Emmanuel Macron Acknowledges France's Role in Rwanda Genocide, Stops Short of Apology

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday he recognizes that France bears responsibility for the 1994 Rwanda genocide but stopped short of an apology.

During a speech at the genocide memorial in Kigali, Macron spoke about how France had failed the 800,000 victims of the genocide, saying the country had sided with Rwanda's "genocidal regime" and bore an "overwhelming responsibility" for the country's spiral toward the genocide.

Though Macron did not offer an apology, he said: "A genocide cannot be excused, one lives with it."

Reactions to Macron's lack of apology were split. Rwandan President Paul Kagame praised Macron for his "powerful speech" while survivors of the genocide expressed their disappointment at his lack of an apology.

"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. "We, the survivors, wanted to hear Macron apologizing to us officially. I am really disappointed."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Macron and Kagame meet
French President Emmanuel Macron (left) is greeted by Rwandan President Paul Kagame at the Presidential Palace prior to their bilateral meeting in Kigali on May 27, 2021. Macron is in Rwanda for a highly symbolic visit aimed at moving on from three decades of diplomatic tensions over France's role in the 1994 genocide in the country. Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images

"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 by favoring silence over the examination of truth for too long," Macron said.

When the genocide started, "the international community took close to three months, three interminable months, before reacting and we, all of us, abandoned hundreds of thousands of victims."

France's failures contributed to "27 years of bitter distance" between the two countries, he said.

"I have to come to recognize our responsibilities," Macron said.

"His words were something more valuable than an apology, they were the truth," Kagame said. "This was an act of tremendous courage."

Kagame and Macron both signaled that a page had been turned in France-Rwanda ties.

"This visit is about the future, not the past," Kagame said, adding that he and Macron discussed a range of issues, including investment and support for businesses.

Macron said they were opening "a new page" and rebuilding ties that are "strong and irreversible." He said that he asked to be able to appoint a French ambassador to Rwanda, after six years where France has been without one in the country.

Instead, he explained that he decided to apply "the white light of truth" to France's role in the genocide and recognize its responsibilities.

"This recognition is what I can give. A pardon is not mine to give," Macron said, promising beefed-up efforts to bring genocide suspects to justice.

Macron also said that he'd come with 100,000 coronavirus vaccines for Rwanda.

The opposition Rwandese Platform for Democracy party tweeted ahead of Macron's speech that it hoped he would "apologize honestly" and "promise to pay reparations" to genocide victims.

Macron arrived in Kigali early Thursday and met Kagame at the presidential residence. Macron then toured the memorial to the frenzied 1994 slaughter in which Hutu extremists killed mainly minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus who tried to protect them.

Macron's trip builds on a series of French efforts since his election in 2017 to repair ties between the two countries.

Two reports completed in March and in April that examined France's role in the genocide helped clear a path 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 after the 1994 massacre sent relations into a tailspin. Rwanda's government and genocide survivor organizations often accused France of training and arming militias and former government troops who led the genocide.

Kagame, who has been Rwanda's de facto leader since 1994 and its president since 2000, has won praise abroad for restoring order and making advances in economic development and health care. But rights watchdogs, dissidents, and others accuse Kagame of harsh rule.

Genocide victims' photographs
In this April 5, 2019, file photo, family photographs of some of those who died hang on display in an exhibition at the Kigali Genocide Memorial center in the capital city of Kigali, Rwanda. France and Rwanda are hoping to reset ties scarred by a quarter-century of recriminations over the 1994 Rwandan genocide during French President Emmanuel Macron's visit to the central African country. Ben Curtis, File/AP Photo