By: Jennifer Fierberg
While in New York City at the United Nations covering the Arms Trade Treaty negotiations I had the amazing opportunity to interview Retired Pakistani Brigadier General Mujahid Alam on his role in the negotiations and how a strong Arms Trade Treaty could affect Central Africa. General Alam spent fifteen years in Central Africa and wrote a very moving piece upon his return about how his life was forever changed by his work there. He attended the negotiations as a consultant/expert with Amnesty International exclusively for the negotiations.
Retired Pakistani Brigadier General Mujahid Alam, a former UN Peacekeeper in the DRC who took part in an International Commission of Inquiry into the arms supplies to the perpetrators of the 1994 Rwanda genocide spoke with this writer exclusively regarding the Arms Trade Treaty negotiations at the UN at the end of March 2013 and its potential impact on the region. He also served on the UN Peacekeeping missions in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Kosovo and had the following to say about Arms Trade treaty issues facing these regions, “On both missions I observed the complete lack of strict regulation of the arms trade, due to which both DRC and Kosovo had huge proliferation of illegal arms.”
During the ten day negotiation period General Alam took time from his busy schedule to speak with this writer. His answers are summarized below:
JF: I know we are here to speak about the Arms Trade Treaty negotiations but I have to ask you a few questions about your time in DRC and Rwanda if you don’t mind. You were part of the International Commission of Inquiry into Arms supplies to the perpetrators of the 1994 Genocide. What was the most surprising detail you discovered in this process?
BGMA: This commission was established by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in 1995. At the time thousands has fled Rwanda to Eastern DRC, Tanzania and Burundi. There were persistent reports that ex-FAR and Interahamwe were regrouping, retraining and re-arming in these camps in order to overthrow the Tutsi Government. The commission was appointed to fact find on these allegations. Four reports were reproduced in one year confirming that the ex-FAR was indeed training and obtaining arms from 3rd party sources in Europe and South Africa. In these reports we made suggestions to move the Rwandan refugees further inland away from the border for their own protection and for the protection of the civilians in DRC. Unfortunately the UNSC took no action and war erupted in 1996. Two more reports were produced in 1997 with more recommendations to the UNSC stating that much of the trouble in the Eastern DRC was originating from neighboring governments by their directives and financial support. At this time the government of the DRC failed to exert authority over Eastern DRC and failed to train their army to defend their country. This issue still exists today. Due to the lack of military authority any foreign power is able to interfere in DRC. The natural resources belong to the people of the Congo and should be spent on them; instead these minerals are being exploited internally and externally.
JF: Do you believe that trust will ever be possible between Rwanda and the DRC? Trust not only at the government level but also on a personal relations level on the ground?
BGMA: In order for Rwanda and DRC to learn to trust each other Rwanda needs to make an honest and sincere pledge not to interfere in the affairs of the DRC and the DRC has to stop providing sanctuary to the FDLR nor providing them with weapons and allowing them to operate with impunity. This trust can only be built if foreign powers are prepared to use their clout to impose pressure on these two countries. The Rwandan government only listens to America and Britain where DRC appears to focus on the French, Britain, America, China and South Africa. The self-capacity of the DRC is low and a lead country has to take interest or the Congolese will continue to suffer. It is the women, children and elderly who suffer the most. I have witnessed this suffering with my own eyes. The international community has miserably failed the Eastern DRC population and the suffering there is incomprehensible and horrific.
JF: The development in Rwanda has been remarkable since the 1994 Genocide. There is no disputing that fact. But, is this development sustainable under the current conditions in Central Africa?
BGMA: Rwanda has made tremendous strides in the areas of development and infrastructure but unless the cycle of violence stops in Central Africa then no, development in the region is not sustainable. Rwanda’s economy depends greatly on the minerals mined in the DRC. Therefore, peace in DRC means peace in Rwanda and both countries will benefit from sustained development when peace is the order of the day. Uganda, Burundi and the whole of the Central African region will benefit from this peace.
JF: There are nineteen years of reports stating Rwanda is meddling in the DRC and is the source of instability there. The UNSC acknowledges these reports yet does nothing to act on the recommendations they offer. Why is that?
BGMA: That question needs to be asked of the US government. The question needs to be why isn’t there a bigger interest in this region at the cost of human suffering? 1500 people die a week of hunger and hunger related diseases in Central Africa. The Congolese are not at all aggressive and just want peace, to live and to go to school. But, it is unfair to only single out Rwanda in the destabilization of the DRC. Uganda and other countries such as Kenya and Tanzania are all benefitting from this chaos. The majority of the blame must be on the Congolese government. They have failed to provide adequate governance and security. It is not impossible for the Congolese government to train and equip a strong military force that can defend North and South Kivu from external actors. But, the Congolese military, as it stands today, does not receive salary or rations yet are well supplied in weapons to loot, plunder and rape the civilian population. The biggest perpetrator of chaos in this region are the Congolese soldiers themselves. They are preying on their own people and this chaos allows external actors to come in and plunder with impunity. The Congo is so very rich with potential in minerals, forestry, water and land and these resources could be a powerhouse for the whole of the African continent but this is not happening because of the internal and externally inflicted chaos.
JF: You presented your finding to the UNSC but stated that your recommendations when unheeded. Who ignored these recommendations and why?
