks during the Genocide and asked Rwandans to show their Identity Cards (in order to identify the Tutsi),” Ndahiro said.
The researcher sees the declassification of the documents as a mere public relations stunt that intends to cover up the fact that France has failed to prosecute many Genocide suspects at large in Paris.
Apart from citing some Genocide suspects who are still free in France—such as Eugène Rwamucyo, Sosthène Munyemana, and a French priest; Father Gabriel Maindron, among others, Ndahiro alleges that France has also remained a publication centre for books and other literature on Genocide denial.
“They (France) should change their attitude towards Rwanda and the Genocide instead of these public relations gimmicks,” he said.
For Dr Raphael Nkaka, a historian and lecturer at the University of Rwanda, the declassification of the documents is a good move even if one would suspect that not all the documents would be released, especially those that would embarrass French government officials.
“Archives are prepared by people and they could certainly remove the ones they don’t want to be released. But, in any case, releasing the documents is a good thing because they can’t hide everything while releasing them. By looking at the released documents, researchers may discover something that those who prepared the documents didn’t consider as invaluable information,” Nkaka said.
Questioning documents’ reliability
Alain Gauthier, president of a France-based pressure group known as Collectif des Parties Civiles pour le Rwanda (CPCR), agrees with Dr Nkaka.
CPCR has for years pressured the French government to extradite to Rwandan masterminds of the 1994 Genocide, who live in France or try them in French courts.
“On the declassification of the Elysée archives: A priori, it is good news but it remains to be seen if the documents will shed light on the true role of the French government in 1994 regarding Rwanda and the Genocide against the Tutsi,” Gauthier said.
The activist has for long asked the French government to release documents kept as “top defence secret”, those of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the army.
He said it is surprising that the French government chose to release the documents on April 7, a date that marks the beginning of the commemoration week for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, as if it’s a gift intended to appease those who criticise the French government over its role in the Genocide.
“It should not be considered as a gift to silence us. We have many other things that we need to know, we can’t just be happy with official statements which they have always fed us with. Are these documents ‘reliable’? We’ll see when we look at them. It’s difficult to give an opinion before looking at them. Let’s just hope that they haven’t been sorted to remove what could be embarrassing,” Gauthier cautioned.