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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

New book from French General on France and Rwanda in the never-ending "complicity debate"

Ever since I've started doing ICL, I've been in endless debates about France's role in Rwanda and accusations of complicity of Genocide. I won't go into the details of the debate, but would like to focus on one aspect of it that has come up time and again: the Turquoise UN operation in the summer of 1994 that was led by France. Indeed, the accusation is that France went in to protect the genocidaires and that they even committed atrocities themselves, such as doing some South-American style throwing people out of helicopters. In response to these accusations, the General in charge of the operation, Jean-Claude Lafourcade, just published a book on his experience in Rwanda. He makes some interesting points which I'd like to bring to the discussion.

1) Although it seems obvious, he reminds us that Turquoise in not a French military operation, it's a UN Chapter VII operation, which was approved, if grudgingly, by the US. Also, he points out that the US refused to provide logistical support for transport of troops and that the French troops had to use old soviet planes provided by Ukraine. In addition, he finds some fault in the conduct of the UN, through Romeo Dallaire, which he considers to have not been given sufficient means to act immediately and for being partial towards Kagame.
2) He also reminds us that the Hutu interim government was recognized as the legitimate Rwandan government until mid-July by the UN, which is quite interesting when singling out France for its "support" for the Hutus. In relation to that he recalls that the last French troops left Rwanda in December 1993, so were not present when the genocide started.
3) The general presents in a very clear way the difficulties of intervening in an ongoing conflict. The idea was to be seen as impartial, despite the hostility of the FPR and also of the Rwandan army, once they had realized that the objective of Turquoise was not to maintain them in power.
4) specifically in relation to the genocidaires among the population and the refugees, he acknowledges the difficulties in deciding what to do. For one, the UN Mandate did not include the arrest of war criminals, and he regrets that this was not the case. Second of all, he asks the question of what he he should have done with the refugees, women and children, that were fleeing the advance of the FPR and the accounts of violence against the civilian population, in retaliation for the genocide? Should he have not helped them because there were genocidaires among them? He also points out that Turquoise did not promote the fleeing of the Hutus to the DRC. On the contrary, they tried to set up "safe zones" of humanitarian aid within Rwanda, but that it was the insistance of Kagame to refuse a cease fire that pushed the refugees over the border, justifying the later military operations in eastern Congo that continue, to this day, to destabilise the whole region.
5) In relation to the previous point, Lafourcade insists on the ambiguity of Kagame's conduct. Officially, he criticized France for helping the genocidaires leave the country, while refusing a cease-fire that would have greatly stopped the flow of refugees. On this, he wonders why the FPR assault stopped at the end of April, only to start again, despite the certainty of victory, only when the Turquoise operation started.
6) Interestingly, he points out that it is Turquoise that decided to scramble the radio des mille collines.
7) Finally, the book concludes on some thoughts about the accusations of complicity of genocide. He wonders how come none of the 200 accredited journalists ever denounced alleged misconduct by French troups at the time. He calls for some court decision to be reached impartially on this (there is an ongoing case in France, but it has reached a stalemate for lack of evidence). On the position of the French authorities, he wishes that they would take a clear stand: either acknowledge French involvement in the Genocide if the evidence exists, or clearly denounce the accusations if they are not true. He regrets the actual ambiguity of the political discourse.

Of course, you wouldn't expect a French general to say otherwise, but I think it's interesting to have his account of what happened in the summer of 1994. Personally, I've never bought the complicity of genocide accusation specifically leveled at France. France made a choice in the late-eighties/early-nineties to promote change from the inside and support the Habyarimana regime (with some results, including the first multi-party elections, which, in fact allowed the extremists to be more present in government, as is often the case), whereas Belgian and the US chose the Tutsi rebels supported by Uganda (a rebel army that was trying to overthrow a government legally recognized by the UN until the month of July 1994...). It's a foreign policy choice that can be challenged, but it hardly amounts to complicity of genocide. When you see the people leveling the accusations (an "independent" Rwandan commission among others...), it's hard to give them much credit. Let's have a court decision, in any country, or the ICJ, and settle this.
I perfectly agree with Lafourcade on the actual ambiguity of the French authorities. Either come out and clearly acknowledge wrongdoing, or clearly defend the honor of France, which is accused of the worst of crimes. The weak-kneed middle ground of Sarkozy's visit to Rwanda earlier this year was in that respect very puzzling. I don't understand what kind of guilt-trip can push the President of France to be shown "proof" of French involvement in a genocide at a museum, and not say a word. Once again, either France was involved, and let's have a formal apology from State authorities, or France wasn't, and it is France who should sever diplomatic ties with Rwanda as a point of principle. Anyway, Rwanda doesn't really care about France in any case, with it's anglophone and sinophile turn...

More generally, I remain baffled at the leeway given to Kagame. As I've had the opportunity of saying before, the genocide should not prevent us from critically assessing the conduct of Kagame, before and including during the 1994 civil war, and in the destabilization of the region since, with help from Museveni, another leader who incredibly remains in the good books of the international community, even being rewarded with the ICC review conference this month, despite his country being under investigation... but that's another issue and I expect that I'll post about it in coming weeks...

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