Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The UN Report That Shook A Thousand Hills

Rwanda is riled up right now, and with good reason. Last month, Le Monde, the leading French newspaper, leaked a draft of a United Nations report that allegedly accused the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), President Kagame’s Tutsi rebel army that ended the 1994 genocide of itself committing genocide in 1996. At the time, the RPF was chasing génocidaires into the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), because they were regrouping in UNHCR camps and launching attacks from across the border. Since the UN was doing nothing to prevent this from happening, the RPF (now the Rwandan army) chased the génocidaires in the forests of the DRC.

According to the report, RPF soldiers themselves committed genocide when on these campaigns. While I have not read the report myself (it is slated to be officially released on October 1, 2010), friends who have seen the report have said that the evidence is incontrovertible: Hutu women and children were specifically targeted, and their bodies were buried in mass graves. I have not seen a precise total of the number killed (the report allegedly identifies sites with hundreds of bodies), but it certainly does not rival the 800,000 to 1 million estimated dead during the 1994 genocide. This, of course, does not make it less tragic, but I think it’s important to have a sense of the numbers, especially when some of Rwanda's critics will use the report to support their belief that there was a "double-genocide"--that is, genocide conducted on both sides.

President Kagame has called the report “ridiculous” and is furious for two reasons—that the United Nations undertook this exercise (which was to map human rights atrocities in the area from 1993 to 2003) without his knowledge, and that the report language calls Rwandan actions “genocide.” The Rwandan government has repeatedly threatened to kick the UN out of the country because they did nothing to end the genocide, they fed and gave health care to génocidaires who had fled to Congo, and they currently do little in Rwanda that the Rwandan government would miss. When I was working for UNHCR there, I was often told by fellow staff that our days were numbered, and that the Rwandan government would take over sole administration of the camps. Naturally, then, when I heard about this UN report, I immediately thought the UN would be summarily asked to leave, as the French government was in 2006.

This hasn’t happened yet, but the Rwandan government hit the UN where it hurts—it allegedly threatened to pull its 3,300 peacekeepers from the UN Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) and 300 peacekeepers from the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS). Rwanda had volunteered to send its peacekeepers to Sudan to demonstrate activism in ending genocide (and probably also to demonstrate what others should have done for their country). The United Nations has a difficult time recruiting peacekeepers, and an even more difficult time recruiting peacekeepers who are trained and qualified. The Rwandese are competent and disciplined.

It is no wonder, then, that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon himself went to Rwanda to pay a personal visit to Paul Kagame—to congratulate him on his landslide re-election, and beg him to reconsider the possibility of pulling out of Sudan. The UN also decided to postpone the release of the report, presumably to re-examine the language used, and is allowing the countries implicated in the report to make comments and statements that will be released alongside the report text.

The impact of this report cannot be overstated. The entire narrative of Rwanda over the past decade and a half has been defined by its activism against genocide and the development miracle that has been made possible through the “new” Rwanda’s moral high ground and social/economic/environmental policies that donors love. In many ways, even if the term “genocide” is replaced by something slightly softer, such as “acts of genocide,” or “mass retributive killings,” or “ethnic pogrom,” the damage has already been done. No longer will donors be able to tout Rwanda without reservation as a development miracle. Now, all such statements will have to be qualified; Rwanda will no longer be the West’s golden child. It’s too early to tell whether this will have any real impact on development aid, but I suspect it will not. The international community gives money to countries with similar (or worse) human rights violations.

What could happen is a fueling of the Rwandan government’s critics (from exiled detractors to the French government). [As a side note, is it any real surprise that this story was initially made public by a French newspaper?] The Rwandan government has felt embattled since 1994, and felt that way during its days as a scorned rebel army. In a way, this latest development will contribute to their narrative of needing to be even more self-reliant and impervious to external criticism.


Blogger Maurice said...

Hey Morgan! Good to see you still blogging!

