14 December 2017

Rwanda: France Must Own Up to Role in Genocide, Say Survivors

Photo: Sam Ngendahimana/New Times
Some of the people who turned up at Murambi Genocide memorial in Nyamagabe to pay tribute to Genocide victims in April 2017.

The umbrella body of survivors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Ibuka, has expressed optimism that the latest report pinning France on the Genocide would give impetus to the pressure mounting against the European country to come clean on Rwanda.

In an interview, Ibuka Executive Secretary Naphtal Ahishakiye said that much as there is nothing new that the report brings forth, what is most important is the sustained pressure on France and believes the time is now for Paris to own up to its role in the Genocide.

"This additional voice by the American lawyers is certainly welcome and the fact that they recommend full investigation is rather encouraging... we need that and we believe it will bring to the fore more atrocities they could have been part of."

The report, that was submitted to French authorities yesterday by respected Washington-based law firm Cunningham Levy Muse LLP, concludes that the findings from an analysis of publicly available records merits a full-blown investigation.

It specifically pins France on a role in the distribution of weapons to the genocidal machinery, knowingly facilitating meetings at the French embassy in Kigali that could have planned the Genocide and deploying a force - Operation Tourqouise - under the ambit of humanitarian assistance, to reinforce genocide perpetrators.

The same operation, other reports have indicated, provided a safety corridor for the militia, then defeated by the Rwanda Patriotic Army forces, to flee to the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, from where they went on to reorganise, again with the help of the French.

"There has never been shortage of evidence against the French... in fact France should not just come clean, it should face the law and be held accountable for what they did here," said Ahishakiye.

The report also questions France's reluctance to bring to book dozens of Genocide masterminds who continue to enjoy safe haven in France and the authorities there have done little to either bring them to book or extradite them to face justice in other jurisdictions.

"That France remains a safe haven for these genocidaires is no surprise... .putting these killers on trial is like putting themselves on trial, so unless a sort of legal mechanism compels them to, they will never willingly put them on trial," Ahishakiye said.

For over 23 years, France has only concluded one case involving a single genocide fugitive; Pascal Simbikangwa while other fugitives, including those indicted by the now closed International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, remain free.

An appeal process is underway in a case involving two others - Octavian Ngenzi and Tito Barahira - whom a court in Paris handed a life sentence.

The issue of fugitives was also tackled by Dr Ezéchias Rwabuhihi, the chairperson of Association Les Amis du Collectif des Parties Civiles pours le Rwanda (ACPCR), an association linked to a France-based civil society group that have for over 20 years worked to bring to book Genocide fugitives living in France.

The body-Collectif des Parties Civiles pours le Rwanda - was founded by Alain Gauthier and his wife, Dafroza, who were both recently bestowed the National Order of Friendship, Igihango, for their service to the people of Rwanda.

"We have fugitives of all types in France, including doctors who continue to treat French nationals and priests who continue to minister to their communities; until when will the French own up and ensure these people are brought to account?" wondered Rwabuhihi.

He said that they had hoped to see some bit of action with the new leadership of French President Emmanuel Macron, but that hope is gradually fading.

"We wrote to him about these fugitives when he was still campaigning but several months have passed and we have not received even a response from his office," Rwabuhihi said.

Meanwhile, the Muse Report, released bt the Government of Rwanda yesterday, pocked holes in the findings by a1998 French Parliamentary Commission of enquiry that had made an attempt to absolve France of direct role in the Genocide, saying that the same commission's vice president disowned the report even before it was made public.

"The day after the Commission released its report, French Parliament Member and Commission Vice President Jean-Claude Lefort issued a press release explaining that he had abstained from signing the report because major and decisive points had yet to be clarified."

In an interview almost a decade later, Lefort said, "I believe that the fact-finding mission did not fully accomplish its task of highlighting the truth."

On the shooting down the plane in which former President Juvenal Habyarimana was travelling on April 6 1994, the report indicates that there are serious concerns over the fact that the two French officers who were in Kigali got privileged access to the crash site but, despite this, little evidence has emerged from the crash site.

"The securing of the scene under false pretences and the failure to share any evidence from it have enabled génocidaires and their allies to continue to promote unsupported conspiracy theories identifying the RPF and Belgium as being responsible for shooting down the plane," reads the report.

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