By: Jennifer Fierberg, MSW
The Sub Saharan region of Africa has been watched closely by the international community as of late. The news coming out of the region has many human rights activists and organizations’ asking a lot of questions about what is really going on between Rwanda and the DR Congo. Last week on June 19th 2012 President Kagame gave a very revealing press conference in Rwanda at the closing of the Gacaca Courts where he answered questions about the successes and imperfections of the process. The reporters in the room had many more questions about the UN, Rwanda and its role in the continued destabilization in the Congo. It is no secret that President Kagame does not like being questioned by reporters and was evident in this press conference as he became increasingly angered by the journalists with the exception of a few staged questions by his regional media supporters. Most analysts have stated that his display of outrage and impatience was surprising, even for President Kagame, and many stated he may need new advisors to better prepare him for such situations. President Kagame made his position on the Congo very clear, “Rwanda should not be held accountable for the problems in the Congo” and that “Rwanda has no responsibility in the Congo.” During the 90 minute conference he continually denied any contact with the M23, the current rebel group that has been making noise in the Congo, as well as denying any role in the ongoing conflict on the ground.
Rwanda’s Minister of Foreign Affairs along with three top security officers made a trip to the UN in New York to continue the narrative that Kagame had begun weeks before. Her position on the DRC was clear in that, again, Rwanda is not to blame for the problems in the Congo nor is there any Rwandan presence in the Congo and insisted that government officials have urged the M23 to put down their weapons and take up talks with the Congolese government.
These back to back press conferences were ahead of the UN’s Group of Experts (GoE) report that has been released concerning the ongoing state of unrest in the Congo. There is a long history of conflict between Rwanda and the Congo under the current ruling regime in Rwanda from just after the end of the Rwandan Genocide when Rwanda invaded the Congo in 1996 and 1998 stating their reason for doing so was in order to protect the country from Interahamwe forces that had fled the country into neighboring DRC.
Over 5 million people have perished in the Congo between these wars. To comprehend the death of 5 million people should make on pause and ask….why?
Although, asking that question in Rwanda can get you arrested or cost you your life. Later today, June 29 2012, Victoire Ingabire will be sentenced to, what most believe, will be life imprisonment in Rwanda for challenging the RPF narrative of the 1994 Genocide. She has spent the last two years languishing in a Rwandan jail, enduring a trial where no socio-political, journalist or regional analyst has ever believed she would get a fair trial. Mrs. Ingabire courageously attended every day her trial through all of the extra-judicial gymnastics that the legal system could throw at her until she finally gave up and realized that her trial was never about fairness or judicial impartiality and stopped going to court and advised her lawyers to do the same. The international community has sadly remained silent on her plight with the exception of a few reporters and human rights groups who have protested her trial from the beginning. One has to wonder if her, unconfirmed, life sentence will get the attention of the international community regarding “justice” in Rwanda.
The UN released their report on the Congo earlier this week, but much to the surprise of the public there was no mention of Rwanda and the alleged RPF role in the continued destabilization in the region. The UN then announced that the Annex /Addendum regarding Rwanda would be released at a later date after Rwanda has had a chance to review it and respond to it. This news sent a number of Congo Human rights activists and Friends of Congo to social media urging anyone concerned to contact the UN, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as well as President Barak Obama to release the report and allow the public to see what Rwanda’s role has been according to the UN’s GoE. The UN agreed to these terms and has released the report to the BBC and Reuters who have both reported on it. A smaller portion of the report was leaked to the public and it turned out to be quite contradictory to the cyclical narrative that Rwanda’s government officials have been giving. The leaked portion can be found at http://turtlebay.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/06/26/exclusive_un_panel_says_rwanda_behind_congolese_mutiny and this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are 44 more pages that many journalist and humanitarian groups who are eagerly awaiting its public release.
Here is the information so far that is implicating Rwanda and their role with the M23:
“Since the outset of its current mandate, the Group [of Experts] has gathered evidence of arms embargo and sanctions regime violations committed by the Rwandan Government. These violations consist of the provision of material and financial support to armed groups operation in the eastern DRC, including the recently established M23, in contravention of paragraph 1 of Security Council resolution 1807. The arms embargo and sanctions regimes violations include the following:
*Direct assistance in the creation of M23 through the transport of weapons and soldiers through Rwandan territory;
*Recruitment of Rwandan youth and demobilized ex-combatants as well as Congolese refugees for M23;
*Provision of weapons and ammunition to M23;
*Mobilization and lobbying of Congolese political and financial leaders for the benefit of M23;
*Direct Rwandan Defense Forces (RDF) interventions into Congolese territory to reinforce M23;
*Support to several other armed groups as well as FARDC mutinies in the eastern Congo;
*Violation of the assets freeze and travel ban through supporting sanctioned individuals.
Over the course of its investigation since late 2011, the Group has found substantial evidence attesting to support from Rwandan officials to armed groups operating in the eastern DRC. Initially the RDF [Rwandan Defense Forces] appeared to establish these alliances to facilitate a wave of targeted assassinations against key FDLR [The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, the armed remnants of Rwanda’s former genocidal government] officers, thus significantly weakening the rebel movement (see paragraphs 37 & 38 of interim report). However, these activities quickly extended to support for a series of post electoral mutinies within the FARDC [The Congolese Armed Forces] and eventually included the direct facilitation, through the use of Rwandan territory, of the creation of the M23 rebellion. The latter is comprised of ex-CNDP officers integrated into the Congolese army (FARDC) in January 2009. Since M23 established itself in strategic positions along the Rwandan border in May 2012, the Group has gathered overwhelming evidence demonstrating that senior RDF officers, in their official capacities, have been backstopping the rebels through providing weapons, military supplies, and new recruits.
