After two years of work on Friday, a commission of historians will submit a potentially explosive report to President Emmanuel Macron examining France’s role in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
Historian Vincent Duclert, head of the commission, will present the report to Macron at 4.30pm (1530 GMT) and it will then be published, the presidency said.
There have long been allegations that France, then ruled by the late President Francois Mitterrand, did not do enough to stop the massacres that left at least 800,000 people dead, mainly among the Tutsi ethnic minority, and even took part in the crimes.
The issue still poisons modern-day quarter-century relations between France and Rwanda under its controversial president Paul Kagame, a Tutsi who has ruled the mountainous nation of Africa’s vast lake region since the aftermath of the genocide.
Macron ordered the establishment of the Commission in May 2019 to analyze France’s role in Rwanda 1990-1994 through archival research.
The genocide began after Rwanda’s Hutu president Juvenal Habyarimana, with whom Paris had cultivated close ties, was killed when his plane was shot down over Kigali on April 6, 1994.
France led in particular Operation Turquoise, a military-humanitarian intervention launched by Paris under a UN mandate between June and August 1994. Its critics believe it was in fact aimed at supporting the genocide of the Hutu government.
And there have also been repeated allegations that authorities in Paris helped refugees in the Rwandan genocide escape while under French military protection.
Access to archives
The 15-member Commission has no specialist in Rwanda, a move that the French Presidency claims was necessary to ensure complete neutrality.
But historians – who include experts on the Holocaust, the massacre of Armenians during World War I and international criminal law – have gained access to archives, including those by Mitterrand himself, which were closed to researchers for a long time.
They have also examined documents from former right-wing Prime Minister Edouard Balladur, who led the government at the time, as well as archives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defense and the Foreign Intelligence Service (DGSE).
Duclert himself went to Rwanda in February 2020, but there has been concern about the Commission’s independence, especially because it has worked out from the Paris Ministry of Defense.
While trying to position France as an obvious player on the world stage, Macron has taken preliminary steps to address at once taboo aspects of the country’s historical record, although many would like to see far bolder steps.
The historian Benjamin Stora was commissioned to examine France’s actions during Algeria’s war of independence, and he called for a “truth commission” and other conciliatory measures in a major report delivered in January.
Macron has ruled out an official apology for torture and other abuses committed by French troops in Algeria.
The content of the Rwanda report is likely to be of great importance for future relations between France and Rwanda, which Macron has said he wants to visit later this year.
Macron hosted Kagame in Paris in May 2018 and said that the normalization of relations is ongoing but “will undoubtedly take time”.
In a sign of detention, French judges in December 2018 released a lengthy investigation into the murder of Habyarimana who had seen seven people near Kagame accused.