afrol News, 27 November - The Rwandan government sees itself unreasonably targeted by human rights critics, especially over its engagement in Congo Kinshasa (DRC). A diplomatic initiative is to fix the worsening reputation.
The Rwandan presidency recently released two documents, answering to the heaviest critics against its human rights record. Rwanda, it is held, is responsible for a "devastating human toll" (Amnesty International report) and "illegal exploitation of natural resources and other forms of wealth" (UN report) in Congo Kinshasa. Others (Human Rights Watch and Reporters without Borders, RSF) claim human rights violations within Rwanda are also systematic.
The government of President Paul Kagame indeed has been victim to diplomatic campaigns against him after he and his predecessors ousted the Rwandan genocidal regime in 1994 and thus broke away from the "francophonie" and the French influence zone. Representing the genocide victims, Kagame and his "National Unity" government however gained support among the British, the Americans and neighbouring Uganda, counteracting French and Congolese antipathy.
With a popular president in neighbouring Congo Kinshasa, Rwandan troops and allied rebels still occupying eastern Congo and severed links with Uganda, Kigali however has to work hard to keep its new allies, the latter obviously short in memory. Each report on Rwandan human right violations in Congo makes it harder to explain continued Rwandan security concerns.
- Rwanda agrees with [Amnesty International's, AI] analysis that Rwanda's current problems with the DRC have their origins in the events of 1994, namely the genocide and subsequent exodus of millions of Rwandese refugees to camps in Zaire, now the DRC, the official Rwandan statement reads. "However, the Government of Rwanda contends that the impression given in the report that Rwanda does not have any real security concerns in the DRC is not only strongly objectionable but also grossly irresponsible."
The statement, introducing a point-to-point repudiation of AI's documentation, defines the problem in a nutshell. As the Rwandan occupation of Eastern Congo goes on, reports on human rights violations and resource exploitation by Rwandan army officers and especially Rwanda's allied local militias overshadow the essence of the conflict. The Congolese government still shelters and supports the groups responsible for the 1994 Rwandan genocide, killing an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
- The DRC has since 1994 been a safe haven for a large number of ex-FAR, Interahamwe and other violent groups (now numbering about 40,000 men) which committed genocide in Rwanda in 1994 and are still waging war against our country, with bases and military, financial and logistical support provided by the successive governments of the DRC and its allies, the Rwandan government holds. "The self-proclaimed intention of these groups is to return to power and to continue their campaign of genocide in Rwanda."
The official Rwandan position on its engagement is that it takes the 1999 Lusaka Peace Agreement seriously. Thus, Rwandan troops have been withdrawn from Congolese areas more remote to Rwanda. The Lusaka agreement however also acknowledged the Rwandan security concerns, demanding the disarmament of militant groups threatening Rwanda based in Congo.
Rwanda holds these groups are still supported by Kinshasa. "Rwanda maintains that the intervention of its troops in the DRC in 1996, 1998 and its presence in that country today, as a legitimate act of self-defence in accordance with international law," the government statement reads.
The Kigali government treats the Amnesty report with certain bitterness, saying it "is basically a reproduction of war propaganda circulating in the DRC," and maintain it is "glaringly partisan." The claim, the report is "a reflection of the longstanding antipathy that AI has demonstrated towards Rwanda," however seems unfounded.
Meanwhile, documentation is accumulating that Rwandan military personnel within Congo have abused their position to embark on large-scale exploitation of local resources. Amnesty's allegations, Rwandan troops mainly remain in Congo because of this resource exploitation caused sensation in Kigali and were strongly condemned.
The Rwandan government however insisted on the legitimacy of its existing trade with Eastern Congo. "This trade benefits the people of Congo as much as it benefits the foreigners who conduct business in the DRC. The war in the DRC has now been going on for three years. The economic life of the Eastern DRC cannot be expected to be shut down just because the central government does not control the area," Kigali maintains.
Parallel allegations were however presented by the UN in a report by a panel of experts earlier this month. The UN experts held that the war in Congo Kinshasa "remains a self-financing and self-sustaining affair." Not surprisingly, the Panel argued, "Congolese people do not figure among the beneficiaries of this unfettered and increasingly systematized exploitation."
The UN panel however acknowledged that the "main underlying causes of the conflict must be addressed in order to end the exploitation of natural resources and establish a lasting peace." The Rwandan government thus welcomed "the Panel's acknowledgement of the validity of the security reasons for its forces' operations in the DRC."
Kigali however claimed there was "no structured involvement whatsoever of its Armed Forces into commercial activities in the DRC." Equally, answering the Amnesty report, Kigali held their troops in Congo were "a well-disciplined army," which did "not practice or tolerate impunity." On the contrary, Kigali holds, "many observers familiar with the Rwandese system of military justice frequently complain that it is draconian."
Of course, Rwandan troops "may now and then commit crimes," the government admits. "However, such violations of human rights should be correctly seen as crimes committed by individuals and not portrayed as crimes sanctioned or in any way condoned by the command of the army."
On the internal human rights situation, critics are maintained by the French media watchdogs RSF and the US-based group Human Rights Watch. The UN Special Representative on the human-rights situation in Rwanda, Michel Moussalli, in his annual report however maintained the situation was improving on all fronts.
Moussalli's March 2001 reports holds that, given the still recent conflict and persisting divisions, Rwandan moves towards democracy and respect of human rights were all "extremely courageous steps." Moussalli however noted several areas where progress was limited, such as press freedom and urged the government "to tackle obstacles preventing free reporting in Rwanda."
Recognised for its slow but steadfast improvements of the domestic human rights situation, the Rwandan government however still finds it difficult to explain alleged gross human rights abuses by its armed forces within Eastern Congo. As the access to reliable sources in Eastern Congo remains very limited, allegation stands against allegation. UN documentation of illicit resource exploitation in Congo however taints the credibility of the Rwandan army in the occupied area and remains a ticking bomb for Rwandan diplomacy.
Rwandan govt., UN, Amnesty, RSF, HRW and afrol archives