Macron Announces Investigation Into France's Role in Rwandan Genocide

A memorial in Liverpool honors the Rwandans killed in the 1994 genocide. (Wikimedia Commons)

A memorial in Liverpool honors the Rwandans killed in the 1994 genocide. (Wikimedia Commons)

On the 25th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that he has organized a two-year investigation into France’s possible role in the genocide, according to the BBC. In the span of 100 days in 1994, extremists of the Hutu ethnic majority in Rwanda systematically killed approximately 800,000 people, most of whom were members of the Tutsi ethnic minority. Since then, some Rwandans have accused France of complying with or even being actively involved in the genocide.

Though Hutus make up about 85 percent of the population, the Tutsi minority dominated the country until 1959 when Hutus overthrew the Tutsi monarchy and tens of thousands of Tutsis fled to neighboring countries, according to BBC. In 1990, a group of Tutsi exiles formed the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and invaded Rwanda, where fighting went on until a peace deal was struck in 1993.

Tensions between the two groups remained high when a plane carrying the Hutu president at the time, Juvenal Habyarimana, was fatally shot down on April 6, 1994. Hutu extremists blamed the RPF, the Tutsi rebels, for carrying out this attack and subsequently began a well-organized genocide of Tutsis the next day. The atrocities were carried out on a local level, with neighbors, Hutu family members, and even some priests participating in Tutsi murders.

After 100 days of slaughter, the RPF, led by Paul Kagame, the current president, seized control. The genocide remains a tragic reminder of what happened as the international community stood by. The UN, Belgium, and France all had forces in Rwanda and withdrew their citizens rather than stopping the mass killing.

A French investigative judge, Jean Louis Brudiere, accused the Tutsi rebels of downing the plane on April 6, 1994, souring relations between the two countries. But some UN officials present at the time and a British expert on the genocide have instead pointed to Hutus as the ones to blame for shooting down the plane, using it as an excuse to instigate the killings.

Kagame, the de facto leader of Rwanda from the end of the genocide in 1994 and the president since 2000, has long accused France of involvement in the tragedy. France was closely allied with the Hutu-led government prior to the massacres. Many Rwandans have accused France of providing weapons and military training to the Hutu officers in the years before the genocide, and had the information and capability to stop the killings, but did not.

Relations between Rwanda and France have improved since Macron’s election in 2017, evident in Macron’s statement of intent to “analyze the role and involvement of France” during the massacres and to subsequently help shape French school curricula. Additionally, Macron announced that April 7 would be the national day of commemoration of the Rwandan genocide.