Rwandan President Paul Kagame on Wednesday signalled he was ready for a new phase in ties with France after a landmark report acknowledged French responsibility over the 1994 genocide, as Paris ordered the opening of key archives.
The 27th anniversary of the start of the slaughter — an event that still casts a shadow over France — was marked by conciliatory moves on both sides to heal long-troubled relations.
The report, handed by French historians to President Emmanuel Macron last month, “marks an important step towards a common understanding of what took place,” Kagame said in Kigali.
“It also marks the change, it shows the desire, even for leaders in France, to move forward with a good understanding of what happened,” said Kagame in his first reaction to the report.
The archives to be opened by France concern the work of former president Francois Mitterrand between 1990 and 1994 when the Genocide against the Tutsi began, according to a statement by the French presidency.
Also to be opened are those of the prime minister at the time, Edouard Balladur, in accordance with his own wishes, it added.
Many of the documents — which include diplomatic telegrams and confidential notes — were sources for the long-awaited report by historians handed to Macron.
All the documents cited in the report will also be declassified and made public, the presidency said.
The decision is part of Macron’s “commitment” to create conditions favourable to help better understand France’s role in Rwanda, it said.
The genocide saw around 800,000 people slaughtered, mainly from the ethnic Tutsi minority, between April and July of 1994.
The commission concluded that France bears overwhelming responsibilities over the genocide and was “blind” to preparations for the massacres.
It said there had been a “failure” on the part of France under Mitterrand, while adding there was no evidence Paris was complicit in the killings.
Macron ordered the report after years of accusations that France did not do enough to halt the massacres and was even complicit in the crimes.
The issue has poisoned relations between France and Rwanda under Kagame, a former Tutsi rebel who has ruled the mountainous nation in Africa’s Great Lakes region since the aftermath of the genocide.
Kagame and his wife Jeannette earlier lit a remembrance flame at the Kigali Genocide Memorial, where every year commemorations are held to mourn the dead.
The genocide between April and July 1994 began after Rwanda’s Hutu president Juvenal Habyarimana, with whom Paris had cultivated close ties, was killed when his plane was shot down over Kigali on April 6.
The report said France under Mitterrand adopted a “binary view” that set Habyarimana as a “Hutu ally” against an “enemy” of Tutsi forces backed by Uganda.
France had been “involved with a regime that encouraged racist massacres,” although there was no evidence that it had any “willingness” to join in the genocide itself.
Kagame said a parallel investigation carried out by Rwandan authorities would release its own findings this month, saying the conclusions “go in the same direction” as the French report.
But he criticised “the decades-long effort by certain French officials to cover up their responsibilities”, saying it had caused “significant damage”.
“The important thing is to continue working together to document the truth,” Kagame said.
‘Half measures’ no use
The historian Vincent Duclert who chaired the historial commission told the Mediapart news site that he believed France now needed to apologise for its policies in Rwanda, which were characterised by “great violence and a very colonialist superiority”.
The Elysee has said it hoped the report would mark an “irreversible” reconciliation process between France and Rwanda, which Macron has said he wants to visit this year.
Welcoming the Duclert report, the French foreign minister at the time, Alain Juppe, acknowledged it had highlighted the failures of the government.
“We did not act in the way we should have done,” he wrote in Le Monde, saying France had not understood that “half measures” were of no use in the face of a genocide.
“We lacked understanding of what genocide was and the need to act without delay to stop the massacres with all the determination that was possible,” he said.