National Independent Commission in charge of gathering evidence to show the involvement of the French Government in the Genocide perpetrated in Rwanda in 1994

FRANCE’S INVOLVEMENT DURING THE GENOCIDE At the beginning of 1992, a system was set up to carry out well organized mass massacres on ethnic basis. In February 1992 there was the effective start of the program of “civil defence” in the north and north east of the country.


At the beginning of 1992, a system was set up to carry out well organized mass massacres on ethnic basis. In February 1992 there was the effective start of the program of “civil defence” in the north and north east of the country.

At the start of 1992, there was also the beginning of the training of Interahamwe in the country’s main military camps. In March 1992, these Interahamwe played a predominant and publicly announced role in the Bugesera massacres, working in conjunction with the Presidential Guard.

On 21 September 1992, the army chief of staff, Déogratias Nsabimana, sent a secret memorandum to his subordinates in which he defined, among other things, the Rwandan refugees, the Tutsis of the interior of the country, the Nilo-hamitic tribes of the region but also the “disgruntled Hutus” as being “the enemy”.

The document was made known to the public some time later. Mid-October, a computerized register of wanted people to be monitored (WPTBM) was made operational by the Center for Criminal Investigation and Documentation (CCID).

Its purpose was to facilitate registration, investigation and monitoring of Tutsis and political opponents.

On 22 November 1992, Léon Mugesera, very close to President Habyarimana, launched a public incitement calling for the massacre of Tutsis. He was obeyed, and during the following weeks hundreds of Tutsis were massacred. During the days that followed the 2 February 1993 attack by the RPF, and in reaction to the development of the Arusha peace process, the Rwandan internal political scene experienced political adjustments towards the creation of a front for the rejection of the peace agreement process, and the subsequent formation of the Hutu-power coalition.

In August 1993, the Special Reporter for the Human Rights Commission, Bacre Waly Ndiaye, at the end of his mission to Rwanda in April 1993, published a report describing as genocide the massacres that littered the period from October 1990 to January 1993.

That report confirmed the one published in March 1993 by the International Commission on the investigations of violations of human rights in Rwanda since 1st October 1990, which, had also referred to the massacres as genocide.

After the death of Ndadaye, the Burundian President, on 21 October 1993, the Hutu-power coalition was to formalize its discourse by advocating the massacre of Tutsis and Hutus sympathetic to the peace process.

It is also at this time that the Radio des Mille Collines started its broadcasts that promoted hatred against Tutsis and Hutus opposed to Hutu-power.

During the last term of 1993, the training of the Interahamwe was speeded up, the phenomenon took on new dimensions, by the fact of their number, in Kigali and especially in the north of the country, but also according to their level of organization with vehicles, modern white weapons and redoubled efficiency.

But, the Interahamwe had no known calling other than participation in massacres of Tutsis and other acts of violence and intimidation against Tutsis and opposition supporters.

In 1994, on 20 February, the same chief of staff of the FAR, Déogratias Nsabimana showed to his cousin, Jean-Berchmans Birara, another list of 1500 people meant to be assassinated. The latter took it to Western chanceries, including the French embassy.

But, during the entire period from October 1990 to April 1994, French officers were present in almost all the organs of the Rwandan security.

With effect from 1991, until at least December 1993, there were several French advisers next to the FAR, the gendarmerie, the advisers in the investigation organ of the gendarmerie, the CRCD, as well as in almost all the specialized units, including the Presidential guards.

The French military advisers could be found at all levels, in the headquarters, in the elite units and on each of the operational sectors on the edge of the front line.

At the headquarters, they participated in and often directed the preparation of strategies, made battle and security plans, especially for Kigali. In the operational sectors, they directed the FAR’s combat actions.

Until April 1994, there were French advisers in the army and gendarmerie headquarters as well as in the para-commando battalion, one of those that were heavily involved in the starting of the genocide.

Thus, the French soldiers were not only everywhere in the country’s security organs, but they also occupied very important roles.

According to General Dallaire, by virtue of their presence in the training structures of the FAR, the French soldiers: “were well aware that there was something brewing that could lead to great massacres”. 

In November 1993, the UNAMIR established a small cell for the collection of information. One month later, its main officer, Lieutenant Mark Nees, in spite of his lack of training for this assignment, and, it seems, his errors, wrote, thanks to a network of informers, reports that revealed  meetings at the Government’s highest level, to destabilize the UNAMIR, kill opponents and Tutsis.

It is in this framework that in January 1994 the UNAMIR came into contact with the leading Interahamwe “Jean Pierre” who revealed a plan to exterminate the Tutsis in Kigali.

If the UNAMIR, with its limited means and its confessed amateurism in terms of intelligence, managed to glean this type of information, you can imagine the quantity and quality of information that the French officers had in their possession.

France participated in the most important initiatives of the genocide

At the political level and ideological level, France reinforced the Habyarimana regime in the preparation of its genocide doctrine.

In their internal communication, diplomatic telegrams, service reports and other documents, the different people in charge of the Rwandan dossier between 1990 and 1993 state their radically ethnic option of the Rwandan conflict.

For these officials, and in the first place President Mitterrand, it is, in the first place and above of all, a matter of an ethnic and regionalized war, opposing the majority Hutus and the “Nilo-hamitic” minority Tutsi.

This report provided many examples of this French vision, with the French decision makers and the implementers of various military interventions during the entire period of the Rwandan conflict.

