A United Nations Group of Experts report has documented the Rwandan government’s support for rebel groups inside the Congo. Various media have reported that the United States Mission to the United Nations, headed by Ambassador Susan Rice had first attempted to block the report and after pressure has subsequently agreed to allow the publishing of the Group of Experts report. Reuters states that “the (UN) experts have implicated several high-ranking Rwandan officials who are directly involved.” The U.N. material has been “verified by five separate sources,” identifying Rwandan “officials supporting M23 as Defense Minister James Kaberebe; chief of defense staff Charles Kayonga; and General Jacques Nziza, a military adviser to Kagame.” Kaberebe, according to this source, was “in constant contact with M23.” In spite of the abundance of evidence demonstrating Rwanda’s support of war criminals in the Congo, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the U.S. State Department refuses to hold Rwanda to account in spite of a U.S. Law that calls for withholding of aid to countries that destabilize the Congo. (To respectively download the UN interim report and the addendum to the interim report of the UN Group of Experts concerning violations of the arms embargo and sanctions regime by the Government of Rwanda click here and here)
Atrocities continue to mount in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where over 200,000 people have been displaced from their homes in the last three months as a result of attacks by rebel groups M23 and the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP). Support of the M23 militia is only the most recent example of Rwanda underwriting rebellions that continue to devastate Congolese communities; this is the latest of many documented instances of such support. Worth noting are previous rebellions of the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (AFDL) in 1996, the Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD) in 1998 and the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) in 2006. It is telling that former members of the RCD like renegade general Laurent Nkunda formed the CNDP and that, today, former members of the CNDP and RCD, including indicted war criminal Bosco Ntaganda, are members of the M23 rebellion. These rebellions are not separate, internal rebellions as they are often reported, but are all related recurrences of foreign intervention by the Rwandan government.
According the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navy Pillay, “The leaders of the M23 figure among the worst perpetrators of human rights violations in the DRC, or in the world for that matter, and many of them have appalling track records including allegations of involvement in mass rape, and of responsibility for massacres and for the recruitment and use of children.”
While President Obama has long recognized that the DRC has been destabilized by neighboring countries, his administration has yet to get tough on those fueling the cycles of violence. The need to hold the DRC’s neighbors accountable was part of the only law he sponsored as a senator in 2006: PL109-456. Section 105 of that law gives power to the US Secretary of State to withhold aid from neighboring countries deemed to destabilize the Congo. US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton co-sponsored this law.
This legislation has been on the books for 6 years, but has yet to be fully implemented. The recent flood of evidence pointing to Rwanda’s military aggression in the Congo calls for an enforcement of this law. In the United Kingdom, more than 20 members of parliament have joined the call to suspend financial support to Rwanda in light of the content in the UN report implicating Rwanda in supporting rebels in the Congo. In accordance with its statutes, the US government should withhold any military, bilateral and multilateral budgetary aid until Rwanda permanently ceases its support of rebels in the DRC.
Given the Obama administration’s mass atrocities prevention directive, current violence in the Kivu provinces of the DRC tests the US government’s political will to fulfill its promises and enforce its laws. Will the administration recognize the atrocities in eastern DRC and use the law Obama wrote to hold destabilizing parties responsible? Historically, economic sanctions have proven effective in curtailing Rwandan aggressions across the border. In late 2008, Sweden and the Netherlands suspended aid to Rwanda after evidence surfaced showing Rwanda’s support of the CNDP rebel group.
The CNDP rebellion, parent to the M23 rebellion currently led by the International Criminal Court (ICC) indicted war criminal Bosco “The Terminator” Ntaganda, had been devastating eastern Congo, causing thousands of deaths and displacing over three hundred thousand people from their homes. As soon as aid was withdrawn, Rwanda arrested General Laurent Nkunda. With a law on the books requiring that the United States respond as Sweden and the Netherlands did, and as the second biggest donor to Rwanda providing nearly $200 million in aid annually, the US has the power to help stabilize the region or continue to underwrite those who are destabilizing it. In its position, the US has both tremendous leverage and responsibility to take action.
The international community failed Rwanda in 1994 when it did little to respond and help prevent genocide, and nearly a million Rwandans were slaughtered within three months. Aftershocks from that tragedy have been reverberating through the region ever since. Though Rwanda has stabilized significantly, it is still a time to respond to mass atrocity in the region, as more than six million civilians have perished in Congo since 1996, Rwanda’s first documented invasion. The United States government must do its best to foster peace and reconciliation in the whole region, not just in Rwanda. This means not merely giving aid but doing due diligence; the best hope for a speedy end to the atrocities is for donor nations to begin withholding aid from governments who perpetrate instability in the region.
Please join the Great Lakes of Africa Coalition in urging the US government to take swift and decisive action in Congo. Call on Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, to help end the impunity in the Congo by enforcing Section 105 of Public Law 109-456. Please, take action Now
Institute for Policy Studies/ Foreign Policy in Focus
Africa Faith and Justice Network
African Great Lakes Action Network
Mobilization For Justice and Peace
Friends of the Congo