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    Sarkozy Admits 'Errors' In Rwandan Genocide But Won't Apologize

    French President Nicholas Sarkozy paid an 'official' visit to Rwanda today. The visit may have been short (barely three hours long) but was symbolically significant as it indicates a possible reconciliation between the two nations. The relations between the two countries have deteriorated steadily since the Rwandan genocide of 1994. 

    France has been accused of training and arming the Hutu militia who slaughtered about a million people (mainly the Tutsis and moderate Hutus) in a horrific act of ethnic cleansing. During a joint press conference with the Rwandan President Kagame today, when asked by a French journalist if France would offer an 'apology', President Sarkozy acknowledged "serious errors of judgment", but did not go as far as to say that France was sorry. 

    In 2006, Rwandan President Paul Kagame cut off all diplomatic ties with France, after a French judge accused Kagame of shooting down the plane of former Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana ; the incident that triggered the horrific genocide. The plane is actually believed to have been sabotaged by the Hutu extremists on April 6, 1994, who were trying to prevent President Habyarimana from implementing the Arusha Peace Accords. The Hutu militia along with the Rwandan Armed Forces (RAF), started killing the Tutsis and the moderate Hutus the same night, literally going house to house, searching for people to kill. And thus began one of the darkest hours in the history of humanity. Thousands died within hours, as the U.N. peace keeping forces just stood by without intervening. 

    Graph From UN That Shows Rwanda's Population, Image Source: Wikipedia

    As the situation worsened, within three days, French, Belgian and American citizens were airlifted and rescued by their respective governments. None of the Rwandans, even those who worked for the Western government were rescued, as the brutal killings continued. Within just days, by April 21, UN Security Council voted unanimously to withdraw most of the troops, by which time hundreds of thousands of Rwandans had already been murdered.

    PBS's Frontline reports, "(On May 17, 1994) As the slaughter of the Tutsis continues, the U.N. finally agrees to send 5,500 troops to Rwanda. The Security Council resolution says, "acts of genocide may have been committed." However, the deployment of the mainly African U.N. forces is delayed because of arguments over who will pay the bill and provide the equipment. (On May 19,1994) The U.N. requests the U.S. provide 50 armored personnel carriers (APCs). However, there are arguments between the U.S. and the U.N. over the costs. By now half a million Rwandans are killed. (On June 22, 1994) With still no sign of U.N. deployment, the Security Council authorizes the deployment of French forces in south-west Rwanda--"Operation Turquoise." They create a "safe area" in territory controlled by the government. However, killings of Tutsis continue in the safe area."

    A 900-page report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), titled 'Leave None To Tell The Story', published on the Rwandan genocide in March 1999, says, "The Rwandan genocide stands alone for the way its organizers aimed to mobilize mass participation in murder. Far from hiding their objective, they advertised their goal of exterminating the Tutsi citizens of Rwanda in song and chant, through the press and over the radio. They exhorted Hutu to join the killing campaign, insisting that it “concerned everyone.” They carried out the worst massacres in broad daylight and in many communities they left the dead in full view."

    The 'genocide' was officially over finally by mid-July, by which time an estimated 800,000 people had been killed in just 100 days, and more died in the refugee camps (amounting to total of one million). The shocking display of inertia and apathy by the international community towards Rwanda during this crisis, was INHUMANE and INEXCUSABLE. The world just fiddled as Rwanda burned. And France went several steps further than just ignoring Rwanda. The HRW report sheds light on France's role in this massacre. Paris maintained 'diplomatic ties' with the 'interim' Rwandan government of Hutu militia, that came in effect after the plane crash.