BFMA: The UNSC agreed with the findings but never followed up on the recommendations.
JF: How did the local governments react to your findings?
BFMA: There was some negative reaction because of the people named being close to the governments involved. Some of the governments submitted contrary reports but none came up with solid evidence that would compel us to retract our findings.
JF: Lets shift topic’s to the reason we are here this week the Arms Trade Treaty negotiations. There has been a consistent stonewall in the Arms Trade Treaty negotiations by the US and Canada regarding the inclusion of ammunitions in the treaty. If ammunition is not included how do you feel this will affect the implementation of the treaty?
BGMA: The US and Canada are not specifically blocking the ammunition issue but it is not worded and included in the way NGO’s want it to be. We believe the Arms Trade Treaty is too soft on many issues. We were close to finalizing a treaty last July but the US election stalled the process. The US government wants a treaty just not as strong as the NGO’s would like for it to be. Many countries feel this way. I personally favor a strong and effective treaty but many delegations say they want a treaty that is achievable, not what is ideal.
JF: The issue of diversions in the treaty also appears to be weak. In your experience in the DRC and Rwanda how has central Africa suffered due to the issue of diversions?
BGMA: Central Africa has suffered greatly because of the issue of diversions. Many small arms are in the hands of rebels today as a result of this lack of regulation. No one is held accountable and there are no paper trails in order to track these arms and their dealers. This issue must be included in a strong and effective Arms Trade Treaty and we are putting pressure on specific states and countries in order for this to happen.
JF: Which countries are you lobbying on this issue of diversions?
BGMA: Mostly the European country such as Finland, Norway, UK and France but more support is needed. We are also meeting with African countries such as Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya and others. These countries have been receptive so far bilaterally but in the conference room it tends to get watered down in the negotiations.
JF: How would a strong Arms Trade Treaty affect Central Africa?
BGMA: Personally, with my 14-15 years of experience working in this region I believe a strong and effective treaty will be of tremendous benefit to reduce the scale and intensity of the ongoing conflict. This effectiveness would not be immediate but being pragmatic it will unfold over a number of years and slowly chock the supply of illegal weapons to rebel and militia groups. It would also hold involved countries accountable and creating a paper trail will not allow for the denial of the reality of the situation regarding illegal arms.
JF: The current draft of the treaty and fears for the final draft are that there will be no mention of Gender Based Violence or the mention of Child Soldiers. Should this be included in the Arms Trade Treaty?
BGMA: I believe so. Many governments are known for using child soldiers and not stopping gender based violence should be sanctioned. Government who continue these practices should be forced to take strict action or should face strong sanctions.
JF: On the first day of the negotiations of the Arms Trade Treaty we saw Bosco Ntaganda surrender to the US embassy in Kigali, Rwanda. Many people are pondering why he would turn himself into the US embassy. Did this move surprise you and what are your thoughts on why he chose the US Embassy?
BGMA: This move on the part of Ntaganda surprised me tremendously. Just a few months ago he was leading the rebel forces and now he is at the ICC. Frankly, I do not know the reason he chose the US embassy but would love to and also I would like to know why he chose now to do this. One explanation could be that Kigali has exerted pressure on him due to the criticism on them regarding the M23 just as they received regarding Laruent Nkunda.
JF: You have a great deal of experience in Central Africa and specifically Rwanda. There has been much speculation as to whether or not President Paul Kagame will leave power in 2017 or run for office again. Do you believe his decision either way will have any effect on peace in Central Africa?
BGMA: Only he can make that decision. The International Community should start to engage Rwanda, DRC, Burundi and Uganda in a serious way in order for a smooth transition to occur should he decide to do so and for peace and security to be the primary goal of this transition. The biggest fallout has been the ongoing ethnic hatred in both Rwanda and DRC. Until these ethnic tensions are resolved no peace can be achieved and the dangerous trend of instability will continue.
JF: Some of the early RPF top members have fled Rwanda and built their own party called the Rwanda National Congress. Do you believe this specific political party could be effective and trusted among the people of Rwanda even though they have been former close comrades of Paul Kagame?
BGMA: I believe they want to do something positive for Rwanda but they cannot have a party inside the country. They have a strong following and many supporters. I know Kayumba and Karegeya and I have seen their support base but for their own safety they have to remain outside of the country which makes organizing their party a challenge for them.
JF: My final question for you General is what are your hopes for the outcome of the Arms Trade Treaty?
BGMA: I would say I am cautiously optimistic for the outcome of these negotiations. I am fairly sure we will get a treaty but not as strong and effective as we would like to see. We believe that it will be a good base that can be built upon but it would be many years down the road and not in the immediate future.
The treaty negotiations continued for a week after this interview ending in the UNGA having to vote for the passing of the treaty. On April 2, 2013 the Arms Trade Treaty was adopted with a final vote of 154 voting yes, 3 voting no and 23 abstentions. The adoption of this treaty was historic and sets up new international law with clear rules and guidelines for all global transfers of weapons and ammunitions.
I contacted General Alam to get his opinion of the final adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty to which he responded, “I definitely wanted a much stronger treaty but one has to be realistic and see what is achievable now rather than to sabotage the whole treaty. I hope the weaknesses in the ATT would be realized during implementation phase and it will be strengthened in the years to come.”