Deutsche Welle Interview with Jean Luc Habyarimana Sparks Controversy

On May 15, 2024, the French language department of the German radio station Deutsche Welle (DW) published an interview with Jean Luc Habyarimana, the youngest son of the former Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana, who was assassinated in 1994. Jean Luc, who was 18 years old at the time of his father’s death, shared his memories of the tragic event and its aftermath.

Jean Luc recounted the fateful evening of April 6, 1994, when his father’s plane was shot down, resulting in debris landing in the garden of their residence in Kanombe. He vividly described hearing the noise of the aircraft and witnessing its explosion, a memory that remains clear to him three decades later.

In the interview, Jean Luc discussed the political climate leading up to the assassination, highlighting the conflict between the Rwandan government and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), backed by the Ugandan army. He mentioned the Arusha Accords of October 1993, which aimed to establish a national unity government and a merged military, but pointed out that the agreements were not being fully implemented.

Jean Luc described the heightened insecurity in Rwanda, citing attacks in bus stations, political assassinations, and the increased presence of the RPF battalion in the capital. He reflected on the personal impact of the assassination, expressing his disbelief and the lasting trauma of witnessing his father’s death.

The interview triggered a swift reaction from Rwandan officials and commentators. Olivier Nduhungirehe, Rwanda’s ambassador to the Netherlands, criticized the interview on his social media account, accusing DW of being manipulated by Congolese correspondents and failing to ask Jean Luc critical questions about his father’s regime and the genocide against the Tutsi. Nduhungirehe highlighted past inquiries and contradictions surrounding the assassination and accused Jean Luc of not addressing the atrocities committed by the Interahamwe militia and the role of his family in the genocide.

French journalist Maria Malagardis also condemned DW for airing the interview during a period of commemoration for the genocide victims, calling it disgraceful to give a platform to the son of a president associated with inciting violence and organizing militias.

Human rights activist Norman Ishimwe, based in Belgium, responded by denouncing the intimidation tactics of pro-Kagame supporters, particularly targeting the journalist Wendy Bashi and Deutsche Welle. Ishimwe described these actions as intellectual terrorism aimed at silencing dissenting voices and stifling journalistic freedom.

Ishimwe’s critique extended to Rwanda’s poor ranking in global press freedom and human rights indices, attributing it to deliberate efforts by the regime to suppress free expression and control the narrative. He emphasized the importance of defending freedom of expression for all Rwandans and called for international attention to the oppressive tactics employed by the Rwandan government.