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Rwanda says time to turn the page on France's role in 1994 genocide

Rwanda's state minister for the East African Community Olivier Nduhungirehe (Left) and France's special envoy to Rwanda Hervé Berwille (Right) confirm their commitment to deepening bilateral ties, 8 April 2019
Rwanda's state minister for the East African Community Olivier Nduhungirehe (Left) and France's special envoy to Rwanda Hervé Berwille (Right) confirm their commitment to deepening bilateral ties, 8 April 2019 Christina Okello for RFI

Rwanda's President Paul Kagame says he won't pressure France for an apology over its alleged role in the 1994 genocide. Kigali has begun mourning the 800,000 victims of the 100-day massacre; noticeably absent from the 25th anniversary commemorations was France's Emmanuel Macron.


"You can’t ask people to apologise or tell them how to apologise, the facts are stubborn," Kagame said Monday with regards to France's role in the 1994 genocide.

Paris was a close ally of the Hutu-led government of Juvenal Habyarimana prior to the massacres and Kigali has long accused its French ally of training the militias who carried out the attacks.

The issue has been a source of friction between the two countries for 25 years. Though relations now seem to be making progress, particularly under Macron, according to Kagame, despite a "complicated environment".

The French president's absence from this weekend's commemorations, due to scheduling problems, apparently did little to harm bilateral relations which, for Macron's special envoy to Rwanda, Hervé Berwille, are "moving forward".

"There is really a political will on both sides and there are also two societies that really want to make sure that they move forward together on this journey,” he told RFI.

Berwille, a member of France’s Parliament and survivor of the Rwandan genocide, said it was an "honour to represent his country abroad."

"It is even more special to represent his country in a country that you are intimately linked and where you still have family, where you grew up and where you were born,” said the 29-year-old who was evacuated from Kigali by the French Army at the age of 4 and later adopted by a couple in Brittany.

New dynamic

Berwille was the only non-head of state or minister to represent their country at Sunday's commemorations, sparking some disappointment from Rwandans. Foreign minister Richard Sezibera even appeared to forget France in his thank you speech.

“It is up to France of course to send the appropriate delegation to the commemoration," comments Olivier Nduhungirehe, Rwanda's state minister for the East African Community.

"But we need to put things in perspective. Since the election of Emmanuel Macron, we have noticed a change of dynamics between Rwanda and France and there is a clear commitment from President Emmanuel Macron to turn the page," he told RFI.

Macron last week appointed a panel of experts to investigate France's role in the 1994 genocide that killed close to one million people, mostly Tutsis. For Nduhungirehe, the move was an "important step" towards establishing the truth.

"We now have many documents and evidence about that role of the government especially President François Mitterrand's. Now we need to have more," he said.

Opening the archives

In 2015, then president Francois Hollande announced that the Rwanda archives would be declassified but two years later, after a researcher sought permission to study them, France's Constitutional Council ruled that they should remain secret.

The new team of experts will now have permission to reopen the archives to analyse France's role.

"We cannot fully normalise our relations if this truth is not established,” insists Nduhungirehe.

For Berwille's part, he acknowledges that trust will take time to build, but remains convinced that new measures by the French authorities, notably the creation of a national day of commemoration for the 1994 genocide from next year, will help mend ties.

"This is one of the aspects of the concrete relationship we want to build. The second is to make sure that in high schools, young kids are taught about the genocide of Tutsis," he commented, adding that more financial resources will also be unblocked to bring perpetrators of the genocide to justice.

"It is important for the survivors, it is important for the French people, it is important for me and the French president," he said.

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