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French rights groups call to reopen Rwanda's Bisesero massacre investigation

Patrick de Noirmont, Reuters (archive) | A 1995 photograph of a Hutu refugee camp.

Leading French human rights groups on Friday called for a reopening of an investigation probing the response of French military officials over a 1994 massacre in Bisesero in western Rwanda during the genocide in the East African nation.

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The Worldwide Movement for Human Rights (FIDH), the Human Rights League (FDH) and Survie (Survival) accused the French military of avoiding justice in the massacre, which took place in the Bisesero hills from June 27 to June 30, 1994.

An investigation into the French military’s conduct in the area was opened 13 years ago, but there have been no charges in the case. On July 27, investigating magistrates notified the parties that the probe would be ending without charges and, in September, the case was dismissed due to the lack of evidence.

FRANCE 24's Armen Georgian gives his analysis

At a press conference in Paris, representatives of the three human rights groups said the move to end the judicial inquiry was “premature” and called for a clear establishment of the facts in the Bisesero killings.

Hundreds were killed in the Bisesero hills by the Rwandan army and pro-government militias.

The massacre is one of the most embarrassing episodes for the French military, which was operating under the UN-mandated Operation Turquoise in Rwanda during the genocide, in which more than 800,000 people died. Most of the victims, killed by Hutu extremists, were members of the Tutsi tribe.

Journalist and author Patrick de Saint-Exupery gives his analysis.

French military video tape

Friday’s call followed the Thursday release of a video by French investigative site Mediapart showing footage of a senior French military officer appearing to disregard the import of what was happening in the Bisesero hills.

The video is believed to have been filmed on June 28, 1994, and is in the audiovisual archive of the French defence ministry.

>> Genocide-era Rwanda footage casts French army in troubling light

The short tape, which was part of the evidence entered in the case, showed a French soldier reporting to his superior what he saw during a reconnaissance trip.

The audio includes the voice of a soldier telling his commanding officer that he did not remember the name of the village, but that the carnage was evident. “People were hunting for Tutsis across the hills ... there were houses burning everywhere... and people carried around pieces of torn flesh," he said.

His superior merely responds with a noncommittal, “Uhm, uhm.”

When the officer, Colonel Jacques Rosier, was confronted with the video during the investigation hearings, he told the judges: “Looking at this scene and knowing myself, I see that I don't catch on, for in all likelihood I don't grasp what he is telling me.”

Human rights groups say France knowingly failed to prevent the Bisesero massacre. But the French military insists it didn't know about the killings until June 30, two days after the video was allegedly shot.

After more than a decade, none of the French officers being investigated for their conduct have been placed under "formal investigation", which under French law is a step short of being charged.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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