Foreign involvement in Rwanda’s conflict and in the genocide

One of the characteristics of Rwanda’s con4ict and the genocide is the extent of foreign involvement. This involvement must be viewed in the context of its duration, from the colonial period until the time the genocide occurred. Foreign actors involved were Germany, Belgium, Missionaries, The League of Nations and subsequently the United Nations Organisation during the colonial period.

With regard to the period between 1990 and 1994, the main foreign actors were France, Belgium, the United Nations Organisation and the United States. The review of foreign involvement in Rwanda’s con4ict and in the 1994 genocide should enable us to show the speciBc role of France in relation to that of the rest of the international community. This can serve as an introduction, based on the available facts and on facts gathered before the launch of this Commission.

Historical background

Whenever the question of con4icts in many African countries has arisen, the role of colonisation has always been a subject of heated debate. Rwanda’s case has been no exception.

Whereas some argue that the Belgian colonial administration was mainly responsible for the emergence of Rwanda’s con4ict, coupled with the role of missionaries who were in joint administration of the country, generally the proponents of this view also tend to present the pre-colonial period as an era devoid of any serious con4icts. Others defend the colonial era and the missionary in4uence, arguing that the colonizers and the missionaries played a modernizing social and political role, notably by introducing democracy.

From studies carried out, it appears that before colonisation the Rwandan society experienced a serious political and social crisis. The crisis was characterized by famines that repeatedly ravaged the Rwandan population. It was also characterised by political tensions that were aggravated by increasing political control over previously autonomous lineage groups that particularly wanted to monopolise their land in peripheral regions. Also, in central Rwanda, there was a hardening of the situation of patronage relations, which was becoming more and more exploitative and less and less dependent upon trade relations. Finally, there was a serious political instability owing to the con4ict at the top of the State hierarchy between a centralizing and modernizing but unstable monarch who sought the renewal of the elite of the country, and an aristocracy anxious to preserve and develop its interests in a changing social context .

In spite of these tensions, there were no con4icts of identity between Hutus and Tutsis. The Rwandan society had a multiplicity of identiBcation levels, the most important of which was the clan. The clan grouped Hutus, Tutsis and Twas together. In addition, the region had an identiBcation level along the so-called ethnicity groupings, which groupings shared fundamental cultural attributes such as the language, religious and social rites, as well as the process of social rise based on merit, which considered mainly bravery and hard work.

Con4icts and tensions existed among all social classes, among aristocratic Tutsis just as they existed among other social classes: Tutsi, Hutu or Twa .

However, the process of ethnic identiBcation, which was introduced by colonialists and missionaries, is well documented. Inspired by racist theories prevailing in Europe in the 19th Century, they adopted and introduced a position which turned Rwandan socio-identity groups into hierarchical races. Belgian colonial administration implemented this position through political, social and administrative mechanisms. The Belgians thus excluded all Hutus, Twas and women out of posts of responsibility, preferring to use a small group of lineages close to the royal family to control the rest, and thereby making the new system of governance particularly oppressive .

The second stage in the development of Rwanda’s ethnic con4ict was during the process of decolonisation. Whereas Belgian administration and the Catholic Church had succeeded in winning the royalty of the Tutsi aristocracy by the use of force during the entire colonial period, at the beginning of 1950s part of the aristocracy started showing signs of unruliness under the in4uence of the emerging anti-colonialist movements, demanding the right to self-rule. The Belgian administration and the Catholic Church reacted by changing their policy and forming alliances with a rising Hutu elite against the Tutsi aristocracy.

With their racist way of thinking, Belgians did not make any distinction between their political enemy, lumping the Tutsi aristocracy and the Tutsi population together. Yet a majority of the Tutsi population shared the same living conditions as their Hutu compatriots . Also, Belgians blamed the Tutsi aristocracy for acts of injustice and abuses while it was they themselves who had put them in place. However, the aristocracy had done nothing to distance themselves from ethnic divisions and the oppressive governance for which they were accused and which they had adopted in collaborating with the colonial administration. Only King Rudahigwa, who is considered by many analysts as a reformist, is credited with attempting to address these ills.

The Belgian administration and the missionaries instigated an ethnic revolution which they got other people to implement. In so doing, they chose to support the most extremist of the Hutu revolutionary leaders, the future President Kayibanda. In turn, Kayibanda chose to ignore the di=erence between the “small Tutsis” and the aristocracy .

The process of deposing the monarchy and politically, socially and culturally marginalising the Tutsis was carried out through terror and massive crimes. From 1959 to 1962 – the year of independence – part of these acts were committed when Belgium was the administrative power of the country. Rwanda was a Trust Territory, under the terms of the United Nations Mandate.

In December 1963 and January 1964 in Gikongoro Prefecture, acts of genocide were committed against ordinary Tutsi peasants in blind reprisals of targeted attacks carried out by a handful of Tutsi guerrillas. The guerrillas had come from outside the country and attacked an area at tens of kilometres from Burundi, in the region of Bugesera. These massacres, genocidaire in their intention as clearly expressed by President Kayibanda, were admittedly condemned by some journalists and intellectuals, but they did not raise any reaction from the international community. Newspapers talked of genocide, and the philosopher Bertrand Russel qualiBed the killings as “the most horrible and most systematic massacres we have witnessed since those committed by the Nazis against the Jews”. Jean Paul Sartre and Vatican Radio had similar views, mentioning and qualifying these massacres as genocide . A Swiss volunteer, Mr Vuillemin, who was teaching at Groupe scolaire d’Astrida, resigned from his post and made a written public statement which was widely disseminated outside Rwanda, as a way of showing his opposition to the genocide, according to his own statement.

The third stage marking foreign involvement in Rwanda’s con4ict is seen in the legitimisation of, and assistance to, the Habyarimana regime accorded by the international community from the end of the 1970s to the beginning of the 1990s. This regime was characterised by an o@cial and strict policy of ethnic and regional discrimination through what it called the balancing policy. Its governance was marked by a total political and social control and a refusal to Bnd a solution to the situation of hundreds of thousands of Tutsi refugees living mainly in the neighbouring countries. Still, it received generous development aid from many western countries and international institutions such as the World Bank, the IMF, the European Community, the Catholic Church and NGOs, especially those of Catholic allegiance. None of these countries and institutions ever criticised this deeply discriminatory policy. Most of them accepted the ethnic faith of this regime which claimed to be the legitimate representative of the Hutu majority