Former French Foreign Minister says France should apologize forrole in Rwandan genocide

By Al Jazeera Africa

Bernard Kouchner, co-founder of Doctors Without Borders and former French Foreign Minister under President Nicolas Sarkozy, told Al Jazeera's Head to Head that France should apologise for its role in the Rwandan genocide. This is the first time a senior French official, and former member of the government, has made such a public admision.

Airing Friday 14 November 2014, this unprecedented admission launches the new series of Head to Head on Al Jazeera English with Mehdi Hasan.

The French doctor and politician tells Hasan and the audience at the Oxford Union that although in Rwanda “the French soldiers never killed anybody,” France had trained Rwandan soldiers “for three years,” some of whom went on to perpetrate massacres.

Kouchner, who witnessed the 1994 Rwandan genocide as a doctor there, said that later, as French Foreign Minister, he had “done his duty” towards the African country by restarting relations and organizing Sarkozy's visit in February 2010, the first by a French President since the genocide.

Kouchner's comments come in the wake of increased tensions between the two countries over the tragic events of twenty years ago. In an interview in April with Francois Soudan of Jeuna Afrique, Rwandan President Paul Kagame blamed France directly for the killings, condemning the "direct role of Belgium and France in the political preparation for the genocide and the participation of the latter in its very execution.”

While Belgium has apologized for its role, France never has. When this was put to Bernard Kouchner by Hasan in the middle of a heated passage, he paused and finally accepted. This is the exchange:

Kouchner: “When I was Foreign Minister, we reconciliate, we reopen the diplomatic relation and with Mr Sarkozy, not only we visit Rwanda, but Kagame visited France. So I did my duty!”

Hasan: "Why not apologise? Do you think the French government should apologise for its role in Rwanda?"

Kouchner: "Yes."

In a fiery debate about the concept of humanitarian intervention and the “right to interfere.” Kouchner, who is considered one of the architects of the doctrine, claimed that it is “better to save one life than to do nothing,” and that he is “always on the side of the victims.”

Kouchner also admitted that he was fiercely opposed to Gaddafi's official visit to Paris in 2007 and insisted that he had “refused to meet Gaddafi.” When pressed by Hasan as to why he remained part of the government if he was so opposed to this,he admitted that it was a “contradiction in politics.”

Kouchner, who was head of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) from 1999 to 2001, angrily rebutted the 2013 Amnesty International report accusing UNMIK of failing “to investigate the abduction and murders of Kosovo Serbs in the aftermath of the 1998-1999 conflict.” He said: “Amnesty International was sitting on their ass” while “we were stopping a massacre.” Kouchner went on to affirm that the intervention in Kosovo was “one of the UN's successes.”

Kouchner also said he believed the “UN security council needs reform” to include more African, Latin American or Asian members, and to ensure the future of the 'Responsibility to Protect' (R2P) doctrine.

The interview with Kouchner is part of the third series of Head to Head, which is Al Jazeera's forum for ideas. During the interview, Kouchner and Hasan also discussed the French doctor-turned-politician's personal journey and France's recent interventions in Mali and Libya.

Hasan was joined by a panel of three experts: Lindsey German, convener of the Stop the War coalition; Barak Seener, associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute security think tank; and Hamza Hamouchene, president and founder of the Algerian Solidarity Campaign.

The third series also features controversial author and thinker Dr. Norman Finkelstein, and author and leading China defender Dr. Zhang Weiwei. In each episode, Hasan goes head to head with a special guest, asking the probing and hard-hitting questions few dare to ask on complex issues such as foreign intervention, ISIL and Iraq, China, US foreign policy, the EU and the economic crisis.

Humanitarian Intervention or Western Imperialism?with Bernard Kouchner will be broadcast this Friday, 14 November 2014 at 20.00 GMT/21.00CAT and will be repeated on Saturday, 15 November at 12.00 GMT/13.00CAT; Sunday, 16 November at 01.00 GMT/02.00 CAT and Monday, 17 November at 06.00 GMT/07.00CAT.

Watch and embed the first episode's promo at