Thursday, January 11, 2007

France's role in Rwanda genocide probed

Rwanda's Hutu-led attack on the Tutsi in 1994 (800,000 killed in less than three months) was the last example of genocide from a century known for genocide. From the Turk's attacks on the Armenians through Nazi Germany's near wiping out of Europe's Jews and the USSR's attempts at class genocide, the century pretty much started and ended with horrific attempts to wipe out *enemies* of the state.

France has long viewed parts of Africa as its special responsibility and diplomatic playground, and has been ruthless about advancing its interests there. Rwanda fell very much into that category. France supported the Hutu elite at the expense of the Tutsi minority, and may have been complicit in the bloodbath which followed the death of Rwanda's Hutu president.

A French investigating judge is now blaming the victims. He asserts that but for the Hutu president's death, the genocide wouldn't have occurred. He may have opened a can of worms.

The Guardian's Chris McGreal writes a very interesting article:
[...] [Judge] Bruguière's interpretation is highly contentious given that Hutu extremists had been threatening to kill Habyarimana for months and that plans for the genocide were well laid before the death squads went into action. It has not helped the judge's case that he did not visit Rwanda, but he did take evidence from men on trial at the international tribunal for organising the massacres, such as Théoneste Bagosora who might be regarded as the Himmler of Rwanda. Two of Bruguière's key witnesses, disaffected former RPF soldiers, have since accused him of using the indictments for political ends in an ongoing campaign by France against the present Rwandan leadership. [...]
Fed up with France's determination to absolve itself of blame (France supported, equipped and trained the Hutu elite, even during the genocide), Rwanda has opened its own investigation of France's role.
The commission has been delving into a stack of official papers abandoned by the defeated Hutu regime that sources say throw new light on the extent of French support for it, with large weapons shipments to the army, the training of the militias which later carried out the genocide, and French soldiers involved in frontline combat against the RPF [Tutsi insurgents--P] by overseeing the firing of artillery and by flying helicopter gunships. The year before the genocide, there were so many French weapons sloshing around Rwanda that hand grenades were on sale next to the fruit in Kigali market for about £1 each.

The commission's public hearings may cause France to regret resurrecting the past. One witness, Isidore Nzeyimana, a former military instructor, told the commission he worked with French officers who trained members of the Interahamwe [a Hutu militia, heavily implicated in the massacres--P], which led the killing. [...]

When the genocide started, Paris made no secret of where its loyalties lay. The French military flew in ammunition for government forces and, in the following weeks, a stream of Hutu officials travelled to Paris, including Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza, who was later convicted of genocide by the international tribunal, for meetings with President François Mitterrand and the French prime minister. Even as the mass graves filled across Rwanda, Paris engineered the delivery of millions of dollars' worth of weapons to the Hutu regime from Egypt and South Africa.

Africa has traditionally been considered such a special case in Paris that France's policy is run out of the presidency. At the time, the "Africa cell" was headed by Mitterrand's son, Jean-Christophe, a close friend of the Habyarimanas. He later said that there could not have been a genocide because "Africans are not that organised". France's president did not deny what had happened, but took a view no less racist: "In such countries, genocide is not too important."
Nice bit of insight into how France views its African friends.

Now to why France supported the Hutu even once the extent of the attacks became known: France really, really, dislikes losing influence to the Anglo-Saxons, above all in Francophone Africa.
He [a French historian close to the government] added: "Of course, the arch-enemy in this cosy relationship, the hissing snake in the Garden of Eden, is the 'Anglo-Saxon'." Prunier [the historian--P] said French governments viewed "the whole world as a cultural, political and economic battlefield between France and the Anglo Saxons ... It is the main reason - and practically the only one - why Paris intervened so quickly and so deeply in the growing Rwandan crisis."

The RPF's invasion of Rwanda in 1990 rang all the alarm bells about encroaching Anglo-Saxon influence. The rebel front was dominated by Tutsis whose families had been driven into exile by wholesale massacres around the time of Rwanda's independence from Belgium in 1962. Many families settled in neighbouring Uganda where their children grew up speaking English, joined Yoweri Museveni's rebel movement that seized power in Uganda in 1986 and then began to plan an assault on their homeland. Kagame was among them.

France immediately sent troops and weapons to defend Habyarimana's regime. Politicians and the military top brass cast the conflict as between Francophone Hutus and invading Anglo-Saxon Tutsis - though 15% of Rwanda's population were Tutsis who had not left the country. Some in the French military talked of the RPF as wanting to destroy the Hutus, calling the rebels the "Black Khmers". Despite the growing evidence of a genocide in the making during the early 1990s, and the excesses of Habyarimana's regime in assassinating opponents and organising periodic massacres of Tutsi civilians, France's support did not waver.

Even as the Hutu government was facing collapse in the last phase of the genocide, and no one doubted that there had been a slaughter of Tutsis, France was trying to save the failing regime by sending troops to carve out a "safe zone" in the western parts of Rwanda still under Hutu control. "Operation Turquoise" was billed as an intervention "to stop the massacres and to protect the populations threatened with extermination". But, as the Rwandan commission into French actions has been hearing, the zone proved to be safe for the Hutu Interahamwe to carry on murdering and to protect the extremist government from capture and trial by the RPF. The killers understood this. At the roadblocks, they cheered the first French troops to arrive. Later, General Jean-Claude Lafourcade, commander of Operation Turquoise, admitted that the safe zone was intended to keep alive the Hutu government [....]

Rwanda's foreign minister says that one of the RPF's crimes in Paris's eyes is that it has shown other Francophone African countries that "France can be challenged. At the end of the day there is life away from France." French fears were not misplaced. The present Rwandan administration looks to the US and Britain as its principal allies outside Africa, and the Rwandan conflict helped bring down another French ally, Mobutu Sese Seko of what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. That country, too, is now ruled by an English-speaking president.
Even after the fait accompli of Rwandan independence from French influence, France seeks to hinder its return to normalcy. The warning to other Francophone nations is clear: cross us and we'll make your international life hell.

Rwanda's foreign minister, Murigande, accuses France of spending more than a decade punishing the RPF for its victory: "In all international forums - the World Bank, the IMF - France not only voted against any development programme that these institutions would want to undertake in Rwanda but it even went out of its way to mobilise other countries to vote against them." Before the genocide, France was the largest donor of any country to Rwanda. Today, it is the smallest.