The French ambassador to Rwanda has been barred from attending events marking the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, amid a major diplomatic row surrounding France’s controversial role in the events of 1994.
“Yesterday night the Rwandan foreign ministry telephoned to inform me that I was no longer accredited for the ceremonies,” the French ambassador, Michel Flesch, said on Monday.
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The French government initially announced that it was pulling out of the events after President Paul Kagame again accused France, an ally of the Hutu nationalist government prior to the 1994 killings, of aiding the murder of 800,000 ethnic Tutsis.
People everywhere should place themselves in the shoes of the vulnerable, and ask themselves what more they can do to build a world of human rights and dignity for all.
At the ceremony on Monday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon joined Kagame in lighting a torch at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre in memory of those killed.
In his speech, Kagame said that 20 years after the genocide, Rwanda continues “to seek the most complete explanation” of the atrocities.
Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the United Nations, attended and said genocide is a “devastating reminder that nightmares seemingly beyond imagination can in fact take place.”
The torch will burn for 100 days, the length of time that the killings lasted.
Ceremonies will continue at Kigali’s main sports stadium, where thousands will participate in an evening candlelight ceremony.
But the diplomatic row ignited by Kagame’s statement also cast a shadow on the commemoration.
Speaking to the weekly Jeune Afrique, Kagame denounced the “direct role of Belgium and France in the political preparation for the genocide”, and said French soldiers were both accomplices and “actors” in the bloodbath.
Paris has repeatedly denied the accusations and insisted that French forces had striven to protect civilians. Instead of sending a top level delegation to attend the ceremonies, it announced on the weekend it would send Flesch.
Former colonial power Belgium, which unlike France has apologised to Rwanda for failing to prevent the genocide, has sent a senior delegation for the commemorations.
Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo also told France that it had to face up to the “difficult truth” over its involvement in the genocide two decades ago.
10,000 killed every day
Custodians of the genocide memorial said it contained the bones of a quarter of a million of the victims, now carefully stored in vast concrete tombs. Wreathes will also be laid, before ceremonies in Kigali’s football stadium, which several African leaders are due to attend.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said the ceremony was a chance to remind the world to do all it could to ensure such crimes never happened again. The UN was heavily criticised in 1994 for not doing more to stop the killings.
“The scale of the brutality in Rwanda still shocks: an average of 10,000 deaths per day, day after day, for three months,” Ban said in a statement ahead of commemorations.
|Rwandan genocide refugees remain in DRC.
He said the impact of the massacres were still being felt across an “arc of uncertainty in Africa’s Great Lakes region – and in the collective conscience of the international community”.
“People everywhere should place themselves in the shoes of the vulnerable, from Syria to the Central African Republic, and ask themselves what more they can do to build a world of human rights and dignity for all,” Ban said.
US President Barack Obama also paid tribute to the victims, saying that the genocide was “neither an accident nor unavoidable”.
“It was a deliberate and systematic effort by human beings to destroy other human beings,” Obama said in a statement.
Rwanda’s Red Cross has boosted its support staff for those hit hard by memories of the events.
The official “Kwibuka” mourning – meaning “remember” in Kinyarwanda – ends on July 4, Rwanda’s liberation day.