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France/Rwanda – Judge Burguière’s arrest warrants – France/Africa summit/Great Lakes summit/French language

Published on March 1, 2010
Visit to Rwanda – Statements by Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the Republic, during his joint press conference with Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda (excerpts)

Kigali, February 25, 2010

THE PRESIDENT – President Kagame, thank you for welcoming us with such simplicity and such friendship. This visit to Rwanda was very important to me; Bernard Kouchner prepared it on his earlier visit. It was very important to me because what happened here, in Rwanda, in the 1990s, is a defeat for the whole of mankind. I visited the memorial. It was a deeply moving moment. I must add that Rwanda has built this memorial in an unadorned and dignified way. What happened here left an indelible, absolutely indelible scar. What happened here is intolerable and forces the international community, including France, to reflect on its mistakes which prevented it from averting or stopping this terrible crime.

I was talking to President Kagame about this; I know that for him, having the French President come here is an important gesture. And I imagine that in Rwanda, it’s controversial and raises questions. That’s normal, you have suffered so much. But I told President Kagame that for us, coming here is also controversial in my country. But the duty of heads of State is to see further in order to organize reconciliation, look to the future. Errors – errors of judgement, political errors were committed here. And they had absolutely tragic consequences.

Now, relations need to be rebuilt. President Kagame and I have spoken to each other several times. We had a meeting in Portugal. We have tried to understand and trust each other. And coming here at President Kagame’s invitation is a confidence-building initiative towards the Rwandan authorities.

But on the back of all these mistakes, in the wake of all these tragedies, we are going to try and build a bilateral relationship in which we’re going to explore a new way of mutually helping and understanding each other. France wants to help Rwanda, France is listening to Rwanda and we’re going to build economic, political and cultural cooperation very probably unlike any other. That shows you how extremely important Bernard Kouchner and my visit here is to us. It has to turn a page, an extremely painful page.

Finally, I’d like to express my admiration for all Rwandans, for your ability to rebuild this country. When I see what Kigali is today, when I see what you are doing, I think to myself, perhaps, after experiencing such a tragedy, few peoples are capable of picking themselves up, going forward and achieving reconciliation between each other.

If reconciliation is taking place in Rwanda, how could it not take place between Rwanda and France? It’s precisely what we are trying to build and President Kagame and I are pretty conscious of the historic significance of this mutual initiative.

Q. – France is talking about mistakes, France isn’t saying sorry, as other European countries have done, I’m thinking of Belgium, of the United States with Bill Clinton. Why? Isn’t it the moment, is it too difficult, isn’t it the place?

THE PRESIDENT – President Kagame and I have talked very freely about everything. What are we trying to do? President Kagame is trying to get the whole of Rwandan society to look to the future and to reconciliation, stage by stage, so as to leave no one out.

I have used strong words. Every country has its history. Belgium was here during the colonial period – President Kagame will correct me if I’m wrong – for eight or nine decades. It’s obviously not the same. The United States of America with Mr Clinton, whose foundation has helped with funding, also has a special history with Rwanda. I wouldn’t want to go into detail here, but I know about it and certain things could be said.

I’ve said things, but I can be more specific. Serious error of assessment. Kind of blindness when we failed to see the genocidal dimension of the government of the president who was assassinated. Error in an Operation Turquoise launched too late and which was very probably too small. Words mean something. We spoke about this very frankly.

You know we aren’t here to enjoy ourselves, to have a vocabulary contest. We are here to reconcile nations, to help a people who were battered by the genocide which took place here. To turn a page[+,] and I believe it’s very important for everyone to understand that the process we are setting in train is one which will develop one stage at a time. And I believe that spelling things out guarantees the solidity of the relations we are building. And I’m not surprised at all by what President Kagame said. He had [already] said this to me. Moreover, I told him that we will talk about every issue as we have talked about this. There’s no awkwardness; there are no lies; there’s simply an understanding of what each of us has adopted as our balanced position and I think this is fine.

JUDGE BRUGUIERE’S ARREST WARRANTS

Q. – (…) And a question to President Sarkozy: what have you got to say about Judge Bruguière’s arrest warrants, which was in fact what led to the breakdown of relations between France and Rwanda?

THE PRESIDENT – (…) On the arrest warrants. In France, the judicial system is independent. I said this to President Kagame who, I might add, perfectly understands this. That doesn’t mean I have no opinion. I have to respect the independence of the judicial system, judicial procedures. That doesn’t mean one can’t talk about them.

