, Rwanda (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron
acknowledged in a key speech during his visit to Rwanda that France bears
a heavy responsibility for the 1994 genocide in the Central African country.
Macron solemnly described how France had failed the 800,000 genocide victims, but he stopped short of apologizing.
France "was not an accomplice" in the genocide, but it ended up siding with Rwanda's "genocidal regime" and bore "overwhelming responsibility" in the country's slide toward massacres, French President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday at a genocide memorial in Kigali.
“France has a role, a history, and a political responsibility in Rwanda; it has a duty: that of looking history in the face and recognizing the suffering that it inflicted on the Rwandan people
for far too long by favoring silence over examination of truth,” Macron said.
When the genocide began, “the international community took nearly three months, three interminable months, before responding, and we, all of us, abandoned hundreds of thousands of victims.”
He claimed that France's failures contributed to a "27-year bitter distance" between the two countries.
“I must come to recognize our responsibilities,” Macron stated.
Despite the fact that Macron did not apologize, Rwandan President Paul Kagame
praised Macron for his "powerful speech."
“His words were more valuable than an apology
; they were the truth,” Kagame said, adding that “this was a tremendous act of courage.”
Both Kagame and Macron indicated that the France-Rwanda relationship had reached a new turning point.
“This visit is about the future, not the past,” Kagame said, adding that he and Macron talked about a variety of topics, including investment and business
Macron stated that they were beginning a "new chapter" and reestablishing "strong and irreversible ties." He also stated that he requested the ability to appoint a French ambassador to Rwanda, after France had been without one for six years.
Macron appeared to explain his lack of apologies, saying, "A genocide cannot be excused, one must live with it."
Instead, he explained that he decided to cast “the white light of truth” on France’s role in the genocide and accept responsibility.
“This recognition is all I have to offer; a pardon
is not in my power,” Macron said, promising increased efforts to bring genocide suspects to justice.
Macron also stated that he would arrive in Rwanda with 100,000 coronavirus vaccines
who had hoped for an apology said Macron's speech let them down.
“We don’t want to hear him talk about responsibility, about France’s role in the genocide,” genocide survivor Dan Karenzi told The Associated Press
, adding, “We, the survivors, wanted to hear Macron officially apologize to us. I am very disappointed.”
Prior to Macron's speech, the opposition Rwandese Platform for Democracy
party tweeted that it hoped he would "honestly apologize" and "promise to pay reparations
" to genocide victims.
Macron arrived in Kigali early Thursday and met with Kagame at the presidential residence before touring the memorial to the 1994 massacre, in which Hutu extremists slaughtered primarily minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus who tried to protect them.
Macron's visit builds on a series of French efforts to repair ties between the two countries since his election
Two reports published in March and April
that investigated France's role in the genocide paved the way for Macron's visit, the first by a French president in 11 years.
The previous visit, by Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010, was the first by a French leader since the 1994 genocide shattered relations. Rwanda's government and genocide survivor organizations frequently accused France of training and arming militias and former government troops who led the genocide.
Kagame, Rwanda's de facto leader since 1994 and president since 2000, has received international praise for restoring order and advancing economic development and health care
, but rights activists, dissidents, and others accuse him of harsh rule.
Leicester contributed from the French town of Le Pecq.