On May 27, French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Rwanda on a state visit, during which he spoke about his country's responsibility for the 1994 genocide that claimed the lives of about 800,000 Rwandans, primarily minority Tutsis. France was responsible because it backed the genocidal regime that was then in power in Rwanda and ignored warnings of the impending massacre, Macron said.
Radical influencers inside Rwanda’s Hutu ethnic majority orchestrated the mass killing of minority Tutsis in 1994, following the elimination of the moderate Hutu leadership and formation of Hutu militias -- the Interahamwe and the Impuzamugambi. While the interim government and militia groups were instrumental in carrying out the genocide, ordinary Hutus were encouraged via radio broadcast to kill their Tutsi neighbors. An estimated 200,000 Hutu civilians participated in the mass killings, which lasted for about 100 days.
France had been supportive of the Rwandan Hutu government, and also led the U.N. military mission that was deployed to reestablish peace in the country but failed to halt the violence.
Macron’s visit to Rwanda followed Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s trip to Paris last week, during which Kagame spoke with France 24 and Radio France International (RFI).
In the interview, after Kagame referred to a “long list of genocidaires and genocide deniers” and the need to make them answer for crimes, RFI’s Alexandra Brangeon asked him:
“Staying with justice and accountability, last month the Congolese Nobel Peace Prize winner Denis Mukwege was in Paris, and he asked France to bring to justice those responsible for crimes in eastern Congo, some of them were committed by soldiers of Congo’s neighbors, that’s according to U.N. [United Nations] experts. Would you agree to have Rwandan officers prosecuted for crimes committed in eastern Congo in the wake of the genocide?”
In response, Kagame claimed that the “forces you don’t get to see” had told Mukwege what to say in order to “influence people’s opinion.” He also questioned whether a U.N. report on the situation in eastern DR Congo was credible, and denied that the Rwandan army had committed any crimes there:
“The United Nations report has been extremely controversial and as a matter of fact, highly disputed by people in Congo or in the neighboring countries. There are also other reports that dispute it and say completely the opposite…,” Kagame said
“The opposite? That there were no crimes committed in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo?” Brangeon interrupted.
“There were no crimes committed, absolutely!” Kagame said.
Kagame’s claims are false.
Under Kagame’s command, the Rwandan Patriotic Army (previously Rwandan Patriotic Front) entered eastern DR Congo, then called Zaire, in pursuit of some 2 million Hutu refugees who had fled Rwanda in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide. Among the refugees were many of those responsible for the slaughter of more than 800,000 Rwandans, mainly Tutsis.
Kagame’s government, according to the U.N. experts, indiscriminately labeled the Hutu refugees in DR Congo “genocidaires,” regardless of their role in the genocide. French academic and author Gerard Prunier wrote in his 2008 book Africa's World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe that the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) “attacked the Hutu refugees, slaughtering upward of 400,000 people.”
The U.N. has conducted several investigations and produced multiple reports on the situation in the DRC, providing evidence and testimony about the role that Kagame’s regime and the RPA played in the mass killings and violence in eastern DR Congo. According to the U.N., the investigations were based on “extensive evidence” and interviews with hundreds of first-hand witnesses on different sides of the conflict.
In 1994, in the immediate aftermath of the genocide, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees produced the first report that focused specifically on the conduct of the Rwandan Patriotic Army.
It detailed the types of violence committed, how the mass killings were carried out and how bodies were disposed of. The report estimated that the RPA killed 5,000 to 10,000 Hutus monthly in the spring and summer of 1994.
By September 1994 “significant areas” had been “the scene of systematic and sustained killing and persecution of civilian Hutu population by the RPA,” the report said. It also reported “large scale indiscriminate killings of men, women, children, including the sick and the elderly.”
The report cited interviews with 80 refugee families in eastern DR Congo, whom the U.N. inspectors met walking back to their homes in Rwanda. “One out of five immediate family members with whom they had arrived in Zaire died there,” the report said.
On August 2, 1994, the RPA intercepted and executed 150 refugees in Zaire. “including entire families of men, women and children” who were walking back to Rwanda, the report said.
In 2010, the U.N. released its final report on the situation in DR Congo between 1994 and 2003, which detailed abuses committed by all sides of the conflict.
The report said that over 700,000 Rwandan Hutu refugees, including “a large number of militiamen responsible for the Tutsi genocide” arrived in eastern DR Congo in July 1994, and that “their long-term settlement added to the insecurity.”
The U.N. report also stated that during the summer and fall of 1996, the Rwandan Patriotic Army (the U.N. identifies them by the French acronym APR), together with other regional allied forces, “attacked and destroyed all the Rwandan and Burundian refugee camps” in eastern Zaire. Over several months, RPA soldiers “went about systematically destroying the makeshift refugee camps and persecuting anyone who came to their aid,” the report said.
The RPA soldiers “relentlessly pursued” Hutu refugees “across the entire Congolese territory,” the report stated.
Former members of Rwandan forces responsible for the genocide of Tutsis rounded up civilian refugees and used them as “human shields.” A majority of the nearly 300,000 Hutu refugees spread across 11 remaining camps in eastern DR Congo were “unarmed civilians,” U.N. said. The RPA and allied troops attacked these camps, killing hundreds and forcing the survivors to bury the victims in mass graves, the report said.
The U.N. report described one such incident:
“On 21 October 1996, AFDL/APR/FAB units attacked the Luberizi refugee camp between Luberizi and Mutarule with heavy weapons, killing around 370 refugees. The soldiers threw the bodies of the victims into the latrines. They also killed several dozen people (refugees and Zairians) at the villages of Luberizi and Mutarule. After the killings, the bodies of over 60 victims were found in houses in the two villages.”
In the early 2000s, many of Hutus residing in DR Congo formed their own army, the “Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda” (FDRL). Their goal was to overthrow the Kagame government and return Rwanda to Hutu rule.
Denis Mukwege is a gynecological surgeon in the city of Bukavu, eastern Congo. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 for his “efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict.” As a surgeon, Mukwege helped thousands of victims of sexual violence and repeatedly condemned impunity for mass rape, the Nobel Prize committee said.
Last month, Mukwege told the United Nations Security Council that there has been a surge of rape and sexual violence in armed conflicts “everywhere,” calling it “a real pandemic” that won’t stop unless the U.N. delivers sanctions and justice.
DR Congo is replete with minerals, including gold, diamonds, titanium, copper and more. Top officers of the Rwandan Patriotic Army and officials with ties to Kagame’s administration have reportedly benefited from the extraction of natural resources there.
There were 1,927 violent incidents in eastern DR Congo between January 2020 and May 2021, including violence against children and women, according to the online dashboard monitor created by the Belgium think-tank IPIS.
In early 1990s, Paul Kagame was the commander of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, now the Rwandan Patriotic Army, which played a key role in the civil war in Rwanda that led to the genocide. In 2000, Kagame became Rwanda’s president after his troops won the war with the Hutus.
“Ten years ago, he was seen as a knight in shining armor, a wonder boy delivering development miracles. No longer,” French historian and author Gerard Pruiner said of Kagame in a recent interview with The Guardian. One reason for Kagame’s tarnished reputation, the paper wrote, is a decade-long campaign of “harassment, detention, torture and assassination.”
Even back in 2013, when Kagame was still basking in international glory, one press account described him as a “merciless and brutal” leader who “covertly supported murderous rebel groups in neighboring Congo.”