We want those responsible for the genocide to be found and punished. There’s absolutely no ambiguity there, as I told President Kagame.

Those who did that, wherever they are, must be found and punished. Are there any in France? That’s for the judicial authorities to say. And secondly, I won’t go into all the case files, but we have just refused political asylum to one of the people concerned and a judicial procedure has been initiated. We are bound – our Rwanda friends have to understand this – by the independence of the judicial system, by its timetable and procedures. But what we want is for all those responsible for the genocide to be punished.

For the rest, a couple of words. Let the historians do their work. I’m not a historian, I’ve said a number of things which I think, and my and Bernard Kouchner’s visit must be understood by our Rwandan friends as a visit with a very strong symbolic significance. A very strong symbolic significance. But there’s the work of the historians. How can the historians work? Taking a bit of time and with a bit of hindsight.

Reconciliation can’t wait. President Kagame has begun it. But the work of the historians has to follow its course.

Finally, last point: I have invited President Kagame to Nice for the summit between Africa and France, because I think for him to be our guest, for him to come would be a tremendous symbol of our mutual confidence, our ability to turn the page.

So there you have it, this is what is actually going to be done which can build the future and is going to turn the page. It doesn’t wipe the slate clean, erase the difficulties, but it allows us to envisage the future each taking account of the other. That’s what we’re trying to build; I’m not saying we’re doing it well; I’m not saying it’s easy. We have done a lot of talking. But that’s the point we’ve got to and I believe this is what’s important and that we must continue the process.

FRANCE/AFRICA SUMMIT/GREAT LAKES SUMMIT/FRENCH LANGUAGE

Q. – President Kagame, on the question of peace in the Great Lakes region, there’s going to be a summit straight after the Nice Africa-France summit; will you take part in this summit devoted to the Great Lakes?

Another Franco-Rwandan question on the future of French language teaching. You decided recently to switch to English as a routine language of instruction in schools. Is the French President’s visit today a sign of a certain change and a certain return to the use of French?

THE PRESIDENT – One word so things are clear for you. First of all, stability in the Great Lakes region will, in the first place, be the business of the countries of the Great Lakes region. President Kagame is perfectly right. If we can help, it’s our duty to do so. Incidentally, I told President Kagame how courageous and useful I thought the new relations between the Democratic Republic of Congo, President Kabila, and him were. I don’t want to reveal secrets, but when I said this to President Kagame, he told me, “it’s funny you say that to me since I had President Kabila on the phone again yesterday”. France supports everything which encourages them to talk, to consult one another, organize things. But it isn’t for France to tell them how they are going to make peace, the best way of sharing wealth. It’s a joint effort which is being set in train. And I am proud that President Kagame has accepted our invitation. I’d add that it’s very difficult to say you have confidence in someone and not draw the conclusion that he is welcome.

And then a word on use of the French language, on everything you love to write about: the “private domain” and – what’s the word you use? – “Françafrique” (1), is that right? But all that has changed a lot. I respect your expertise on Africa, but look at Africa as it is today. There’s no longer any “private domain” and that’s very good, there’s no exclusive relationship. What did President Kagame say? “I am Rwandan, I want to be friends with the French, have a partnership with them, but I also want to be able to talk to the English-speaking world”.

But he’s right, if we ourselves had to govern Rwanda, that’s what we’d try to do. If being a friend means refraining from talking to everyone one else, then we’re not friends. Unless you imagine that France can, on her own, support a billion Africans. That isn’t at all how things must be seen. That’s how people saw them in the post-colonial era. Ideas have changed. What does President Kagame want? Rwanda’s development. And would it be really impossible to imagine taking part in a France-Africa summit and at the same time having good relations with the Commonwealth and the British. But the opposite is true. I remind you that we and the United Kingdom are in Europe. I.e. should I blame President Kagame for doing what we ourselves are doing? To my knowledge, we and Britain are united, we’re friends. So much the better that together, and I’d even go further, that the United States, Britain and the world’s other major democracies are all helping Africa develop – it’s in our interest. Perhaps this is basically the break with the policy of the past you’ve been looking so hard for, perhaps we’ve found it together. (…)./.

(1) France’s former, somewhat proprietorial Africa policy often based on personal relationships.

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