Dissecting Rwandan criticism of UN report on Congo genocide

The Rwandan government claims there were flaws in the UN report that implicates it in the possible Congo genocide. Guest blogger Jason Stearns responds.

By , Guest blogger

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    The remains of a destroyed luxury resort built by the late dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in Virunga National Park and occupied by rebels during the long-running conflict in eastern Congo are seen through a vehicle windscreen riddled with bullet holes on Aug. 28.
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I've received some angry emails and comments about the posting on the UN mapping report. Since then, the Rwandan and Congolese governments have responded to the allegations, as well. Several of these points merit reflection.

Some general points:

1. The report's intention is to call for accountability for the mass atrocities committed during 10 years of conflict in the Congo, not to single out Rwanda for "acts of genocide." Indeed, Angolan, Burundian, Ugandan, Chadian, and Congolese officials are also cited for war crimes in the report. While the systematic massacre of Rwandan Hutu refugees stands out as one of the worst crimes committed during the war and deserves to be highlighted, the press should have put the report in context and highlighted its call for a tribunal and a truth and reconciliation commission.

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(Read the entire pdf report here, in French.)

2. There is no doubt that some Rwandan opposition members will seize this opportunity to resurrect the notion of a double genocide. The comparison is not helpful in the least. Some 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu were killed during the 1994 genocide. This reports suggests "tens of thousands" of refugees killed by the RPA in the Congo and probably several times that many died from disease and starvation. However, while the figures of refugees that died were nowhere near as high as those of people killed in 1994 genocide, the systematic nature of the killing is deeply chilling and indicates complicity at a very high level within Rwanda's government.

To the concrete points made in Rwanda's rebuttal, which can be read here:

The report was leaked to distract from allegations that UN peacekeepers did nothing to prevent an incident of mass rape in Walikale.

This is unlikely. The report was written by a team under the authority of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, not by MONUSCO. While MONUSCO did have a copy, all indications from within the UN suggest that it was leaked because some UN officials wanted to change the language in the report, in particular allegations that Rwandan troops may have committed acts of genocide in 1996/7. As reported here, Rwanda has threatened to withdraw its peacekeepers from UN missions if the report is published.

It is immoral for the UN, a body that failed to act during the 1994 genocide and then managed the refugee camps that hosted refugees and genocidaires alike in the Congo, to accuse the Rwandan army of genocide.

The UN failed abysmally to bring and end to the genocide in 1994. It also failed to separate soldiers from civilians in the refugee camps. These failures will continue to bring shame and discredit to the organization. However, that past mistakes should somehow prevent the UN from criticizing other atrocities does not make sense. We should recall that the massacre of refugees was not carried out in self-defense, nor were the civilians killed by stray bullets; the evidence gathered by the UN investigators suggests that the massacres were systematic and carried out intentionally, in a coordinated fashion. That 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu were killed in Rwanda in 1994, and that the RPA helped bring an end to the genocide should in no way prevent the UN from criticizing them for killing tens of thousands in the Congo.

The mapping team did not consult the Rwandan government.

The mapping team did apparently show the Rwandan government a draft of the finished report shortly before publication. However, they should have probably confronted the Rwandan government with the evidence gathered, but we should remember that none of the armed groups had a right of response to the allegations before they were published. The investigators presumably – I don't know this for sure – wanted to prevent interference in their investigations. In any case, given the evidence listed in the report it is difficult to imagine that anything the Rwandan government said would have changed the investigators' minds.

Rwanda's intervention in the DRC was a matter of personal survival for Rwanda and a consequence of the irresponsible management of the refugee camps by the UN.

Yes, this was in large part true. But does it excuse the massacre of innocent civilians? Some argue that the innocent civilians were not innocent but had hidden grenades or were otherwise complicit with the ex-FAR/Interahamwe. I suggest you read the parts of the reports, as well the newspaper articles from the period I link to below. Can one simply presume that thousands of infants, women and elderly men were all some how complicit in the genocide and execute them without trial or jury?

The standards of evidence were so low that the investigations cannot be taken seriously.

The standards of evidence were not as high as in a court of law – that would have made investigation of 700+ cases impossible given the limited resources. But the officials did rely on two independent, reliable sources for each incident. This usually included an eyewitness, but not always. For the specific cases of Rwandan involvement, again I invite you to read some of the excerpts. They are telling. They also confirm what I have heard from several Congolese soldiers who fought side-by-side with the RPA in 1996 and witnessed the killings, in some cases even were forced to participate in it. Victims' accounts can also be found, for example Beatrice Umutesi's Fuir ou Mourir au Zaire.

But I recommend you read the entire report. You can also read this New York Times piece from April 1997, as well as this one.

--- Jason Stearns, an expert on politics and security in Central Africa, blogs at Congo Siasa.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of Africa bloggers. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here.

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