“Political, diplomatic and military ties between France and Rwanda in the 1990-1995 period have been a well-kept secret,” said Rwandan Justice Minister Johnston Busingye in an interview with Radio France International. “Perhaps what happened at that time will finally be revealed and allow us to shed light on the numerous grey areas.”
Busingye said, however, that he hoped the declassification would be “total” and that he was waiting to find out the exact content of the declassified archives.
On Tuesday, the French presidency declassified archives on Rwanda for 1990-1995, after a year of preparations kept highly secret. The announcement came as President Paul Kagame was launching a week of national mourning in Rwanda to commemorate the 21st anniversary of the start of the genocide.
The new regime in Rwanda has always accused France of playing a role in the genocide, which Paris has always denied. According to the UN, the genocide left 800,000 people, mainly ethnic Tutsis, dead.
During an official visit to Kigali in February 2010, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy recognized that French authorities at the time made “errors of judgment”. He was the first French president to visit Rwanda after the genocide. However, he stopped short of asking that his country be forgiven, as Belgium has done.
Sarkozy’s visit helped considerably to restore relations between Paris and Kgali, which were frozen by Rwanda between 2006 and 2009. The Rwandan decision came after French judge Jean-Louis Bruguière issued arrest warrants for nine people close to Kagame for suspected involvement in the April 6, 1994 attack that killed former Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana. Bruguière also called for Kagame to be prosecuted.
Tom Ndahiro, an independent Rwandan journalist who has long worked on Franco-Rwandan relations, is sceptical.
“I don’t think they can tell us what they really did with the Habyarimana government (former regime),” he said in an interview with the Rwandan daily New Times. “I don’t think they can tell us what happened in the Zone Turquoise and I don’t think these documents will tell us how French soldiers manned roadblocks during the genocide and asked Rwandans to show their identity cards (to identify Tutsis).”
Operation Turquoise, organized by France in June 1994 with a green light from the UN Security Council, was to stop the massacres wherever possible, using force if necessary.
However, Kigali claims it was used to conceal the flight to Zaïre of the government in place during the genocide.
Ndahiro believes the declassification of French documents is a diversionary tactic at a time when France still has former Rwandan personalities on its territory.
Historian Raphaël Nkaka, who teaches at the National University of Rwanda, hails the French move but asks whether Paris will really have the courage to make public documents that embarrass it.
“Archives are built by people, and they could well have expunged those they didn’t want to see published,” the New Times quoted him as saying. “But in any case, declassifying these documents is a good thing, because they can’t conceal everything if they make them public.”
Sources close to current French President François Hollande say he “announced a year ago that France should show transparency and facilitate the work of documenting this period, but the decision was not made public”. Since then, the inventory of the archives has been “launched and coordinated” by the General Secretariat of Defence and National Security (SGDSN). The documents are said to include notes of presidential diplomatic and military advisors but also minutes of crisis defence meetings and ministerial meetings.
Paris says that in due course the archives of the National Assembly, Foreign and Defence Ministries will also be declassified.
French association Survie, which militates against French policy in Africa, hailed the announcement as “good news” and called for “declassification of other, more sensitive diplomatic and military documents”, notably the “case files of the anti-crimes against humanity and genocide unit on French soldiers in Operation Turquoise” and “those of the anti-terrorist unit on the April 6, 1994 attack”.