Rwanda’s liberation struggle launched by the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) on October 1, 1990 triggered a series of uncouth conspiracies between the French alongside the regime that was led by Juvenal Habyarimana, which four years later, would culminate into the Genocide against the Tutsi.
It is on record that French officials, including envoys accredited to Rwanda, were deeply involved in the Genocide preparation. Among them are Georges Martres (France’s ambassador to Rwanda from 1989 to 1993) and Jean-Michel Marlaud who was ambassador from March 1993 to April 1994.
Various engagements carried out between 1990 and 1993 show that he was perfectly aware of the preparation of the Genocide against the Tutsi and that he knowingly supported the regime that was preparing to exterminate a part of its population.
1. Own revelations
In 1998, before the French Parliamentary Information Mission, George Martres acknowledged that he was aware of the impending Genocide against the Tutsi since the end of 1990 when he said:
“The Genocide was foreseeable from that period (…). Some Hutus had the boldness to refer to it. Colonel Serubuga, then Deputy Chief of Staff of the Rwandan army, had hailed the RPF attack, which he said would serve as justification for the massacres of the Tutsi. The Genocide is something that worried the Tutsi every day. From the beginning of October 1990, thousands of people were imprisoned in Kigali, mostly because of their belonging to the Tutsi minority or just because they had sympathies or some shared interests with the Tutsi”.
In meetings between Rwandan military officials and French diplomats, the possibility to commit genocide against the Tutsi was often cited by high Rwandan officials, essentially military.
The Chief of Staff of the Gendarmerie, Pierre Celestin Rwagafirita, told General Jean Varret, the then head of French military cooperation mission from October 1990 to April 1993, that the Tutsi were “Very few, we will liquidate them”.
Martres who represented France in Rwanda was aware of the intention of Rwandan senior officers to exterminate the Tutsi and maintained his support for the regime and its army.
2. Telegrams to Paris
In a Diplomatic Telegram (TD) of 12th October 1990, Martres described the anti-Tutsi sentiments of the regime, the violence it exercised over them and the possibility of the Genocide. This is proof that he knew everything taking place:
“There are some symptoms indicating that this conflict may eventually degenerate into an ethnic war. (…). The arrests of suspects in the city of Kigali alone would amount to several thousands (10,000 minimum).
Interrogations are violent; people are imprisoned several days without food or drink. Indeed, Rwandan officials have asserted that Tutsi invaders have inscriptions on them, demanding the return of Tutsi kingship ‘Ramba Mwami’ (Honour the king). This also prohibits any national reconciliation between Hutu of the North and the Hutu of the South as well as some liberal Tutsi who were still hoping for democracy that Habyarimana had promised”.
In the TD of 13th October 1990, Martres established that the hunt for Tutsi populations had become widespread, but still called for increased military aid to the regime that was committing these crimes:
“Hutu peasants organised by the MRND have intensified the search for suspected Tutsi in the hills, the killings are reported in the area of Kibirira region, 20 kilometres northwest of Gitarama.
“The risk of generalisation, already reported, of this confrontation and seems to occur (…). Government forces are likely to suffer from their small number and lack in terms of materials and technicians, and can no longer exploit further the loyalty of citizens who are increasingly participating in military action through armed self-defence groups armed with rudimentary weapons like bows and machetes. They could not eventually also reverse the situation in their favour with a sustained external support. Hence the appeal to friends; France in particular.”
In the TD of 15th October 1990, Georges Martres recognized the possibility of the genocide, but remained loyal to the regime that was planning to commit it.
“Rwandans of Tutsi origin thinks the military had failed in its psychological extensions because it did not get fast enough results to prevent mobilization of Hutu against the prospect of the return of the old monarchy.
They still count on a military victory with the support of men and resources from some foreign countries. This military victory, even partial, would allow them to escape the genocide.”
On 6th December 1990, the extremist newspaper, Kangura No. 6 published the ten commandments of the Hutu, with an openly genocidal characteristic. On its front page was a photograph of President François Mitterrand with this inscription: “a true friend of Rwanda.
It is in adversity that indeed true friends are manifested”. Georges Martres notified this fact to his superiors in his telegram of 19 December 1990: “the latest edition of Kangura newspaper which I reported in my TD 740 of 17 December has further accentuated the nervousness of the population in which the ideology of Hutu extremism is gaining ground in some, while it frightens others “. Georges Martres did not so far advocate for France to advise its ally, the Rwandan government, to prevent the spread of these writings inciting ethnic hatred.