In turn, M23 continues to solidify alliances with many other armed groups and mutineer movements, including those previously benefiting from RDF support. This has created enormous security challenges, extending from Ituri district in the north to Fizi territory in the south, for the already overstretched Congolese Army(FARDC). Through such arms embargo violations, Rwandan officials have also been in contravention of the sanctions regime’s travel ban and assets freeze measures, by including three designated individuals amongst their direct allies.
In an attempt to solve the crisis which this Rwandan support to armed groups had exacerbated, the governments of the DRC and Rwanda have held a series of high-level bilateral meetings since early April 2012. During these discussions, Rwandan officials have insisted on impunity for their armed group and mutineer allies, including ex-CNDP General Bosco Ntaganda, and the deployment of additional RDF units to the Kivus to conduct large-scale operations against the FDLR. The latter request has been repeatedly made despite the fact that: a) the RDF halted its unilateral initiatives to weaken the FDLR in late February; b) RDF Special Forces have already been deployed officially in Rutshuru territory for over a year; c) RDF operational units are periodically reinforcing the M23 on the battlefield against the Congolese army; d) M23 is directly and indirectly allied with several FDLR splinter groups; and e) the RDF is remobilizing previously repatriated FDLR to boost the ranks of M23.
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Elevated Standards of Evidence:
In light of the serious nature of these findings, the group has adopted elevated methodological standards. Since early April 2012, the Group has interviewed over 80 deserters of FARDC mutinies and Congolese armed groups, including from M23. Amongst the latter, the Group has interviewed 31 Rwandan nationals. Furthermore, the group has also photographed weapons and military equipment found in arms caches and on the battlefield, as well as obtained official documents and intercepts of radio communication. The Group has also consulted dozens of senior Congolese military commanders and intelligence officials as well as political and community leaders with intricate knowledge of development between DRC and Rwanda. Moreover, the Group has communicated regularly with several active participants of the ex-CNDP mutiny, the M23 rebellion, and other armed groups. Finally, while the Group’s standard methodology requires a minimum of three sources, assessed to be credible and independent of one another, it has raised this to five sources when naming specific individuals involved in these case of arms embargo and sanctions violations.
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Rwandan Support to M23:
Since the earliest stage of its inception, the Group documented a systematic pattern of military and political support provided to the M23 rebellion by Rwandan authorities. Upon taking control over the strategic position of Runyoni, along the Rwandan border with DRC, M23 officers opened two supply routes going from Runyoni to Kinigi or Njerima in Rwanda, which RDF officers used to deliver such support as troops, recruits, and weapons. The Group also found evidence that Rwandan officials mobilized ex-CNDP cadres and officers, North Kivu politicians, business leaders and youth in support of M23.
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Direct Rwandan assistance in creation of M23 through Rwandan territory:
Colonel Sultani Makenga deserted the FARDC in order to create the M23 rebellion using Rwandan territory and benefiting directly from RDF facilitation (See paragraph 104 of interim report). On 4 May, Makenga crossed the border from Goma into Gisenyi, Rwanda, and waited for his soldiers to join him from Goma and Bukavu. Intelligence sources, M23 collaborators and local politicians confirmed for the Group that RDF Western Division commander, General Emmanuel Ruvusha, welcomed Makenga upon his arrival to Gisenyi. The same source indicated that Ruvusha subsequently held a series of coordination meetings with other RDF officers in Gisenyi and Ruhengeri over the following days with Makenga.”
It seems quite obvious that Rwanda does not want this information released and the public is sure to see their ready defense in the days to come. So far the response from the Rwandan Government has been that it has been unprofessional for the UN to release this information before they have had a chance to review it and respond accordingly. Yet, that in not a denial of the information contained therein.
Just a few hours ago the Humanitarian Organization Friends of the Congo released a press release entitled “Great Lakes of Africa Coalition Calls for U.S. Action to End Instability in the Democratic Republic of Congo” in which they ask for President Obama and Sec. of State Hillary Clinton to fully enforce PL 109-456 Section 105 that gives power to the US Secretary of State to withhold aid from neighboring countered deemed to destabilize the Congo.
Further Friends of the Congo states:
“This legislation has been on the books for 6 years, but has yet to be fully implemented. The recent flood of evidence pointing to Rwanda’s military aggression in the Congo calls for an enforcement of this law. In the United Kingdom, more than 20 members of parliament have joined the call to suspend financial support to Rwanda in light of the content in the UN report implicating Rwanda in supporting rebels in the Congo. In accordance with its statutes, the US government should withhold any military, bilateral and multilateral budgetary aid until Rwanda permanently ceases its support of rebels in the DRC.
Given the Obama administration’s mass atrocities prevention directive, current violence in the Kivu provinces of the DRC tests the US government’s political will to fulfill its promises and enforce its laws. Will the administration recognize the atrocities in eastern DRC and use the law Obama wrote to hold destabilizing parties responsible? Historically, economic sanctions have proven effective in curtailing Rwandan aggressions across the border. In late 2008, Sweden and the Netherlands suspended aid to Rwanda after evidence surfaced showing Rwanda’s support of the CNDP rebel group.”
It is time for the International community to stop playing a game of Ostrich when it comes to what is happening in Central Africa. The mineral rich DRC has become a playground for companies to rape the land of its minerals for financial gain, for militia groups to rape the women and children in order to gain power to play to these international financial groups and for whole communities to stop being slaughtered in cold blood for the sake of money. It is a sick game and human cost has gone too far.