French President Emmanuel Macron said he recognized his country’s role in the Rwandan genocide and hoped for forgiveness at a memorial in Kigali on Thursday, seeking to reset relations after years of Rwandan accusations that France was complicit in the 1994 atrocities.
“Only those who went through that night can perhaps forgive, and in doing so give the gift of forgiveness,” Macron said at the Gisozi genocide memorial, where more than 250,000 victims are buried. Rows of skulls lie there in a mass tomb and the names of the victims are inscribed on a black wall.
“I hereby humbly and with respect stand by your side today, I come to recognize the extent of our responsibilities,” he said, speaking against a background of French and Rwandan flags.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame welcomed Macron’s speech, saying at a joint press conference later that “his words were more powerful than an apology”.
The visit follows the release in March of a report by a French inquiry panel that said a colonial attitude had blinded French officials and the government bore a “serious and overwhelming” responsibility for not foreseeing the slaughter.
Kagame praised the “remarkable, independent” report and said it had opened the door for normalizing relations.
The report absolved France of direct complicity in the killings of more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus – an accusation that Kagame has sometimes made and a point Macron was careful to note in his speech at the genocide memorial.
“The killers who stalked the swamps, the hills, the churches, did not have the face of France. France was not an accomplice,” Macron said.