Issue 14 - Article 9

Rwanda: the View of the French Parliament

June 5, 2003
Andre Guichaoua, Professor, Lille University, France

Since 1994, the genocide against the Tutsis and the massacres of political opponents in Rwanda have been subject to investigation by journalists, human rights organisations, the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, the Belgian Senate, and academics. While their conclusions may vary, without exception they all refer to relations between France and Rwanda as an important, indeed decisive, element in the strategy of the Rwandan regime as of October 1990.

Despite this the French parliament only published its final report on the French role in Rwanda on 15 December 1998. Its authors readily admit that after four years memories fade, witnesses become apathetic and documents are lost. In addition, while the enquiry team congratulated itself on having comprehensive access to the documents it requested, these files had already been sifted through several times simply as a result of changes in government ministerial teams. Moreover, comprehensive access does not mean that the relevant defence, intelligence or foreign affairs departments supplied anything for which they were not explicitly asked.

Prior to the report a group of associations, academics and researchers had raised some vital questions concerning the whys and wherefores of French policy of intervention in Rwanda:

  • What was the motivation of French military commitment to Juvenal Habyarimana’s regime?
  • What did ‘indirect assistance’ in the fighting actually mean?
  • What was the reaction to criminal political activity (ethnic massacres and assassination attempts)?
  • What type of French pressure was exerted on the Rwandan authorities to carry out an effective democratisation process, put an end to the massacres and implement the Arusha agreements?
  • How did the French behave straight after April 1994 (the beginning of) and during the genocide?

The report covers all these issues with the exception of economic assistance – another raw nerve of war despite the fact that, as the report acknowledges, France along with Belgium had become the leading donor in 1993. The wording of the report is honest and the conclusions forthright and damning:

  • France found itself committed militarily as a result of a unilateral decision taken by the French president in his own preserve, and in the absence of a legal framework.
  • France was not able to obtain the promised democratic opening in exchange for salvaging a worn-out regime, and did not draw the necessary conclusions with regard to its commitment.
  • France was aware of the ethnic excesses of the regime and the repeated massacres.
  • There was indirect or close involvement of the French troops in Operation Noroît from the top of the hierarchy to field level during engagements against the Revolutionary Patriotic Front (FPR).
  • The 1994 evacuations were selective.
  • As a result of France’s isolation, its votes on the Security Council contributed to international disarray in the face of genocide.

The report concludes, however, that France is not accountable to anyone despite the accusations and misdeeds laid at its door (attending interrogations of FPR prisoners, arming and training the militia, official arms deliveries beyond 6 April 1994 and so on). Nevertheless some reservations remain and several sections are inconclusive, for instance the ambivalent analysis of military and diplomatic involvement.

This report, with its arguments and ‘proof’, is now open to analysis. Criticism and new documents are already being circulated by the press adding to the impressive volume of information which has now been made public. Other investigations can also now be undertaken and will push back the actual and perceived boundaries of the exercise.

All the same this work is just one piece in several stages. The next stage will concern the behaviour of the international powers who have so far kept their distance as much as possible from this truth-gathering exercise. First comes the UN, the link in the chain most specifically targeted in the French report, followed by the US and Great Britain (which was then very active in the East African countries) whose effective involvement cannot escape the attention of analysts. The following stage will focus on countries in the sub-region: the DRC, Burundi, Tanzania and, of course, Uganda. In this regard we may recall, that in February 1998 the OAU also set up a commission of enquiry into the Rwandan crisis with which Rwanda is cooperating.

In the final analysis, the parliamentary investigation only dealt with France’s official involvement. That was its task. Unofficial French practice remains untouched. This is a matter for the courts.


National Assembly, Enquête sur la tragédie rwandaise (1990-1994) [Enquiry into the Rwandan Tragedy], Paris, December 1998, pp 393, 633, 437, 391. 

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