Saturday, August 4, 2012

Rwanda, the Group of Experts and the M23

By JASON STEARNS
Congo Siasa
 AUGUST 3, 2012



There has been a noticeable souring of rhetoric in the debate surrounding the M23, including in comments on this site. People have resorted to ad hominem attacks and worse. It may help to review some of these contentions here.

Rwanda's rebuttal to the UN Group of Experts 

Rwanda has provided an official 131-page response to the UN Group of Experts' report. It can be found here. The response is worth reading in full, and I can't cover all the points. But here are the main claims:
  • The Group did not give Rwanda a right of reply and did not talk to Rwandan officials. As the rebuttal points out, according to informal UN guidelines, the Group should provide those accused of serious wrongdoing with an opportunity to respond. It is not however, true, as this document states, that the Group did not contact the relevant government agencies in Rwanda. In fact, according to diplomats in Kigali, the Group visited the Rwandan capital for three days in April to talk to the government about the ex-CNDP mutiny and allegations of Rwandan support, but were told the government was not available. Since the publication of the report, the Group has visited Kigali and met with Rwandan officials at length. Again according to diplomats based there, the response has been predictable: They deny all the allegations (along the lines below).
  • The report relies largely on anecdotal and unreliable sources, with little material proof. While the Group did furnish some material proof (see below), it is true than the core of its report relies on eyewitness testimony. Almost all of these sources were anonymous; not surprising, given the nature of the allegations. Is it possible that (a) the experts were biased, so they could just concoct the evidence, or (b) all the sources were biased, misinformed or manipulated by Congolese security sources? The former is unlikely - the experts' conclusions are reached by consensus among all six members, and the experts themselves are named by the UN Secretary General and can be vetoed by the UN Security Council. Several of the experts were involved in the gathering of these testimonies. The latter is also unlikely - the experts interviewed eighty M23 deserters and dozens of local villagers, former Rwandan officers, and Congolese security officials. The deserters, in particular, had little reason to lie - many had defected straight to UN bases, without going through Congolese army hands (this was the case, for example, of the eleven interviewed in the DDRRR base in Goma on 23 May, 2012, and who had surrendered to the UN base in Rugari three days earlier). It is true that, when they were interrogated by a joint Rwandan-Congolese team, some of them changed their story, but some still maintained they left Rwanda with weapons and went through Rwandan army positions. In short, it would have taken a vast conspiracy to fabricate the report, involving hundreds of people from different walks of life. 
  • The material evidence provided by the Group is bogus. Some phone calls made between M23 and RDF officers, a picture of a defector in a Rwandan uniform, pictures of ammunition and weapons belonging to the M23 - all of this does not constitute incontrovertible proof, the Rwandan government says. Yes, that is true. But that does not mean it's bogus.
  • The M23 does indeed have some ammunition that is not in Congolese army stocks, which deserters say they received from the Rwandan army (which says they don't have it in their stocks, either). 
  • While Bosco's alleged house in Gisenyi is owned by someone else, according to official records, many people in Goma and Gisenyi have testified that it really belongs to Bosco.
  • According to the Rwandan government, some of the people the Group alleges crossed into Rwanda to participate in M23 mobilization meetings do not show up on immigration registers, several other participants in the meetings say they were there. 
  • Rwandan officials implicated in the report deny they were involved and have provided statements and log books to prove this - however, many of the sources interviewed by the Group state the contrary.
  • UN experts are biased, in particular Steve Hege, the current coordinator. In 2009, Hege was cited as a contact person for a discussion paper on the FDLR, which stated that the militia is better understood in relation to the massacres of Hutu in the eastern Congo by the Rwandan army and its allies in 1996-1997 than in relation to the genocide (he never denied the genocide or that FDLR officers took part in it). He was also suggested that the lack of political space in Rwanda was not conducive to FDLR return, and argued that getting rid of the FDLR would not solve all the myriad problems in the region. Supporters of the Rwandan government, including some Rwandan officials, are now suggesting that Hege is a "terrorist sympathizer" and even "pro-genocide" on Twitter (just look for #Hege). An article in government-run The New Times suggests that Hege could be guilty of genocide denial and revisionism, crimes which carry heavy jail sentences in Rwanda. I see absolutely no evidence of these allegations in his FDLR piece, and no reason for this kind of tasteless denigration. In fact, Hege has been on the UN panel for three years now as the armed group expert, and has contributed to deeply critical reports of the FDLR and their criminal activities in the eastern Congo (see last year's report here, for example), as well as collaborating with German investigators in prosecution of FDLR leaders. I should mention that similar accusations, albeit not by the government, have been leveled against myself (the coordinator of the Group in 2008), as well as Dinesh Mahtani (the coordinator in 2009), after the latter wrote an article critical of Kigali in The Guardian.
So where does this leave us? Not all of the evidence in the UN report is incontrovertible proof, but taken together - and along with reports from  other organizations - they form an extremely compelling case for Rwandan support to M23. From my recent conversations in Kigali, New York, Kinshasa and Goma, very few non-Rwandan diplomats and civil society activists (Tony Blair is an exception) have any doubts about whether there is Rwandan support to M23, although there is disagreement about how much and why.

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