In the same TD of 19th December 1990 George Martres described “the rapid deterioration of relations between the two major ethnic groups, the Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda resulting in a prominent risk of slewing with adverse consequences for Rwanda and the region at large “.
The TD added: “Hutu extremism is gaining ground in some, while it frightens others”. Surprisingly, Ambassador Georges Martres did not propose anything concerning efforts prevent the Rwandan regime from tilting in horror.
In the TD of 24th January 1991, written after his meeting with President Habyarimana, George Martres seemed to have fully agreed with a conspiracy theory fronted by President Habyarimana of the alleged idea of establishing a Hima-Tutsi empire instead of recognising the exact nature of the conflict to bring the regime to adopt a sound policy its regulation: “the president reaffirmed his conviction that Rwanda had been victim of an outside attack of great magnitude that, more than ever, can’t be considered an internal matter. (…). I admitted that in contrast, the problem was increasingly dominated by ethnic aspect, the attackers almost all belonging to a Tutsi-Hima of the Great Lakes region, of which President Museveni himself is descendant “.
In the TD of 9th March 1992 on the massacres of Tutsi in Bugesera, Martres acknowledged the existence of a Hutu extremism exacerbated from the ruling party and its outposts, but did not recommend any action to his superiors regarding measures to limit the effects of this extremism.
He wrote: “for several months, extremist movements have developed -the movement for the defence of women and ordinary people, the Coalition for the Defence of the Republic (CDR), the Palipehutu, which was supported by Kangura newspaper called upon Hutu to come together around the ideals of the old Parmehutu, with the main objective to defend majority people against the ethnic group that supplied the old feudal class. These extremists, mostly from the hardliners of the National Revolutionary Movement for Democracy and Development (MRND) but recently removed from power, are often from the north but are used to influence the southern region, far less directly affected by the war.”
In the TD of 11th March 1992, Martres explained that “inter-ethnic conflicts in Bugesera” and in particular the murder of the Italian cleric Tonia Locatelli, were not committed by the local authorities: “misconception according to the official version, deliberate killing according to rumours, the victim was known for her opposition to the controversial mayor of the commune. Furthermore, her quite clumsy statements to RFI was also probably displeasing”.
Tonia Locatelli was murdered by an ex-FAR officer because in her telephone interview with RFI, she denounced the government’s version which claimed that the violence held in Bugesera was spontaneous. It is an act that shows that Ambassador Martres supported the regime even in its cruelty.
Whenever President Habyarimana appealed to French military aid, claiming an RPF attack, Ambassador Georges Martres pleaded for an automatic and immediate positive response other than using his influence to exert pressure on the regime to observe law and order and establish democratic institutions; and urge the regime to stop the serious human rights violations.
For instance: on 5th June 1992, George Martres wrote: “President Habyarimana called me this morning at 8:00 to inform that RPF had attacked the town of Byumba in the context of a direct action combined with acts of insurgency in Mukono and Kaniga. (…). The head of State obviously wants a second contingent to be sent immediately to Kigali to protect the city and the airport. Whatever the nature and extent of the attack, whose extent I am not yet able to anticipate, it seems in any case necessary to strengthen the French military personnel that formed the “détachment Noroît”.
On 7th March 1993 there was a ceasefire agreement signed in Dar es Salaam between the FAR (Forces Armées Rwandaises) and the RPF. On 9th March 1993, CDR diehards accused Habyarimana and Prime Minister Dismas Nsengiyaremye of betrayal.
On 11th March 1993, George Martres wrote a long telegram disapproving, like CDR, both the power-sharing protocol and the cease-fire. He regretted the exclusion of the CDR from the transitional institutions that he considered “totally arbitrary”, appalled to the fact that in doing so, President Habyarimana “missed it”.
Georges Martres proposed that the “Hutu nationalism” represented by the CDR had to find another leader, as President Habyarimana was to be just the President of only Hutu and should be replaced as Head of State for the simple fact that he had agreed to sign a cease-fire and an agreement to share power. In the theat context, the support given by Ambassador Georges Martres on claims of an extremist party, provided the opportunity to exacerbate the discourse of hatred and ethnic violence.
3. In his public statements
In 1991, George Martres was interrogated by the international mission of investigation by five international non-governmental organisations about the massacres of Bagogwe in the former prefectures of Ruhengeri and Gisenyi.
Martres reduced them to simple acts of vengeance, and minimized the severity hence clearing the Rwandan authorities yet they were the instigators and direct perpetrators of the killings.