As an example we can mention the declaration President Mitterrand made in the cabinet, insidiously justifying the ongoing genocide, on 22 June 1994:

“The president of the Republic recalls that Rwanda, like Burundi, is essentially inhabited by Hutus. Therefore the majority of the inhabitants naturally supported President Habyarimana’s government. If this country were to come under the very minority ethnic Tutsi domination that is based in Uganda where some people are in favor of the creation of a “Tutsiland” including not only the latter country but also Rwanda and Burundi, it is obvious that the democratization process would be interrupted.” 

And, the essentially political and ethnic fear of the conflict was the main point of disagreement between, on one side the moderate opponents, and on the other hand, the Habyarimana regime and the Hutu-power coalition.

Since October 1990, France aligned herself with the most radically ethnic vision of the conflict of the extremists and supported them. Thus, towards the end of the negotiation process of the Arusha agreement, one of the main stumbling blocks had been the refusal by the RPF and part of the internal Hutu opposition to include the Coalition for the Defence of the Republic in the widely based coalition government (WBCG) which was supposed to get out of the peace agreement.

French diplomats exerted pressure so that that the openly racist party, which, already at the time, called for the massacre of the Tutsis and moderate opponents, may be included.

Apart from the simple role of support to the extremists, the French decision makers led the action of promoting the ethnic war. A few weeks after the 8 February 1993 attack by the RPF which had sunk the FAR defenses, at the time when the peace negotiations were reaching very sensitive heights, the French Minister of Cooperation and Development, Marcel Debarge, came to Kigali on 28 February 1993.

During his visit, he urged the opposition political parties to “forge a common front” with President Habyarimana against the RPF.

Both the Rwandan political actors and the observers made a very precise interpretation of that call by Debarge reported here by the French historian, Gérard Prunier:

“Even if it is understandable that Paris would like to exploit the closing of Hutu ranks against the RPF against the Tutsi RPF, the French minister’s official declaration is shocking. In such a climate of ethnic tension, after the massacres of the previous weeks, that call for a “common front”, of course based on race, is almost a call to racial war.”

The Belgian journalist, Colette Braeckman, present in Rwanda at the time, affirms that while pretending to support the Arusha process, “in private, the French diplomats boasted of having divided the opposition parties by encouraging the birth of Hutu power.”

And the creation of the Hutu-power coalition was a prerequisite for the successful implementation of the genocide.

France supported to the hilt by organizing, training and arming the FAR. It also fought on their sides at different times, in October 1990, in January 1991, in June 1992 and in February 1993.

And the army had a military doctrine of the genocide type, since it referred to a part of its civilian population as an enemy and that it put that doctrine into practice when members of the gendarmerie and the Presidential guard participated in the massacres of the civilian population like in March 1992 in Bugesera.

The French soldiers participated in the erection of road blocks in different regions of the country, but most particularly around Kigali, where they made identity checks on ethnic basis, stopping Tutsis.

Some of the latter were thereafter tortured and assassinated in collusion with the French soldiers.

The French soldiers in Rwanda contributed to the conceptualization and organization of the “civil defence” which was to serve as an administrative instrument of the execution of the genocide.

To remember, it is a matter of a program of paramilitary training and arming the population in general, under the supervision of the local authorities.

It is through this program that with effect from May 1994 the genocide will be systematized on the entire territory under the control of the interim government. This program is different from the Interahamwe militia which however constituted its spearhead.

Thus, Lieutenant Colonel Gilbert Canovas, after an inspection tour of the front line in February 1991wrote a report in which he proposed to the Rwandan army “the creation of small civilian elements, disguised in peasants, in the sensitive areas, in order to neutralize the generally isolated rebels.”

It is a question of conceptualizing the use of disguised soldiers or civilians in actions of war.

In February 1992, the program of “civil defense” started in the northeast of Rwanda. In spite of the reservations issued in a diplomatic telegram by the French military attaché in Kigali, Colonel Cussac, who seemed to be anxious to protect himself, at the same time it is the French soldiers who launched that program.

It had been subject of discussions between Rwandans for months, but it had never taken off. It is the organizational and logistic support of the French army that enabled it to be launched.

The military soldiers went to look for volunteers from the governors to participate in the training program, they offered arms for the first groups of participants, provided logistics, supervised the training and gave some courses.

The French soldiers trained and contributed to training militarily the Interahamwe between the beginning of 1992 until the departure of the Noroît operation in December 1993.

Some witnesses, but it is not systematic, say also that in some cases French soldiers contributed to the ideological training whose main teaching point was to define the Tutsi as the enemy.

This training was done in five big military camps where French soldiers were established. After the Bugesera massacre of March 1992, that was followed by Colonel Robardey, the French army knew that the Interahamwe whom they were training had as their main mission the massacre of the Tutsis, a mission that was confirmed in the course of time.

The French soldiers fully participated in the intensification of training during the last term of 1993. This intensification was part of the preparations of the genocide, and the French army could not know it, for reasons synthesized above.

The French soldiers contributed to the registration of the Tutsis and political opponents. The French gendarmes attached to the CRCD introduced the computerization of the service’s data banks, especially the register of persons to be registered and watched (PRAW).

On 14 October 1992, Colonel Robardey wrote to the chief of staff of the national gendarmerie, Colonel Augustin Ndindiliyimana, informing him the PRAW was ready for use, and that he was only waiting for his approval to make it operational.

General Jean Varret, head of military cooperation mission from October 1990 to April 1993, had been the initiator of the French military cooperation project at the CRCD.

To be continued on Monday

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