- France - Nicolas Sarkozy - Rwanda
Sarkozy admits French ‘mistakes’ in 1994 genocide
President Nicolas Sarkozy admitted France’s “error of judgment” but stopped short of an apology in connection with the Rwandan 1994 genocide during his visit to the country on Thursday, aimed at kicking off a new era of diplomacy.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy admitted Thursday at a joint press conference in Kigali with his Rwandan counterpart, Paul Kagame, that France had made “mistakes” at the time of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, in which 800,000 people, mainly from Kagame's Tutsi minority, were killed.
"What happened here is unacceptable, [and] compels the international community, including France, to reflect on the mistakes that stopped it from preventing and halting this abominable crime," the French president told reporters.
The French leader also visited the main genocide memorial in Kigali. He observed a minute's silence in front of one of the 14 mass graves containing the remains of some 250,000 people and laid a wreath.
The 1994 genocide arose from a complicated and long-standing conflict between Rwanda’s two main ethnic groups, the Tutsis and the Hutus. The man who held the post of Rwandan president at the time, Juvénal Habyarimana, was a Hutu who supported Hutu interests. He died on April 6, 1994, when his plane was shot down from the sky in an apparent assassination. The Hutus promptly blamed the Tutsis, unleashing the mass slaughter of Tutsis over the course of the following months.
Thaw in relations
Sarkozy’s visit – the first by a French president to Rwanda since the genocide – marks an important step in the reconciliation between the two countries. In the past, Kagame has repeatedly accused Paris of aiding the genocide.
Sarkozy also acknowledged “mistakes in Operation Turquoise, which stepped in when it was too little, too late,” referring to a June 1994 French military operation launched two months after the genocide began with the intent of halting the massacres.
The French president, however, stopped short of voicing an apology. Suggesting neither country should “remain hostage of the past”, Sarkozy said he wanted to “move past this very tragic chapter” and stressed the importance of “building a new partnership”.
Two years ago, Sarkozy already spoke of "failings” and “errors". But his entourage predicted before his trip to Kigali that he would not go as far as Belgium and the United States, who have both presented an apology.
The soured relations between the two countries hit a low ebb in late 2006 when Rwanda decided to sever diplomatic ties with France after a French judge questioned Kagame’s involvement in the death of Habyarimana.
Rwanda responded by releasing a report accusing around 30 senior French political and military figures of complicity in the genocide. A series of rulings by the French legal system eventually reassured Kigali.