France ‘bears significant responsibility’ for Rwandan genocide, US report says
France "bears significant responsibility" for enabling the genocide in Rwanda and still refuses to acknowledge its true role in the 1994 horror, said a report commissioned by Kigali that was released Monday.
The damning report, commissioned in 2017 and running to nearly 600 pages, labels France a "collaborator" of the extremist Hutu regime that orchestrated the pogrom of some 800,000 people, and outright rejects the position that Paris was blind to their genocidal agenda.
The years-long investigation by US law firm Levy Firestone Muse said France knew a genocide was coming but remained "unwavering in its support" of its Rwandan allies, even when the planned extermination of the Tutsi minority was clear.
"It is our conclusion that the French government bears significant responsibility for enabling a foreseeable genocide," states the Muse report, which drew on millions of pages of documents and interviews with more than 250 witnesses.
It found no evidence, however, that French officials or personnel directly participated in the killing of Tutsis.
France has long been accused of not doing enough to halt the massacres, and the Muse reports follows the publication last month of a separate inquiry into the same events commissioned by French President Emmanuel Macron.
The Duclert Commission, named after the historian leading that investigation, concluded that France bore "overwhelming responsibilities" over the genocide and acknowledged a "failure" on its part, but no complicity in the killings.
But the Muse report asserts greater French culpability, saying the Duclert Commission stopped short of explaining what France was responsible for, and erred in concluding that Paris "remained blind" to the looming genocide.
"The French government was neither blind nor unconscious about the foreseeable genocide," the report stated.
More than a quarter of a century on the issue still poisons relations between France and Rwanda under President Paul Kagame, a former Tutsi rebel who has ruled the mountainous nation in Africa's Great Lakes region since the aftermath of the genocide.
The genocide between April and July of 1994 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.
Within a few hours extremist Hutu militia began slaughtering Tutsis, and some moderate Hutus, with a scale and brutality that shocked the world.
Victims were felled with machetes, shot, or massacred while seeking shelter in churches and schools, while sexual violence was rife.
The Muse report said nobody worked closer with Habyarimana than France under then leader Francois Mitterrand, who was most to blame for the "reckless enabling" of the radical Hutu regime as it prepared for genocide.
France provided critical military and political support to the regime to protect its own strategic interests in Africa, the report said, and ignored internal warnings of a looming slaughter even as hateful rhetoric and violence against the Tutsi surged.
"Only the French government was an indispensable collaborator in building the institutions that would become instruments of the genocide. No other foreign government both knew the dangers posed by Rwandan extremists and enabled those extremists..." the report states.
"The French government's role was singular. And still, it has not yet acknowledged that role or atoned for it."
Kagame welcomed the recent Duclert Commission as "an important step toward a common understanding of what took place" but said a decades-long effort by France to avoid responsibility had caused "significant damage".
The Muse report accused France of concealing documents, obstructing justice and spreading falsehoods about the genocide in a deliberate campaign to "bury its past in Rwanda".
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"The cover-up continues even to the present," the report added, saying French authorities refused to cooperate with their inquiry or turn over critical documents pertinent to their investigation.
Rwandans for too long "have watched the French government avoid the truth and fail to acknowledge its role and responsibility", it stated.
On April 7 -- the 27th anniversary of the start of the genocide -- France ordered the opening of key archives concerning the work of Mitterrand between 1990 and 1994, including telegrams and confidential notes that were sources in the Duclert investigation.
The Muse report noted that the recent disclosure of some documents related to the Duclert Commission suggested "a move toward transparency".
Cuba marked the end of an era Monday with the transfer of power from the Castro clan, in charge for six decades, to the communist country's first-ever civilian leader, Miguel Diaz-Canel.
As Raul Castro, 89, enters retirement, he handed the all-powerful position of first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba to Diaz-Canel, 60, already Cuba's president since 2018.
"April 19, an historic day," tweeted the new leader, lauding the all-powerful PCC's "founding and guiding" generation for handing over the reins.
Diaz-Canel's election at a party congress, though pre-determined, marks a watershed for the country of 11.2 million people, many of whom have known no leader other than a Castro.
Fidel Castro, still revered as the country's father and savior, led the country from 1959 to 2006, when he fell ill and his brother Raul took over. Fidel Castro died in 2016.
Diaz-Canel and some other members of the new PCC executive were born after the revolution led by the Castro siblings in the 1950s, leading in 1959 to the overthrow of dictator Fulgencio Batista.
The PCC congress was held 60 years after Fidel Castro declared Cuba a socialist state, setting up decades of conflict with the United States, which has had sanctions against the country since 1962.
It also marked six decades since the failed Bay of Pigs invasion by anti-revolutionary Cuban exiles, backed by the CIA.
- 'Irrevocable' socialism -
The change at the top is not expected to yield any major policy shifts.
Diaz-Canel, a suit-and-tie wearing, tech-savvy Beatles fan, remains a staunch party disciple.
And a new constitution passed in May 2019 made it clear that the country's commitment to socialism was "irrevocable."
In his final address to the party last Friday, Castro affirmed a "willingness to conduct a respectful dialogue and build a new kind of relationship with the United States."
But he stressed the country would not renounced "the principles of the revolution and socialism" as he urged the new generation to "zealously protect" the one-party dogma.
"There are limits that cannot be crossed," warned Castro, who wore a military uniform.
The leadership change comes as Cuba battles its worst economic crisis in 30 years, sky-high inflation, biting food shortages, long lines for basic necessities and growing disgruntlement over limited freedoms.
Cuba, one of just five communist countries along with China, Vietnam, Laos and North Korea, faces constant shortages and imports 80 percent of what it consumes for lack of sufficient local production.
"Since I was born, I have only known one party," said Miguel Gainza, a 58-year-old in Havana.
"And no one dies of hunger, it's true," he adds. But today, "we are a little stuck, and it's a shame that Fidel is dead because he solved all our problems".
- Internet drives change -
The Internet, which arrived on mobile phones the island in 2018, has been an engine of social change, even used to organize protest, previously unheard of in the country.
Young Cubans, many of whom go overseas each year for lack of opportunities at home, are increasingly venting their frustrations on social media.
Slamming social networks for "subversion" and what he called fake news, Castro said the platforms spread "a virtual image of Cuba as a dying society with no future, on the point of collapse, giving out under a social explosion."
The PCC had pledged to tackle the issue of online "political and ideological subversion" at its congress.
Ties with the United States, after a historic but temporary easing of tensions under president Barack Obama between 2014 and 2016, worsened under Donald Trump, who reinforced sanctions.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Friday the United States was not planning any immediate change in its policy toward Cuba.
"Support for democracy and human rights will be at the core of our efforts," she said.
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