In 1994, more than 800,000 people, predominantly members of the ethnic Tutsi group in Rwanda, were slaughtered by the Hutu. When a Tutsi-led government seized power in Rwanda, Hutu militias fled along with Hutu civilians across the border to Congo, then known as Zaire. Rwanda invaded to pursue them, aided by a Congolese rebel force the report also implicates in the massacres.
While Rwanda and Congolese rebel forces have always claimed that they attacked Hutu militias who were sheltered among civilians, the United Nations report documents deliberate reprisal attacks on civilians.
The report says that the apparently systematic nature of the massacres “suggests that the numerous deaths cannot be attributed to the hazards of war or seen as equating to collateral damage.” It continues, “The majority of the victims were children, women, elderly people and the sick, who were often undernourished and posed no threat to the attacking forces.”
Here's the original story where it first leaked at in Le Monde for those amongst us who speak French. From the UK Guardian:
Among the accusations is that Rwandan forces and local allies rounded up hundreds of men, women and children at a time and butchered them with hoes and axes. On other occasions Hutu refugees were bayoneted, burned alive or killed with hammer blows in large numbers.
It is the first time the UN has published such forthright allegations against Rwanda, a close ally of Britain and the US.
Read the whole thing here.
For anyone who's been paying any attention to African issues, this should come as no surprise. What's more interesting to me, however, is the timing. I, and probably many others, were surprised to see the attention Rwanda was getting over the elections. Among many international reports (Kigali Wire has an especially useful round-up of the election period and analysis here) the U.S. issued a statement of "concern" and there was this intelligent editorial from The Economist on Kagame's oppressive tactics during the recent elections. And now this.
I'm just struck by the timing of it all. What has changed in Rwanda's dealings with the outside world? Kagame has played ball with Congolese refugees, keeping them in camps with, according to the U.S. Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of State Reuben Brigety, relatively good conditions. Rwanda has continued trading with the U.S. Net Exports between the U.S. and Rwanda has been positive in U.S.'s favor and growing between 2006 and 2009 (I didn't consider 2010 because I'm not sure when the fiscal year ends), and I have seen nothing to suggest reluctance to trade with Europe either. With the new regional protocol, Rwanda is set to be a huge influence and key to bringing in foreign investment to East Africa.
In addition, one must question the political wisdom of the UN even putting these thoughts to paper. Is it wise for the UN to come out with a report this explosive against a country that is necessary for peacekeeping purposes in East and Central Africa? Rwanda could pull out of peacekeeping operations, stop helping with the refugee situation, put other East African countries in tight spot as well seeing as it's apparently one of the best places to do business in Africa. Then what? This forces the hands of the U.S. and EU to make them speak even more strongly against Kagame than they probably ever planned to, and have them acknowledge Kagame's larger crimes in the Congo. From the UN's point of view, I just don't see how this can have any upside in the long run.
Politics aside, it's imperative to add that the contents of this report do not come across as a big surprise to everybody who sees it. People in the know have written articles and blogpost upon blogpost on Uganda and Rwanda in the DRC and shouting all this out from the rooftops. The cynic in me cannot but ask: Why is this all coming out in the open now? Are we now dispensing with myths on all international organizations' best friends in Africa? Does this mean the UN et al can finally be clear-eyed about the TFG in Somalia who we know also commit war crimes and use child soldiers? Can we now call out Ethiopia's Meles Zenawi for keeping political prisoners and keeping the polity of his country in a choke-hold?
It's good to see the truth of the matter in the Rwanda-DRC state of affairs finally be acknowledged by the UN in a report, but I'll be looking out for the final version (this is a draft, after all), and reactions from the U.S. and EU thereafter. Until then, I have no idea what all this means.
Update: Re-read the post and found it to be a bit rambling. Sorry about that, but a bit too lazy to go through with a (thorough) edit.