France and the Rwandan genocide
31/05/2021

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Context:

  • French President Emmanuel Macron asked for forgiveness for his country’s role in the 1994 Rwandan massacre in which about 8,00,000 people, mostly ethnic Tutsis, were killed.

About:

  • France, which enjoyed close ties with Rwanda’s Hutu-led government of President Juvénal Habyarimana, has long been criticised for its role in the killings of the Tutsi minorities in 1994.
  • In 2019, a 15-member expert committee was set up to investigate France’s role in the genocide. This promised a new beginning with Rwanda.
    • The committee report blamed the then-President François Mitterrand for a failure of policy towards Rwanda in 1994.
  • Rwanda had commissioned a separate inquiry that concluded that France enabled the genocide.

Hutu Tutsi relations:

  • The majority Hutus and minority Tutsis have had a troubled relationship in Rwanda that goes back to the German and Belgian colonial period.
  • Colonialists ruled Rwanda through the Tutsi monarchy. They were the local administrative chiefs and enjoyed relatively better educational and employment opportunities. This led to widespread resentment among the majority Hutus.
  • In 1959, Rwanda saw violent riots led by Hutus in which some 20,000 Tutsis were killed and many more were displaced.
  • Amid growing violence, the Belgian authorities handed over power to the Hutu elite. King Kigeli V fled the country. In the 1960 elections, organised by the Belgians, Hutu parties gained control of nearly all local communes.
  • In 1961, Hutu leader Grégoire Kayibanda declared Rwanda an autonomous republic and later the country became independent.
  • Kayibanda became Rwanda’s first elected President, while the Tutsis who fled the country formed armed insurgencies.
  • Since then, Rwanda had been controlled by Hutus, until their genocidal regime was toppled by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) in 1994.

What led to the killings?

  • The crisis escalated in the 1990s when the RPF, led by Paul Kagame, the current President, grew in strength and posed a serious challenge to the regime of President Habyarimana, who was backed by France and had defence ties with Israel.
  • In 1993, Habyarimana, who rose to power in 1973, was forced to sign a peace agreement (Arusha Accords) with the RPF.
  • This led to resentment among Hutu militias (backed by the government) towards the local Tutsi population (accused of collaborating with the RPF).
  • The killings were a pre-planned extermination campaign. The militias, with support from the government, launched a violent campaign aimed at eliminating the entire Tutsi community.
  • The killings came to an end after the RPF, under Mr. Kagame’s command, captured Kigali and toppled the Hutu regime.
  • The RPF initially went about establishing a multi-ethnic government with Pasteur Bizimungu, a Hutu, being the President. Mr. Kagame, a Tutsi, was his deputy.
  • In 2000, Mr. Kagame assumed the Presidency and continues to be in power till today.
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