John Kimbirima, a 64-year-old Genocide survivor in Bigogwe, Western Province, vividly remembers a crackdown against influential members of Bigogwe’s Tutsi community in March 1992 when soldiers led by French military trainers from a nearby camp arrested many people.
That was when his uncle Nyiramugura and cousin Mabuye were arrested. It was the last time Kimbirima saw them. He now believes they were killed by the Rwandan soldiers who were undergoing military training at Bigogwe military camp, training that was facilitated by French soldiers.
Later on after 1992, Kimbirima saw some of his civilian Hutu neighbours joining the training in the military camp and French soldiers were still training them and would sometimes look on while they threatened to kill their Tutsi neighbours in the community.
It didn’t take long for both then government soldiers and civilians trained by French experts in Bigogwe to implement their lessons in earnest because Kimbirima saw them exterminating about 300 people among his relatives in the area during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Twenty-three years after the Genocide, the old man mourns his loss but he also wonders whether French soldiers who abetted murder of his relatives will ever be brought to account for what they did and ask forgiveness for it.
“The French government should help identify the soldiers sent here so they can answer for their crimes. If the French government can’t identify them, then it should ask for forgiveness on their behalf,” Kimbirima said, sometimes pausing as if to reflect how French soldiers ended up training their killers.
He said in an interview last month that the French soldiers killed his people and should be tried and punished or at least compelled to “say sorry” because “they exterminated our families”.
“When I think about what they did, I sometimes think that they are the ones who incited our neighbours to kill us because they were training them and after the trainings our neighbours attacked us,” he said.
Another Genocide survivor in Bigogwe, 39-year-old Jean Gashati, said that French soldiers used to take his father to Bigogwe military camp and beat him up and detain him, asking him to provide information about RPF soldiers.
“I remember French soldiers coming to our home and pouring milk down to check whether we had bullets. The French had a big role in the violence,” he said.
More than two decades after the Genocide, in which over a million people were killed, France stands accused of having played a role in it through military, political, and diplomatic support to the Rwandan government that committed the slaughter before it was defeated by the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF).
In November, last year, Rwanda’s National Public Prosecution Authority (NPPA) opened a criminal inquiry into cases of 20 French officials linked to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in the country and the agency said that the probe could result into criminal charges.
The names of the people who are subject of the criminal investigation were not released but a report published by the National Commission for the Fight against the Genocide (CNLG) in October last year pinned several top officials from the French diplomatic and military circles on varying roles in the preparation and execution of the Genocide.
NPPA has said that its inquiry for now is focused on 20 individuals whom, according to information it has gathered, are required by the prosecution authority to explain or provide clarity on allegations against them to enable the authority to make conclusions whether the concerned individuals should be formally charged or not.
The CNLG report has exposed the role of French ambassadors who were accredited to Rwanda at different periods between 1990 and 1994, and several military officers, including the French top brass at the time, and their alleged role in the Genocide.
NPPA said that depending on the outcome of its investigations, other French government officials, apart from the 20 individuals, might be investigated.
A deadline to announce results from the inquiry was not set when it was announced last year and the country’s Prosecutor-General, Jean Bosco Mutangana, told The New Times recently that he would not comment much on the case because investigations were still ongoing.
“The law requires us to conduct investigation in a confidential manner. At this stage I will not delve into details of your request. We will let you know when it is right time to do so,” he said.
The Office of the Prosecutor-General has said that relevant French Government authorities had been formally engaged in the process and that their cooperation will be availed throughout the investigation by relevant French government agencies and authorities.
Another special Rwandan probe conducted in 2009 to ascertain the role of France in the Genocide against the Tutsi concluded that there was sufficient evidence to bring criminal proceedings against 33 French officials over varied roles in the Genocide.