French soldiers arrived in Murambi on 24/6/1994. Officially, Murambi camp like Nyarushishi or Bisesero was the most important humanitarian objective of Operation turquoise as a whole. However, the testimonies of refugees and certain Interahamwe who controlled in the vicinity of the camp rather say that the massacres of Tutsi by the Interahamwe continued and that the French soldiers committed several acts of rape on survivors whom they were supposed to protect.
I. THE DEPLOYMENT OF THE OPERATION TURQUOISE IN GIKONGORO: AN ARMY ARRANGED TO RESCUE KILLERS
The first French Turquoise soldiers to arrive in Gikongoro were the COS (Commandement des Opérations Spéciales) forces, under the orders of Lieutenant-Colonel Etienne Joubert who arrived there on June 24, 1994 from Cyangugu. They set up their headquarters on the premises of the SOS Children's Center. on June 27, they were joined by legionaries of the 11th parachutist division led by Captain Eric Hervé, then by legionaries of the 2nd foreign infantry regiment of Nîmes directed by Captain Nicol. These latter contingents settled in the premises of ACEPER college. The 3rd group of the 13th half-brigade of the Foreign Legion from Djibouti, under the orders of Captain Bouchez, settled at the edge of the Nyungwe forest, near Kitabi Tea Factory, where they built trenches.
On July 5, men from the 11th Marine Artillery Regiment, as well as the 2nd Parachute Infantry Regiment from Réunion, took up their positions at the Murambi Technical School which was still under construction, where a very large-scale massacre occurred on the night of April 20-21. This French detachment based in Murambi was at that time directed by Colonel Jacques Rosier who was at the same time the commander of the COS.
On their arrival in Murambi, the French installed light armored vehicles armed with 90 mm6 guns.
At that time, everyone was convinced that the French were coming to rescue the routed government army, which prompted the local authorities at the head of which, the prefect Laurent Bucyibaruta organized a joyful protest with banners admiring French support.
The command of the French contingent of Gikongoro was first entrusted to colonel Didier Tauzin, alias Thibault. (on 07/04/1994, the French army would not hesitate "to break the spinal of the RPF" and that the orders would be: "no section", he was temporarily replaced by Colonel Sartre until July 16, the date when the latter was allocated to Kibuye. The commandment of Gikongoro was then assigned to Lieutenant-Colonel Eric De Stabenrath, assisted by Commander Pegouvelo, who would carry out this task until Turquoise was finally withdrawn on 22/08/1994.
II. AFTER THEIR INSTALLATION, THE FRENCH GOT IN DIRECT CONTACT WITH THE AUTHORITIES WHICH MASCRED THE TUTSI
The French soldiers collaborated with the authorities of Gikongoro who massacred the Tutsi. They regularly organized meetings with them and crossed the whole prefecture for dividing the places and fixed barricades, in particular along the Mwogo river in order to prohibit the RPF to access the Turquoise region.
The French dismissed bourgmestres on the job and appointed their own authorities, or confirmed those who were in office despite their involvement in the genocide. Almost all the bourgmestres and sous prefects who worked with the French
have been sentenced for genocide crime either by the Rwandan justice system or by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
The French gave these bourgmestres clear instructions aiming in particular to seek infiltrators of the RPF and its accomplices and to bring them to the former. According to the numerous testimonies collected through Commission Mucyo between 2006-2007, these instructions were worth authorization to do everything, including to continue hunting Tutsi. They also appointed civilian security agents who collaborated with them in supervising activities and issued weapons to them.
With the arrival of Turquoise, different camps for displaced populations were quickly created on several sites in the prefecture and the most important were Murambi, Cyanika or Karama, Mbazi, Kaduha, Musange, Kibeho, Ndago, Mudasomwa, Muko, Mushubi, and others. Those displaced camps also housed Interahamwe militia, ex-FAR elements and political and administrative authorities responsible for the genocide committed against the Tutsi. These groups continued to hunt Tutsi in and around the camps and killed several people there. The French let the genocidaires do it freely, in particular by not dismantling the barricades on which the militiamen operated.
III. CRIMES COMMITTED IN MURAMBI BY FRENCH MILITARY OR COMMITTED UNDER THEIR SUPERVISION
Murambi camp was installed in buildings of a technical school which was under construction where more than fifty thousand (50,000) Tutsi had been massacred after being gathered there on the orders of Prefect Bucyibaruta.
The French arrived at the site two months after the genocide and set up a camp for displaced people there, as well as a military base with missiles and weapons. They surrounded the camp with barbed wire and trenches to permit control.
They were helped in their installation by local population, including many militiamen responsible for the great massacre of April 21, 1994. A big number of corpses had been removed from the rooms by the prefectural administration in preparation for the arrival of the French and buried them in mass graves in the garden of the school.
Another part of the bodies was still there, blood stains was still visible on the walls, which forced the French to clean the premises and to bury the decomposing bodies. French soldiers have set up a volleyball court right next to the pit, not directly above it. The limits of the volleyball court adjoined those of the pit, and both players and spectators walked on the mass grave.
Inside, they had mixed indiscriminately the Tutsi survivors of the genocide, ex-FAR elements and militiamen who had participated in the genocide. This cohabitation allowed the militiamen to continue killing in the camp even though it was an area supposed to be secure.
The testimonies show a complicity between French soldiers and militiamen, which allowed the continuation of assassination, rape and other human rights violations on this site.
