Fifteen Years Ago Tonight

15 years ago tonight the President of Rwanda's plane was shot down as it landed at Kigali airport.

'We all heard the loud noise. Soon after there was gunfire. Radio Rwanda told us to stay in our houses. RTLM (the hate radio station) said that something significant had happened. It was time to eliminate the cockroaches." (Bonaventure Nyibizi, a survivor)

Thirty minutes after the plane was shot down, roadblocks emerged at major intersections. General Delaire, who headed the UN Mission in Rwanda, was unable to get to the plane whose wreckage has skipped off the runway.

Once the barricades went up the carnage began. People coming up to the roadblocks were asked for their ID cards. Hutus were let free; Tutsi's were massacred. In 100 days, close to a million men, women and children who were overwhelmingly Tutsi were murdered.

Today, April 7th in Rwanda was the beginning of the official mourning. Along with several thousand people, I attended the all day commemoration event at Nyanza, not from from Kigali in Kicukiro district. Fifteen years ago UNAMIR troops were stationed at a school -- the Ecole Technique Officielle, a site where over 5,000 people were massacred when UNAMIR troops refused to use their weapons to protect those who were huddled in the school. "We asked them to kill us rather than leaving us to be hacked to death by machetes." (One of the few survivors of the massacre, speaking today at the ceremony) Instead of protecting the 5,000 who were present, the UN troops withdrew, allowing the interhamwe (those who kill) to do what they called, "their work."

Rwanda has come a long way in fifteen years. I have documented the tremendous progress in political development, justice and reconciliation, education, health, gender equity, and poverty reduction in an upcoming book. What is not covered in the book is the denial of the genocide that exists -- mainly in France a country that supported the genocidal troops of President Habirymnana but also in the U.S. and Canada. But the French role went deeper and there is strong evidence that they were complicit in the genocide.

The French soldiers asked us, "Are you sure you are one hundred percent Hutu? Of course we said yes. We had no choice. Again they asked, are you sure you are one hundred percent Hutu. They didn't seem to believe us." Ephram is one of hundreds of Rwandans we have met and interviewed in the past decade of work in Rwanda. His story is typical. He was trying to escape the genocide in Butare when he came across French soldiers who asked if he was Hutu. This interchange occurred at the height of the genocide in Rwanda, when France claims they had no troops in Rwanda.

The French government has long asserted that President Kagame's troops shot down the plane of the former President, Juvenal Habyarimana, as it landed in Kigali on that April night in, 1994, and that this event somehow sparked the 100 days of genocide that left close to million Tutsi's and moderate Hutu's dead. Last year, a French Judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere indicted President Kagame and nine of his senior staff for shooting down the plane. The French have long tried to hide their complicity through aggressive tactics such as this.

Rose Kabuye, one of those indicated by Judge Bruguiere is in a unique position to respond to these allegations. She fought alongside then Major Kagame as he and Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) troops stopped the genocide in 1994, while the entire international community watched and did not intervene. She was with a small group of Rwandans who were trapped in the Parliament building when the genocide began, and couldn't have been involved in shooting down the plane. "There were never any discussions about shooting down the plane," Rose stated, "and we certainly did not do it."

In an interview last year, Prosecutor-General Martin Ngoga discussed the following evidence concerning the shooting down of the plane:

1) Documentation showing the purchase of missiles by the Habyarimana regime. Numbers from that purchase match one of the missiles found at the site of the plane crash.

2) Written evidence showing that UN Commander General Dellaire and his troops were denied access to the plane.

3) Documentation showing that in 1995, one year after the genocide, the Rwandan Minister of Transportation asked the International Civil Aviation Agency (ICAA) in writing to investigate the plane crash. The regional director who was based in Uganda came to Rwanda but the then ICAA Director, a French national ordered him not to investigate.

4) Numerous photos of French troops witnessing the murder of Rwandans.

5) Documentation that Judge Bruguiere visited the International Criminal Court for Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha three times and has seen this evidence.

The issue is really not about the plane but about the French government's involvement in training, supplying and supporting the genocidal regime of President Habyarimana. France had long been a supporter of Habyarimana. French troops trained the military, the police, and the militia.

France also continues to harbor a number of key people accused by the UN and the Rwandan government of organizing the genocide, including the wife of the former president, Agathe Habyarimana, and other organizers including religious leaders involved in the genocide.

Since the dawn of African independence, France has had deep political, economic, and cultural ties in the region. Basil Adjou Moumouni, the first democratically elected president in Sub-Saharan Africa, an erudite French and American educated physician lasted twenty four hours before being unseated by a French-inspired military coup. More recently, in Cote d'Ivoire, the Congo Brazzaville, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the French government has actively sided with and supplied arms sometimes to both sides of these conflicts. The current French governments efforts to obscure and divert attention from their active support of the genocidal Habariyamana government goes far beyond geopolitical gamesmanship.

It is hard for many in the West to believe that the French would play a role in supporting mass murderers; but there is compelling evidence that they did. It is hard for most people to understand what happened in Rwanda fifteen years ago; but we owe it all those who perished to uncover the truth.

In December 1990, Kangura, the Rwandan extremists newspaper, published the Hutu Ten Commandments. The tenth commandment stated that it was the duty of all Hutu's to exterminate the Tutsi inyenzi (cockroaches). The back cover of this issue had a full-page photo of President Mitterrand with the headline: une veritable ami du Rwanda. It is finally time for the current French government to be a true friend of Rwanda: apologize for their role in the genocide and support the development efforts of this dynamic and optimistic country in central Africa.

President Kagame spoke at the end of today's ceremony. He said, "It is difficult to build a country on human ashes" but then concluded with a Kinyrwandan saying: Ukurii Guca Muziko Migushte. It means: truth goes through fire and it is not burnt. It is time for the truth to come to light and for the world to care about that truth.