    Skulls Of Genocide Victims In Museum, Image Source: Wikipedia

    Regarding the arms supplied by France, the HRW report says : "Official deliveries of arms by the French government to other governments are regulated by well-defined rules, but in the case of Rwanda—as in many others—the rules were rarely followed. According to the National Assembly investigative commission, thirty-one of thirty-six deliveries of weapons to Rwanda during the years 1990 to 1994 were made “without following the rules.” Speaking privately, various military officers and officials in the ministries of cooperation and defense indicated that deliveries of weapons by French actors—perhaps unofficially, illegally, or transacted outside France—took place while the genocide was going on. According to a U.N. military observer, one of the three French planes that delivered the troops of the evacuation mission also brought cases of ammunition for mortars. French officials had informed UNAMIR that the first planes bringing troops of the evacuation force would land at 6 a.m. on April 9 but they actually arrived more than two hours early. Rwandan soldiers, correctly informed of the arrival time, had removed the trucks blocking the runway to allow the plane to land. The ammunition was unloaded from the plane and taken away by Rwandan army vehicles. Research done by the Arms Division of Human Rights Watch established that the French government or French companies operating under government license delivered arms to the Rwandan forces five times in May and June through the town of Goma, just across the border from Gisenyi, in Zaire."

    But France didn't just stop at providing arms and ammunition (worth millions of dollars), it was kind enough to even supply man power to the Hutu extremists. When asked for an expert, who could serve as an 'instructor' to the Hutu militia, Paris gladly obliged. The HRW report further adds : "Captain Paul Barril, the former French policeman who had served as security consultant to Habyarimana, may have agreed to fill that need. Rwandan military sources, assert that Barril was hired by the Rwandan Ministry of Defense to conduct a training program for 30 to 60 men, eventually to grow to 120, at Bigogwe military camp in the northwest. He was to provide training in marksmanship and infiltration tactics for an elite unit in preparation forattacks behind the RPF lines. The operation was code-named “Operation Insecticide,” meaning an operation to exterminate the inyenzi or “cockroaches.” According to Sébastien Ntahobari, then military attaché at the Rwandan embassy in Paris, Minister of Defense Bizimana transferred U.S.$1,200,000 from Nairobi to Paris in June 1994 and faxed Ntahobari to pay that sum to Barril for otherwise unspecified “services and assistance.” An assistant of Barril came to collect the money from the embassy." Besides Barril, there were several French speaking Caucasian men frequently seen with the RPF during this time. 

    The HRW report continues: "In mid-June, the French foreign minister announced that France would send troops to Rwanda “to stop the massacres and to protect the populations threatened with extermination.” At the time, French political leaders labored to convince press and public of the humanitarian nature of the operation and four years later they were still defending the reasons for undertaking it." It has been widely known and reported that the French had ulterior motives in sending troops to Rwanda, as part of 'Operation Turquoise', as then French President Mitterrand and his government wanted to make sure that the RPF shared powers with other parties and Paris knew if they didn't intervene, South Africa was getting ready to do so, which they did not want. They wanted to keep their political hold intact on Rwanda. 

    Pres Sarkozy At Memorial In Rwanda, Image Source: Guardian

    Frontline report adds, "(In Dec. 1998) A French parliamentary commission completes a nine-month inquiry into France's military involvement in Rwanda before and during the genocide. The commission concludes that most of the blame lies with the international community, particularly the United Nations and the United States. Although France is noted as making "errors of judgment," the government is absolved of responsibility for the killings."

    "Errors of judgment" seems to be the favorite phrase in France. President Sarkozy used the same phrase today, more than eleven years after the 1998 report. He did add the word 'serious' to the phrase, but could not bring himself to say 'sorry'.

    First of all, Pres. Sarkozy, decisions and actions that lead to and aid in slaughtering a million people, are not called mere 'errors of judgment'. An error is when you go to the grocery store and forget to buy milk. The role France played in the Rwandan genocide is more along the lines of 'crimes against humanity', not 'errors'.

    And how about an 'apology', Sir? Several world leaders, including former U.S. President Bill Clinton, have apologized, even though no country played as crucial a role as France in this genocide. Your 'apology' isn't going to bring back the million people who died, nor is it going to ease the burdens and pain of those who have survived. But it's the right thing to do. Just visiting the memorial of the genocide victims and looking at their pictures is not enough. Take responsibility for what has happened, and start with an apology. The brave and the strong never hesitate to say, 'sorry'. It's only the weak and the cowards who feel the need to hide behind 'errors of judgment'.

    ~ Gauri 

    Reader Comments (1)

    I absolutely agree with you, but as we all know, the french are cowards. By the way I think we should all support Jonathan Torgovnik who has created an non-government organization called Foundation Rwanda which helps victims of the genocide.
    October 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEstefania leiva

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