He said: “I was informed of several murders that were committed in different parts of Rwanda. I hope these are isolated cases and that the government will make efforts to end these acts of vengeance which impede on national reconciliation, of which the pursuit would lead the country to ruin. ”
Like his predecessor, Jean-Michel Marlaud admonished the State of terrorism practiced by the Habyarimana regime but later demonstrated affinities with the Hutu extremist parties and involved in active execution of the genocide.
1. Own confession
Before the French Parliamentary Information Mission on France’s actions in Rwanda, Jean-Michel Marlaud acknowledged that he received sufficient information on the impending genocide against the Tutsi: “This information comprised an additional element of the long series of alerts of which the Embassy was held concerned; the resumption of the offensive by the RPF one day, the beginning of a massacre next day.”
Michel Cuingnet, the then head of France’s Cooperation Mission to Rwanda (October 1992-September 1994), told the French Mission of information that the Embassy of France was aware of preparations for the Genocide: “On 8th January 1994 there was distribution of weapons by the army in Hutu dominated villages in the northwest of the country and on 19th January 1994, a letter from Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana sent to MRND ministers, called on the defence minister to carry out the distribution. The same day, Roger Booh-Booh, the United Nations representative said that all weapons in secret weapon stores had disappeared”.
2. Diplomatic dispatches
On 12thJanuary the chargé d’affaires of the Embassy of France in Kigali, Mr Bunel, who was under the orders of Ambassador Marlaud sent a telegram to Paris, citing the existence of plans a genocide against the Tutsi. It reads: “SUBJECT: THREATS OF CIVIL WAR”.
The Special Representative of the Secretary General of the UN convened a meeting that morning with the heads of BELGIUM, USA and FRANCE missions, with General Dallaire, for sharing with them the information provided by a senior MRND in charge of training of the Interahamwe militia, under which a civil war was about to be triggered according to the following scenario: (…).
1700 Interahamwe from Kigali would receive military training and weapons. For this, with the involvement of the Chief of Staff of the FAR. The precise location of Tutsi elements of the population of Kigali should also help eliminate 1,000 of them in the first hour after the onset of chaos. ”
3. A government of killers
On 7thApril1994, Jean-Michel Marlaud actively participated in training in the offices of the Embassy of France, of the interim government that was executing the Genocide.
He ruled out any meeting with personalities of the Hutu opposition like the Prime Minister, Agathe Uwilingiyimana, who nevertheless lived a few meters from the Embassy of France, or the appointed Chief of Staff General Marcel Gatsinzi who also had not condoned the Genocide. Marlaud only collaborated with the killers.
4. Exfiltration extremists
Between 7th and 14th April 1994, Jean-Michel Marlaud favoured exfiltration of extremist regime who were responsible for the massacres. Meanwhile, Jean-Michel Marlaud took responsibility to abandon the Tutsi staff of the Embassy and those who worked in French cooperation agencies.
He refused the taking away of children from the orphanage of a French Citizen Marc Vaiter yet sent soldiers to evacuate the Ste Agathe orphanage, owned by the wife of President Habyarimana.
During this evacuation in Ste Agathe, Tutsi were identified and killed the acts directed by a militia leader of the CDR, Paul Kanyamihigo in front of the French military.
In other places, such as the Embassy of France in Kigali, French Cultural Centre, around the Kanombe airport and elsewhere, French soldiers made selective sorting of people to evacuate on a purely ethnic basis. These sorts of murder were made on the order of Jean-Michel Marlaud.
5. Justification of Genocide
Jean-Michel Marlaud kept sending the theses of the interim government in justifying genocide by justifying the armed conflict and by criminalizing the RPF military men and officers who fought to stop the genocide that: “It was the RPF that refused a cease- fire as did UNITA in Angola. The argument that it will not stop fighting until the atrocities and massacres cease makes the issue more complex.
While it is true that after the announcement of the death of President abuses immediately started and gave a foundation to the RPF armed intervention, today the situation is quite opposite: the Hutu, as they will feel that the RPF is trying to take power, react by ethnic massacres. Only a cease-fire could allow a gradual recovery of the hands in position. ”
The two French ambassadors to Rwanda between 1990 and 1994 were aware of the existence of the intent to commit the genocide. They deliberately allowed the situation to continue, providing valuable support and assistance to the regime that was preparing and executing genocide
The writer is the Executive Secretary of the National Commission for the fight against the Genocide