French president Emmanuel Macron on Thursday acknowledged France’s role in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and asked for forgiveness from the survivors.
He stopped short of apologising, as some had hoped he would do.
“Standing here today, with humility and respect, by your side, I have come to recognise our responsibilities,” said Macron, speaking at the Kigali genocide memorial, in the first visit to Rwanda of a French leader in a decade.
“Only those who crossed the night can maybe forgive; give us the gift of forgiving us,” he said, addressing himself to the victims and survivors who were looking for an apology.
Macron’s visit to Kigali an opportunity for France and Rwanda to renew ties
Rwanda’s government and genocide survivor organisations have accused France of training and arming militias and former government troops who led the genocide in 1994 that left some 800,000 Tutsis dead.
A report prepared by French historians earlier this year concluded that France bore “serious and overwhelming” responsibility for the genocide, but was not complicit in the killings.
“France has a role, a history, and a political responsibility in Rwanda,” said Macron in Kigali.
France ignored signs as early as 1990 that the genocide was being prepared, and it ignored warnings during, and calls for recognition after, and today “has a responsibility to look at history head-on and recognise its part in the suffering inflicted on the Rwandan people by imposing silence on the examination of truth.”
Rwandan President Paul Kagame had previously said that the French report acknowledging France’s responsibility was a big step towards easing relations between his country and France.
Macron’s visit to Rwanda and his speech is another step.
“Facts are more important than words,” historian Jean-Paul Kimonyo told RFI.
An advisor to Kagame, he said the fact that France has acknowledged its role in the genocide and has started prosecuting perpetrators is important.
“These are facts, and that is the most important. Words are important, and we are open to them,” he said.
“In the current world, there is a activist spirit of asking for apologies from institutions and high ranking people. It’s not really in the Rwandan culture. If someone wants to apologise, they can do it. We will not demand it.”