The Rwandan government has angrily dismissed a leaked United Nations draft report that accuses the country’s Tutsi-led Army of committing a possible genocide against Hutus in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo during the 1990’s.
A government statement released today calls the UN draft "malicious, offensive and ridiculous."
But the 545-page report, seen by The Christian Science Monitor, is being widely hailed as a landmark document. It is the first time the UN has comprehensively catalogued serious human rights abuses committed between 1993 and 2003 in Congo, which was the stage for two brutal regional wars. A finalized report is expected to be published in the coming weeks.
While the report charges armies from around the region with serious abuses, the most controversial accusation is that tens of thousands of Hutus, including women, children, and elderly were slaughtered by the Rwandan Army and allied rebels in a series of systematic attacks between 1996 and 1997 that “could be proven as crimes of genocide” if it were to go to court.
The draft was verified by Luc Cote, the Canadian war crimes prosecutor who headed the 34-member UN probe. "All this [evidence] put together, submitted to a court of law, this may constitute elements from which you can infer the intent to destroy a group as such, which is genocide," he today told Agence France-Presse.
The accusations come as a major blow for Rwandan President Paul Kagame. Since 1994, he has won strong international support as the rebel leader who stopped the genocide in Rwanda, reconciled warring ethnic groups, and rebuilt the country. But that narrative would be massively undermined if the UN officially accuses his forces of genocide.
Claims that a genocide might have been committed against the Hutus may also shift international perceptions of Hutus as perpetrators and Tutsis uniquely as victims. The 1994 Rwanda genocide saw an estimated 800,000 people, mostly Tutsis, killed over 100 days, mostly by Hutus.
While previous claims have blamed Rwanda for atrocities in Congo, never before have they come from a body so high.
“The report is absurd,” says Ignatius Kabagambe, director general of the Rwandan Information Ministry. “You cannot be accusing the government that stopped the genocide in Rwanda of starting a genocide next door the following day. It does not add up.”
Mr. Kabagambe says Rwandan forces in Congo fought to repatriate hundreds of thousands of Hutu refugees effectively being held hostage by those responsible for the 1994 genocide after they fled to Congo in the wake of the slaughter.
There is speculation that the draft copy was leaked over fears that Rwandan pressure and official wavering would see the accusations toned down. Le Monde newspaper in France, which was the first to publish the leaked draft, reported that Rwanda has threatened to pull its peacekeepers out of Darfur if the draft was made public.
Kabagambe denies that any threats had been made. He says Rwanda was “aware that the UN Secretary General is not comfortable with the report” and cautioned people to wait for the final version.
Better late than never
He admits that the leak “comes at a bad time” for the Rwandan government. Earlier this month, Kagame won a second presidential term in a landslide victory, but the triumph at the polls came against a background of increasing international criticism over claims of an often brutal clampdown on opposition politicians and media.
While the Rwandan government has gone on the offensive, human rights organizations have welcomed the leaked report, albeit more than a decade after the atrocities occurred.
Ms. Mthathi says it is important for the Rwandan government to try to clear its name by addressing the issues raised in the report instead of attempting to discredit those behind the report.