France and Rwanda: The End of Tensions?

In April 1994, Juvénal Habyarimana, the President of Rwanda at the time, was killed when his plane was shot down, along with the rest of the passengers. This sparked the 100 days of fighting which left more than 800,000 people dead. It was at the request of the relatives of these French crew members, that the French inquiry into the attack began 4 years later.


The investigation was opened by judge Jean-Louis Bruguière, who maintained that the attack had been instigated by Mr Paul Kagame, and that he had ordered the Tutsi rebels to carry out the attack which shot down the plane. Kagame is the current president of Rwanda and was former leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (FPR – in French). In 2006, Mr Bruguière issued a warrant (legal/governmental authorisation to make an arrest) against several aides of President Kagame. He could not take action against Kagame because he was (and is) a head of state.

The Rwandan government accused France of continuing to support those who had carried out the genocide and described the investigation as politically motivated. France had supported the Hutu regime under its policy of cementing its influence, especially against the British, in a post-independence Africa.


Bruguière’s claim conflicted with that of the inquiry by Mr Kagame’s government. Kagame said the missile that had brought down the plane had been fired from an army camp controlled by the Hutus. The two judges who succeeded Bruguière agreed to carry out fresh investigations into the crash. This followed  Rwanda and France restoring diplomatic relations in 2009 which further improved the relations between the two countries.


However, in 2016 the French inquiry was reopened before it was met with a series of legal obstacles the following year. On the 21st December 2018, the inquiry and charges were dropped on the recommendation of French prosecutors. The prosecutors suggested that there was insufficient evidence against the suspects. Some might suggest that this looks like a French resignation and renouncement of right to involvement in Rwanda’s affairs.

Nevertheless, lawyers for Habyarimana’s widow have told the AFP new agency that the plaintiffs (a person who is bringing a case against another; in this case, Habyarimana’s camp) will appeal against the decision. The lawyer Phillipe Meilhac said:

“We have to interpret this decision by French judges as a form of resignation faced with a political context which prosecutors did not know how to fight. Rwandan authorities have never sought to help to bring the truth to light.”


It looks as though the saga will continue, but perhaps this time it will remain solely within Rwanda. Certain people may consider further French involvement difficult given that Kagame remains in power.



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