Paris has acknowledged receiving requests by Rwandan authorities to investigate several senior French officials it accuses of playing a role in the 1994 genocide.
Last week, Rwanda said it had begun formal investigations into the role of senior French officers and politicians in connection with the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, with the initial inquest targeting 20 individuals.
On Thursday, France’s Foreign Affairs Ministry confirmed to Radio France Internationale that it had received requests from Rwanda in regard to the inquiry and they have been forwarded to the French Ministry of Justice for review.
French officials, however, declined to comment further on the matter, which is likely to worsen the already damaged diplomatic ties between the two countries.
On November 16, the French Minister of Defence Jean-Yves Le Drian said accusations by Rwanda were “outrageously untrue.”
Rwanda and France maintain differing narratives on the genocide. Kigali says France, which backed the government of the then president Juvenal Habyarimana, played a role in the killings while Paris denies abetting the massacres, which swept across the country for 100 days, beginning April 7, 1994.
In a statement released on Tuesday, Rwanda’s Prosecutor-General Richard Muhumuza said the probe will focus on 20 individuals who will be required to answer to the allegations against them.
The announcement came barely two months after diplomatic relations between Kigali and Paris deteriorated following France’s revelation that it would open a fresh inquiry into the shooting down of the aeroplane carrying Mr Habyarimana.
Kigali responded by releasing a list of 22 senior French army officers it says knowingly aided the planning and execution of the genocide.
“For now, the inquiry will focus on 20 individuals who will be required by the Prosecution Authority to explain or provide clarity on allegations against them, to enable the Authority to make conclusions whether the concerned individuals should be formally charged or not,” said Mr Muhumuza.
In November, Rwanda’s Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said Kigali would ask French authorities to allow its investigators to interrogate the 20 individuals.
“The Office of the Prosecutor-General expects that reciprocal judicial co-operation will be availed throughout this inquiry by the relevant French government agencies and authorities,” said Ms Mushikiwabo.
Ms Mushikiwabo said that Rwanda was no longer interested in pursuing good relations with France.
Kigali was angered by the fresh probe by France into the shooting down of president Habyarimana’s plane. The inquiry announced more than two months ago will focus on the testimony by the exiled Rwanda general Kayumba Nyamwasa, a former ally of President Paul Kagame.
Alexandre Varaut, the lawyer for Col Jacques Hogard, one of the accused senior officers, told Radio France Internationale that his client was “not worried” by the request from Rwanda.
Col Hogard was among the commanders of Operation Turquoise carried out by the French army during the genocide, which Kigali says not only facilitated killing of Tutsis, but also armed the military and militias to carry out massacres and later created a corridor for them to escape to Democratic Republic of Congo.
The prosecutor did not name the specific 20 individuals but it is believed they are among the 22 named in the country’s National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG) at the end of October.
Genocide scholar Phil Clark said Rwanda’s criminal probe into France’s role in 1994 genocide signals a “small country taking the powerful to task by investigating it,” and that this is likely to worry France.
“Rwanda has been gathering evidence so that it can bring criminal charges against French officials. Its will power to investigate the officials is strong and it has solid grounds to launch these investigations.
“However, Rwanda will confront a French government that is still in denial about its role in the 1994 genocide. Already the French Ministry of Defence has said that it will not co-operate with the Rwandan authorities,” Prof Clark told The EastAfrican.
“The French script is predictable: They will argue that they only supported president Habyarimana’s government against the RPF rebels and knew nothing of the plan to target Tutsi civilians,” he said adding that France has systematically hidden its more direct role in the genocide — particularly arming and training Hutu militias — then assisting numerous high-level perpetrators to flee the country for the past 22 years.
“France is very worried by Rwanda’s investigations because there is already so much compelling evidence in the public domain about its role in the genocide. Much of this evidence has been gathered by French historians, journalists and civil society actors,” said Prof Clark.