Survivors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and activists seeking justice on their behalf can’t find enough criticism for what they describe as France’s nearly inexistent pursuit of Genocide suspects.
They want Genocide fugitives living in France to face justice and the French government to apologise for its role in the killings as well as paying reparationss to help the survivors.
Twenty years since the Genocide, French judges are expected to try their first criminal case against a Rwandan fugitive living in France over Genocide charges next month.
Alain Gauthier, who heads an association committed to advocating for the rights of Genocide survivors by ensuring that the fugitives residing in France are brought to book, said the trial will be more than just about the suspect.
“With the trial of Pascal Simbikangwa that begins in Paris on February 4, a historic trial in all senses, the role of French politicians may be mentioned,” Gauthier told this paper yesterday.
The activist, whose organisation has on behalf of Genocide survivors, filed lawsuits against 24 fugitives, said that French citizens will know a lot about their country’s role in the atrocities through Simbikangwa’s trial.
Simbikangwa headed the state intelligence agency in 1994 and is alleged to have supplied arms to the Interahamwe militia and ordered the massacre of Tutsis in the former Gisenyi prefecture (present Rubavu District).
Gauthier hopes that the trial will also help accelerate the work to bring more Genocide suspects living in France to justice.
“It is hoped that this trial is the first of nearly 30 complaints on the judges’ desk. French citizens and parliament were also not aware of the actions of their leaders. So there is a lot of work to be done in informing French citizens (through the court hearings),” he said.
The French government stands accused of complicity in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi because, under the presidency of François Mitterrand, it was reportedly providing weapons and military training to Interahamwe militia who committed the Genocide.
A panel commissioned to inquire into the role of the French in the Genocide named Mitterand, his son Jean Christophe and several members of his cabinet as well as senior military officials among those who should be held responsible for the Genocide.
The 500-page report, which took more than a year-and-a-half to compile and was released in 2008, singles out 20 French military and 13 political figures it says have a solid criminal case to answer.
José Kagabo, a professor of history and literature who teaches the social and political history of Rwanda at Paris-based Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, says the Mitterand government sent the French military to protect a regime that was committing genocide in Rwanda in 1994.
He dismisses claims by former French officials that the then French Opération Turquoise was humanitarian and bent on saving civilians.
Kagabo instead calls it a force that tried to “help the killers accomplish their goal of exterminating Tutsis.”
The professor is a French-Rwandan who was a member of the so-called Mucyo Commission which the Government of Rwanda tasked to investigate the role played by France in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
“With Opération Turquoise, the French came to complete the execution of Genocide but Rwandans defeated them,” said Kagabo.
The historian said the French soldiers, whose mission was sanctioned by the UN, created a corridor for the army of genocidaires (ex-FAR and Interahamwe) to flee Rwanda across the border into DR Congo after realising that the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) was determined to defeat them and stop the killings.
Twenty years after the Genocide, survivors say French authorities have never made a public statement on what they make of their alleged assistance of the genocidal forces.
But Egide Nkuranga, the vice president of Ibuka, an umbrella of Genocide survivors associations, said there is still hope for justice and reparations from the French government.
Ibuka, with its partners, are working on a feasibility study to set up a reparations fund through which a country like France can pay reparations if it has plans to acknowledge its role in the Genocide in the future or is convicted for its complicity in the slaughter by a court of law.
“It’s about reparations and justice. I think we will sue France (the French government) at one point,” Nkuranga said, adding that it is possible to sue jointly the French government and individuals, or just former French officials who conspired in the Genocide and the French government.
As Rwandans and their friends across the world commemorate the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi for the 20th time, Nkuranga’s message to the current French government is that it should help in arresting Genocide fugitives who are currently living in France.
“No one should have interest in guaranteeing impunity for Genocide criminals,” he said.
Contact email: eugene.kwibuka[at]newtimes.co.rw