U.N. chief Ban urges Rwanda to keep troops in peace forces
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday pressed Rwanda to keep its forces serving on peacekeeping missions despite its anger over a draft report accusing the African nation’s troops of atrocities and possible genocide in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The government of Rwandan President Paul Kagame has threatened to pull 3,500 troops from U.N. operations in the Darfur region of Sudan because of its outrage over the world body’s draft report, which was leaked recently to the French newspaper Le Monde.
Ban said he was disappointed over the leaking of the report, which accused Rwandan forces and rebel allies of massacring tens of thousands of civilians, mainly women, children and the elderly, in Congo (then called Zaire) in 1996 and ’97.
The report discusses 600 atrocities committed by various forces in Congo from 1993 to 2003. It accuses Rwandan forces of war crimes and calls for a judicial review to decide the genocide question.
The investigators tracked the massacres of Hutu refugees fleeing deeper and deeper into Congo in 1996 and ’97, pursued by Rwandan forces and their rebel allies.
“The systematic and widespread attacks described in this report ... reveal a number of damning elements that, if they were proven before a competent court, could be classified as crimes of genocide,” the draft says. The final report is due out Oct. 1.
The draft was leaked last month after Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo sent a letter to Ban describing the report as cynical and dangerous, and calling for it to be “dismissed.” She argued that it was absurd for the United Nations, which had turned its back on Rwanda during the 1994 genocide carried out largely by Hutus against Tutsis and moderate Hutus, to accuse the army that stopped the genocide of later committing atrocities in Congo.
The leak appears to have undermined Rwanda’s effort to suppress the report. The U.N. instead promised to publish Rwanda’s criticisms of the final document.
“This report is long overdue,” said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch. “The facts speak for themselves. These were major massacres. It goes to the very heart of the legitimacy of Kagame’s government in Rwanda.”
Bouckaert said he did not believe the final report would be watered down. “The draft report is based on factual cases of over 600 major massacres. The language in the draft report was already quite nuanced,” he said.
He called for a hybrid court in Congo involving Congolese and international judges to try any cases tied to the massacres.
The attacks by Kagame’s forces came as they pursued the perpetrators of the 1994 genocide into neighboring Zaire. The Interahamwe, a Hutu paramilitary group that carried out the genocide, used civilian refugee camps as bases for attacks into Rwanda.
The draft report details dozens of incidents in which Rwandan and allied rebels attacked camps and villages in Zaire beginning in October 1996, shooting civilians indiscriminately, burning some of them alive, forcing people to dig mass graves or dumping the bodies into latrines or rivers. The victims were mostly women, children and elderly people.
The troops frequently promised to repatriate refugees to Rwanda, only to open fire on the civilians, the report says.
In one case, soldiers promised to slaughter a cow so refugees could eat before their return to Rwanda. As the refugees gathered to register, the troops opened fire, killing 500 to 800 people. Many refugees were tortured, maimed and killed with knives. Women were raped before being killed.
Kagame, lately criticized by human rights groups for his authoritarian approach, was sworn in last week for another seven-year term as president.
The alleged Rwandan war crimes were committed 14 years ago, but Kagame’s critics say previous attempts to investigate the atrocities were prevented in part because of his close relationship with the United States and Britain.
“Rwanda’s friends have allowed the country, quite literally, to get away with murder,” wrote analyst James Traub in the journal Foreign Policy.
Atrocities in eastern Congo continue. A senior U.N. official acknowledged Tuesday that U.N. peacekeepers had failed to protect villagers when Rwandan and Congolese rebels raped hundreds of women and children and several men in July and August just 20 miles from a peacekeeping base.
Atul Khare, U.N. assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping, told the Security Council on Tuesday that more than 500 people had been raped in July, not the 242 reported earlier.
U.N. peacekeepers were warned in the days before the attacks that rebels were massing but failed to protect the population.
Khare called for the prosecution of perpetrators and for U.N. sanctions against the rebel leaders.