France's highest court ruled Friday that a researcher could be denied access to sensitive archives concerning the 1994 genocide in Rwanda even though they were ostensibly opened to the public in 2015.
Researcher and author Francois Graner, who has written several works on the genocide, cannot see the files because of a law protecting presidential archives for 25 years following the death of a head of state, the constitutional council ruled.
The Kigali government has accused France, under then president Francois Mitterrand, of supporting the Hutu regime that carried out the bulk of the killings, in which around 800,000 mostly Tutsi people died.
The constitutional council said its ruling applied to the archives of former presidents, prime ministers and ministers.
As Mitterrand died in 1996, his archives should become available in 2021.
The court said its ruling was "justified in the general interest" and that it did not undermine freedom of expression, rejecting Graner's argument that the 25-year rule flouted several constitutional rights.
'Wish for truth'
The French presidency under Francois Hollande announced the declassification of archives on Rwanda for the period 1990-95 on April 7, 2015.
At the time it was considered a strong gesture, coming on the 21st anniversary of the start of the genocide in the former Belgian colony.
The president's office, saying the move was motivated by a "wish for truth", opened the files to researchers, victims' associations and civil society groups.
But when Graner tried to consult Mitterrand's archives from the time of the genocide he was refused.
"It's obviously a disappointment," Graner said of Friday's ruling. "The motivations of this decision are political."
Graner plans to take his case to the European Court of Human Rights, "which isn't encumbered by such political considerations", he said.
He said the ruling gave the government the right to "opacity" towards its citizens.
The researcher belongs to the human rights association Survie ("Survival"), which has vowed to "shed light on France's involvement in Rwanda before and during the genocide."
Survie co-president Fabrice Tarrit slammed Friday's ruling.
"This unfair decision is a good illustration of the countless political obstacles you face when you try to shed light on the involvement of the French authorities alongside the Rwandan mass killers in 1994," Tarrit said in a statement.
He said the ruling was designed to "protect a crime of state".
Ahead of the genocide's 20th anniversary in 2014, Rwandan President Paul Kagame accused Paris of playing a "direct role" in the assassination of then president Juvenal Habyarimana, which sparked the bloodbath.
The Tutsi leader said France took part in Habyarimana's "execution".
In November 2016, Kigali launched an inquiry into the role of 20 French officials in the genocide.