More than a decade after human rights groups alleged that Rwandan troops were engaged in routine and systematic mass killings of men, women and children in the Congo, a leaked 545-page UN
report has set alight the blue touch paper that is Paul Kagame.
By Vava Tampa
“No matter how strong the wind of evil may blow, the flame of truth cannot be extinguished,”
–His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet, Tenzin Gyatso
More than a decade after human rights groups alleged that Rwandan troops and its off-spring proxy militias, were engaged in routine and systematic mass killings of men, women and children in the Congo, a leaked, soon-to-be-published 545-page UN report has set alight the blue touch paper that is Paul Kagame – former commander-in-chief of the Rwandan troops. He is arguably the primary sponsor of militia groups and is accused of committing scores of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the course of Rwanda’s brutal attempt to flush ‘interhamwe’ out of Congo.
It was quite extraordinary reading the charge: “crimes of genocide.” Though not surprising. We knew it all along. We have lived through it. Our families have been one way or the other affected by it. This time it was different. The report has spoken for every one who watched in horror as merciless criminals responsible for the wars and humanitarian crises that has gripped the Congo for the past 15 years remained anonymous, at large and endowed with political and military powers in Kigali, Kampala and Kinshasa. Their victims remain unnamed and unaccounted for.
In truth, no one knows what the report would mean. By all accounts it is a de-facto indictment of a sitting president, Paul Kagame, whose troops the UN has charged with “crimes of genocide.” For the Congolese and Rwandan refugees whose loved-ones have perished at the behest of the Rwandan president, it symbolises a huge step toward achieving some justice. For millions of those still trapped between warring parties, displaced or devastated by sexual atrocities and those who have been working tirelessly to move the human tragedy overwhelming the Congo from the margins of national and international politics into the centre of national and international discourse and policy priorities, it represents a remarkable symbolic victory. For President Obama, Prime Minister Cameron and President Sarkozy, the report presents a test of political will: to refer or not-refer the matter to the International Criminal Court for a full investigation.
Within hours of the leaked report, the Rwandan government retaliated. A defiant Paul Kagame, who has repeatedly denied links with armed groups operating in Eastern Congo, dismissed it as worthless and threatened to pull out of all UN missions. A concern is echoed by dozens of well-meaning critics of the report who worry that it could interfere with efforts to establish a peace agreement between Congolese authorities, Paul Kagame’s government and rebel groups in Congo’s most eastern regions. They fear it could jeopardise the safety of the UN staff and infrastructure as well as humanitarian staff in the region.
Humane as the intentions behind this reservation may be, they are outweighed by the need for justice. The continue existence of armed groups and deployment of sexual atrocities to humiliate, displaced and destroy communities in the Congo is partially a result of the failure to live up to the proverbial adage that: “Peace begins with Justice”. I believe attributing responsibility for hideous crimes such as crimes of genocide is a major step towards combating impunity associated with the horrific crimes that continues to be written as part of Congo’s history.
Paul Kagame has got away with mass murder, the rape and torture of targeted groups and the pillaging of their property (not to mention the stockpiling of Congo’s natural resources) for more than a decade. Mainly because he and his disciples had nothing to fear from any world body.
From 1996, when Rwandan troops officially entered Congo’s territory to flush out Interhamwe, to 2003, when the last Rwandan soldiers were said to have left Congolese soil, Congolese and Rwandan refugees of Hutu origin were subjected to brutal armed attacks, sexual atrocities and systematic looting by Rwandan, Ugandan and Burundian troops and armed groups accused of being supported by the Rwandan or Ugandan government.
By conventional measures, wars and conflicts in the Congo are over. Militia groups have joined the national army and Congo is no longer the playground of foreign armies. But the killing rolls on – the conflicts have not yet been quelled. Fighting persists in the east, where rebels holdouts loot, rape and murder. The toll upon civilians has been appalling.
In April 2007, a pivotal study placed deaths in Congo since 1998 at 5.4 million. This horrific figure continues to rise at a rate of 45,000 deaths per month. Three years on and the consequences of disease and malnutrition have led to a total of seven million fatalities. This does not mention the millions of internally displaced refugees and thousands of women and young girls brutally gang raped.
The real number of those who have been targeted and killed, raped or have suffered serious bodily and mental harm because of the length of their nose or ethnic origin will probably never be uncovered but whether it’s 100 or 1000, justice must not be compromised in the name of political negotiation.
The Rwandan authorities are terrified. The report sounds a warning to anyone with similar merciless inclinations in Congo or elsewhere that their actions will one day be made public. The might of international justice will catch up with you.
I have no doubt that the report will have a transforming political effect in the Congo and across the region. Already Rwandan authorities are busy mounting a diplomatic offensive at the Security Council to torn down the final draft of the report – a task I suspect will be followed by successive visit of Rwandan officials to key capitals to convince the UNSC to not follow through the crimes of genocide outlined in the leaked report.
What the Obama administration should do is exert its influence to ensure that those Rwandan, Ugandan and Congolese alleged responsible for crimes of genocide in the Congo receive a one-way ticket to the Hague to face Luis Moreno-Ocampo.
And I hope I live to see the day that news reaches Congo on short-wave radio.