A former French parliamentarian and minister defends France’s role in Rwanda

Paul Quilès belonged to the Socialist Party and was elected to the French National Assembly for several terms during his career—most recently 1993-2007, as well other terms beginning in 1978. He was president of the National Assembly Commission for National Defense (1997-2002), Minister of Defense (1985-86) and held other cabinet appointments during his career. In retirement he founded Initiatives for Nuclear Disarmament. In 2014 he wrote an editorial in Le Monde defending France’s role in Rwanda and defending the work of the 1998 Parliamentary Commission on Rwanda for which he was responsible. The following is a translation of the complete version of his editorial (not the version published in Le Monde) published on his personal blog.

Translated by Dennis Riches  

by Paul Quilès, April 8, 2014

As the former president of the parliamentary commission on Rwanda (1998), I wanted to make the following points which seemed necessary in the climate of confusion created by the statements made by Rwandan president, Paul Kagame.
A part of this text was published in Le Monde under the title Rwanda: Let’s put a stop to aberrant accusations (Rwanda: en finir avec les accusations aberrantes).
The genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda [1] is one of the great tragedies of the 20th century. Twenty years ago, the world witnessed once again an attempt to exterminate a group of people based on their ethnic origin.
Since that time, we have seen a flood of accounts and testimonials in which it is often difficult to discern the truthfulness of what is stated as fact. Analyses are sometimes contradictory and polemic, and often violent.
Certain accusations against France were formulated in good faith by persons whose lives were truly ravaged, but who believe wrongly that our country [France], the only country engaged since the early 1990s in trying to stop the escalation of murderous attacks in Rwanda, did not intervene militarily to use force to stop the genocide.
Aberrant accusations
Other accusations had the goal of discrediting all French engagement in Africa. These were more in evidence recently due to the responsibilities assumed by France in Mali, in Central Africa, with the approval of the international community. Yet the accusations became less intense when the United States distanced itself from the regime of Paul Kagame, responsible for grave interference in eastern Congo where he supported a rebel movement, M23, which was responsible for large-scale recruitment of child soldiers. This interference and the methods employed were condemned by several countries, as well as the UN Security Council, which suspended their aid to Rwanda. [2]
It is perfectly normal to critically evaluate the foreign policy of France, and certain questions are legitimate. But some questions are from accusers who act like prosecutors, affected by exaggeration, simplification and partiality.[3] According to some of these accusations, which are regularly refuted but repeated endlessly, France supported a dictatorial regime based on ethnic exclusion, with the goal of preserving a zone of influence in Africa. France purportedly allowed the regime to disseminate racist propaganda and engage in massacres that paved the way to the genocide. France purportedly contributed military aid for the preparation for genocide. France is accused of supporting the formation of a de facto government made up of the leaders of the genocide. France is believed to have refused to help victims and even assisted the leaders of the genocide in escaping from Rwanda before the definitive victory of the RPF.
These aberrant accusations were often considered, and their lack of foundation was exposed as they were addressed point by point by the facts established by the 1998 parliamentary commission over which I presided, as well as by the testimonies of persons involved that have been gathered since 1998. [4]
The 1998 Parliamentary Report
After nine months of work, punctuated by numerous public hearings, open to the press and even televised live, we published a 1,500-page report. This set a precedent because the parliament had intervened in the presumed “privileged domain” of national defense and foreign policy. We demonstrated that we were not complacent in analyzing the mistakes France had made in understanding the realities of Rwandan politics.
To better understand these, one must remember that after independence, in the early 1960s, the Hutus overthrew the Tutsi monarchy [5] which had been upheld by the German and Belgian colonizers. The Hutus massacred a large number of Tutsis. Close to half of them fled to Uganda, while others stayed. This situation defined Rwandan politics for the decades that followed: Tutsis living abroad wanted to return to their lost country, and Hutus wanted to stop them, and thereby Tutsis inside the country were subjected to constant discrimination and persecution.
France believed it could integrate this small nation into the larger group of French-speaking African nations [As a former Belgian colony, French was already established as a second official language]. The aid that France gave to Rwanda, so that it could defend itself from RPF [Rwanda Patriotic Front] attacks from Uganda, was accompanied by efforts to democratize the regime and leave in place a government, a parliament and an armed forces represented by both ethnicities, Hutu and Tutsi. These efforts led to the success of the Arusha Accords [6], which were sponsored by France and would permit French forces to withdraw, ceding the peace-keeping role to UN forces.
However, these accords were considered by Hutu extremists as a provisional concession, and the RPF remained ambiguous about its real intentions. In this context of mistrust and hatred, the strongly centralized political power structure in Rwanda held the means with which to lead the Hutu population toward violence. The assassination of President Habyarimana [7] and the Hutu and Tutsi conflict in neighboring Burundi were the two factors that led Hutu extremists to seize power and incite the population toward genocide.
The Passivity of the International Community
It is not an exaggeration to say that the international community failed in Rwanda through lack of commitment, whether it was before or after the beginning of the genocide. The UN found itself incapable of fulfilling its mission to provide security because most of the great powers had refused to provide the means to intervene. The United States contributed to blocking Security Council decisions in a constant and deliberate manner.
In contrast to what needed to be done, the international forces deployed in Kigali were dramatically reduced. Later, when the UN decided to launch a humanitarian operation, only France took up the task of arranging Operation Turquoise [8] because no other nation wanted to get involved.
The honest examination of the facts, the only way to respond to ignominious accusations, firmly establishes that France played no role in executing the genocide. It cannot be held responsible for, and even less so found guilty of, the crimes it tried to prevent by all means at its disposal, even though, unfortunately, it failed in this endeavor.
Further reading...


[1] Alain Juppé, then Minister of Foreign Affairs, May 15, 1994.
[2] Resolution 2076 of November 2012, made after the occupation de Goma by the M23 rebel group, with the aid of Rwandan forces.
[3] Such were the accusations made by the Rwandan government or its spokespersons (Mucyo report published in 2008, for example).
[4] See UN report (December 1999), report of the Organization of African Unity (May 2000), results of the ICTR (International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda) instructions by French and Spanish judges.
[5] The Tutsis represented about 15% of the population but dominated the Hutu majority. The colonizers theorized that the Tutsis were descendants of conquerors from Ethiopia who subjugated the Hutu masses. This racist view of Rwandan social relations was the ultimate cause of the genocide.
[6] August 4, 1993.
[7] April 6, 1994.
[8] June 21 to August 21, 1994.

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