1) The French soldiers allowed the Interahamwe to continue the genocide in Gikongoro
The French soldiers did not dismantle the barricades of the militiamen which served as places of sorting and killing; they allowed the militiamen with their weapons to enter camps with survivors of the genocide, and these militiamen took people there and then killed them. There have also been cases of French soldiers assisting or encouraging the assassination of Tutsi survivors of the genocide who had come to them for help and assistance.news-details
According to several testimonies, the French soldiers delivered Tutsi to the militiamen and incited their massacre. Indeed, French soldiers arrested Tutsi and handed them over to militiamen who killed them in front of their eyes. These deliveries were made most of the time on barricades installed by militiamen since April 1994 and which the French left to function throughout Turquoise.
The very known roadblock is that which was at the Mwogo Bridge separating the old prefectures of Gikongoro and Butare. French soldiers let the Interahamwe militiamen to continue to check identity cards on the same roadblock, which were followed by assassinations by the latter in front of the eyes of French soldiers.
Journalists present at the scene in July-August 1994, have described a situation in which the survivors were threatened with death by the militiamen, while the French were theoretically there to stop the massacres. Corinne Lesnes of the French daily newspaper Le Monde noted that "In Murambi, there are protected, but terrorized refugeeswho would like nothing (...) but to leave the" safe zone "set up to reassure them". Dominique Garraud of Liberation observed the same dangerous environment for survivors of the genocide: "On the outskirts of the market, which was full of vegetables testifying to the agricultural vitality of the region, Rwandan soldiers and nonchalant militiamen, with new Kalashnikovs on shoulders, greeted the French soldiers.This good natured atmosphere was misleading. Among many refugees, militiamen were still tracking Tutsi or moderate Hutu”.
Official Turquoise documents drawn up by French soldiers on Kaduha showed that in July 1994, there were recent corpses, which tends to confirm the testimony relating to the continuation of the assassinations during the presence of French soldiers. In fact, an information sheet from Operation Turquoise dated July 10, 1994 relates: "Several mass graves, some of which containing hundreds of corpses, were discovered in Kaduha. It also appears that there are recent corpses near the market."
The continuation of the Tutsi massacres in Kaduha was also noted by Western journalists who arrived there accompanied by French soldiers. This is what Christian Lecomte of the weekly La Vie newspaper noted in July 1994: "In mid-July, the church of Kaduha remained stained by the carnage that took place there:traces of blood everywhere, even on forgotten crutches.Nothing has been washed or hidden, we hope for impunity. […] Because the hunt for Tutsi continued in the Kaduha sous prefecture”.
news-details2) The French soldiers systematically raped Tutsi women and subjected them to sexual slavery
Cases of rape, violence, sexual slavery and attempted rapes are told by victims themselves, most of them survivors of the genocide, who had taken refuge in places "made safe" by these soldiers. Other acts of this nature are reported by witnesses who have worked with French soldiers, who have seen them or who have heard of them. Most of these acts took place in the camps of French soldiers in Karama (Cyanika), Murambi and SOS Gikongoro. They also took place in places where these soldiers stayed for a longer or shorter period, such as in Kinyamakara, Kaduha and Mushubi. A victim was raped at her home by two French soldiers led by the bourgmestre in Karama commune.
3) The French soldiers committed acts of physical torture, humiliating and degrading and looted public goods
A number of testimonies affirmed that French soldiers have carried out acts of physical torture on civilians, in particular beatings and violent confinements. Others report humiliating and degrading actions of people who if they were very weakened, had not lost their human dignity. Furthermore, before leaving Gikongoro, the French soldiers destroyed or took away goods from the Rwandan administration and public establishments, and took them to Zaire. Sometimes they assisted the population in looting and destroying public goods.
4) The French soldiers collaborated with genocidaires whom they did not arrest
French officials who led Operation Turquoise in Gikongoro collaborated with the criminal authorities or appointed in power those who were involved in the genocide. At the time, most of them were notorious killers who were not difficult to identify by simply searching for information.
The French knew who they were dealing with by choosing to collaborate with these bourgmestres and sous-prefects, whether in Gikongoro, Cyangugu and Kibuye. This was stated by frigate captain Marin Gillier to the journalist Christian Leconte in July 1994: "We know that the bourgmestres and sous prefects of the region are mostly involved in the massacres of Tutsi, even their instigators. We have accumulated testimonies that prove it. But, for the moment, they are our only contacts with the 1.5 million Hutu refugees who have flocked to the area.”
The French have remarkably collaborated closely with the following main genocidaires:
- LAURENT BUCYIBARUTA the Prefect of Gikongoro, refugee in France;
- DAMIEN BINIGA the Sous-prefect of Munini, wanted by Rwandan Justice;
- JOSEPH NTEGEYINTWALI sous-prefect of Karaba, sentenced to death, sentence commuted to life imprisonment;
- JOACHIN HATEGEKIMANA sous - prefect of Kaduha, sentenced to life imprisonment;
- A significant number of bourgmestres, sector councilors, former bourgmestres, have left Rwanda under the protection of French soldiers, etc.
What arises from the testimony produced shows that during their stay in Gikongoro, the French soldiers were responsible for serious attacks on the life, dignity, body and mental integrity of the civilians placed under their protection. These acts were committed in a systematic and generalized manner in different places of the prefecture.
Finally, before withdrawing, the French soldiers practiced the scorched earth policy by organizing the escape of the authorities and troops of the ex-FAR, perpetrators of the genocide, and by pushing the civilian population to flee to Zaïre. Murambi’s case shows that Operation Turquoise was not humanitarian, but served to protect the genocidaires and allowed them to leave the country.
Done at Kigali on July 2th, 2020
Dr BIZIMANA Jean Damascène
National Commission for the Fight Against Genocide (CNLG)