The Rwanda Report: A Clash of Truths?

The 2008 Rwanda Commission Report on the 1994 Genocide, just released by the Rwandan government, alleges direct French complicity in the tragedy. Naming top French politicians, the Report could have repercussions far beyond the Kigali -Paris relationship.

Dr Knox Chitiyo, Head, Africa Programme, RUSI

Kagame fatigues

The 2008 Rwanda Commission Report claims that France has a high degree of culpability for the 1994 genocide. Following Operation Turquoise in 1994, the French, the UN and the wider international community were accused of gross negligence in standing by while the massacres unfolded. Over time, the war of words between Paris and Kigali has become more vitriolic, and the accusations have become more pointed; whereas previous accusations spoke of French complicity, a new threshold has been crossed, with the Report detailing the alleged direct involvement of French forces in the atrocities. The Report names thirty-three top military and political French officials, and, allegedly, documents French support to the murderous Interahamwe militias. It will surely worsen already strained relations between the two countries.

Certain things about the Rwandan genocide are generally agreed upon; namely that the downing of Rwandan President Habyarimana’s plane on 6 April 1994, was the trigger which unleashed the killings. It is also accepted that the genocide was not spontaneous, but was pre-planned and carried out with a level of thoroughness and ferocity which could only have come with months or years of gestation. The most serious disagreements over Rwanda’s genocide history, has been over the question of who shot down Habyarimana’s plane [and who gave the orders]; and the levels of culpability of international players. In 2006 an inquiry supervised by French Judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere, directly accused President Paul Kagame, who was leader of the rebel RPF at the time, of issuing the order for the flight to be shot down. Bruguiere also issued arrest warrants against nine senior members of Kagame’s government. This resulted in Rwanda breaking off diplomatic relations with France. Meanwhile, the Rwandan government maintained that they were gathering evidence which would prove that it was the French, not the RPF, which had a serious case to answer regarding the genocide. For the Rwandan government, this Report is definitive proof of French culpability.


There are a number of factors which have motivated the Rwanda Report. First, there is a clear element of tit–for–tat; the Rwanda Report is a riposte both to the Bruguiere commission, and to recent Spanish indictments against forty top Rwandan government army commanders on war crimes charges [including the killing of nine Spanish nuns]. Kigali’s second motivation is the need to secure its legitimacy, internally and internationally. Although the Kagame government has earned global recognition and increased investment for its achievements in rebuilding Rwanda, there is a body of anti -Kagame opinion in France and Belgium, and among some Hutu. The third motivation may be to continue the erosion of the traditional ‘Francafrique’ ideal of France’s engagement with Africa. The fourth motivation is to keep Rwanda in step with the AU’s push to Africanise international justice: the AU recently rejected ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno–Ocampo’s call for an ICC indictment of Sudan’s President Al–Bashir; it has also rejected the Bruguiere and Spanish indictments of Kagame’s aides. The fifth motivation is to consolidate the various, ongoing claims against the French by Rwandese victims of the 1994 genocide.


The repercussions of the Report will be felt in various fields; within Rwanda, the Report will become part of the nation–building project; for the Rwandese government, blaming the French ‘outsiders’ may help to build a stronger national identity, and, internally, may strengthen Kagame’s claims to legitimacy. Secondly, Kigali’s demand for the indictment of former French Cabinet officials, including former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin , will certainly damage relations between Kigali and Paris, although not irreparably. Third, it will pressure the Sarkozy administration, to re-examine its Africa policy. President Sarkozy had already stated that France was keen to promote a less paternalistic, more multilateral approach to Africa and there have also been signs of a draw–down of France’s diplomatic missions in Africa. Although the administration has already critiqued the Report for its methodology, competence, legitimacy and competence, Paris will need to embark on damage limitation to ensure the Report does not ‘contaminate’ its wider relations with Africa. Fourth, the French may feel that the best defence is to attack, in which case the Bruguiere indictment on the Kagame government will likely be reinvigorated.

Fifth, as mentioned earlier, the Report will almost certainly become one of the cornerstones in a growing disjunction between the African justice ideal now promoted by the AU; and the international justice ideal promoted by the ICC and other international organisations. African states insist that justice and truth should not be a Western monopoly, and that African states have the right to try Western leaders in Africa. This notion of African equity in international justice, may prove to be the most important long–term result of the Rwanda Report. It will also revive the ‘African century’ ideal, which envisages the establishment of a ‘soft-power’ African imperium by the middle of the century. Additionally, the fact that Rwanda was never a French colony, means that the Report cannot be dismissed as a ‘traditional’ colony versus metropole dispute, and this may strengthen the Report’s credentials to be taken seriously. Sixth, the Report may have serious repercussions within France itself. Although the French government has publicly rejected the Report, and the question of the Report’s authenticity will be long–running, it is likely that the French will review it in private, with particular reference to the French military. In 1994 UNAMIR Commander Romeo Dallaire criticised the French Operation Turquiose, and there has subsequently been controversy within the French military about their Rwandan intervention. The Report may also impact upon the French state’s fraught relations with the country’s minorities. Seventh, the Report will highlight and renew the ‘clashes of truth’ between Paris and Kigali, as both countries give competing versions of who was responsible for the tragedy. It will also solidify the ‘patriotic genocide histories’ which will now become de rigueur in France and Rwanda.

Although the Rwanda Report will damage links between Kigali and Paris, in the long term the relationship will endure, albeit with an edginess which was not there before. It is likely that both Paris and Kigali will soon realise that they are in a standoff; neither side has a monopoly on truth and each has damaged the other’s reputation. Neither country will hand over its nationals for trial in the other’s courts, so ultimately a truce will have to be called. Until then, however, officials in Kigali and Paris will have to read some very scary bedtime stories.

The views expressed above are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect those of RUSI.

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