According to Reuters, the report deals with killings in the DR Congo as well as in Rwanda and talks of tens of thousands of dead. I would be inclined to agree that Rwanda's actions in the DRC during the 90s amount to crimes against humanity. One could also debate Rwanda's overall responsibility in precipitating the civil war and collapse of government which lead to as much as 4 million deaths in those years.

Whilst the ending of the the 1994 genocide in Rwanda was inevitably going to be messy and result in some unauthorised revenge killings, there is certainly a case for saying that hunting down and slaughtering tens of thousands of refugees and plunging a country into civil war is going just one step too far.

10/01/2010 9:11 AM  
Anonymous Maggie said...

Two countries full of good people, beautiful people who do their best to get through each day with a smile in their faces yet let down by their leaders and the world.

I'm always upset to hear of people losing their lives to aggression, particularly from that part of the world, places that stole my heart and have given me so many wonderful memories of really happy, precious moments.

I haven't read the report either.
If you accept the use of the word 'genocide' in relation to Rwandan forces in Congo DRC, then I have to ask why the rest of the world stood back and watched?

It beggars belief for me to grasp why we, yes we and our governments did nothing to prevent the Rwandan genocide in the first place. It then beggars even more belief to think that we still sat back as troops from a deeply wounded nation crossed the border.

To me, that is like neighbours watching the father, weapon in hand, of a murdered child crosses the street and enters the home of the alleged murderer.

Any decent human being would intervene to stop further escalation and deeper tragedy - to prevent the murder of the alleged murder, and in a sense to protect the father from his own distraught emotions. And any decent human being would seek the truth and justice for the father.

If the UN Peacekeepers and international justice systems aren't available for that, then what are they available for?

We all have a serious responsibility for what is going on.

I've no real understanding of the causes of 4 million deaths in Congo DRC. Perhaps this may be a 'complication' (not the best word, I know but can't find a suitable word) that leads me to mis-understand the situation. I'm still trying to learn and understand what has and is going on there.

What I do know, though is that Congo DRC is a continuing tragedy and we, yes all of us should hang our heads in shame.

10/01/2010 5:40 PM  
Blogger Morgan C. said...

Maurice, good to hear from you! I hadn't heard tens of thousands dead at the hands of the Rwandan Tutsi forces specifically (the report covers all atrocities by various actors)...the hundreds number was from an earlier report from BBC. Am trying to read the report, and am mulling writing a follow-up post on this.

Maggie, I absolutely agree. What's worse, any crimes that took place in 1996 occurred with a heavy UN presence on the ground, in and around the DRC camps. And the 4 million dead is, very sadly, the result of a combination of factors-- inter- and intra-ethnic violence, cross-border incursions, rebels, land, rich resources, and, of course, weak governance. Sadly, my informal conversations with MONUC (now MONUSCO) officers have revealed that even they don't really know what they're doing.

10/01/2010 6:47 PM  
Anonymous Inamahoro said...

Hi Morgan,
Many thanks for posting this.
We heard of the report in Burundi in July too... the Burundians I spoke to felt that it was a strategy to shake Kagame's power legitimacy just before the elections... apparently it didn't work!
Many Kagame's detractors are hiding in Burundi, but they are chased here, and when they are captured, they are kindly (?) reconducted on the border...
this may show how Kigali's government rules in the region, and how weak Pita and his team are in front of it.
Ijoro ryiza!

12/29/2010 10:02 PM  
Anonymous Joie said...

I have been reading your blog for over a year and have used you Kinyarwanda / English posts many times. I and my family are in the process of moving to Rwanda. My eldest son and husband are already there. Both of my fellows are having a hard time figuring some things out and I was wondering if you would be willing to chat some and allow me to ask you some questions.?? You can friend Request me on Facebook: Joie Pirkey or Restore Rwanda group

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What happened to your blog? Many of us were really addicted to it!

1/13/2011 11:18 PM  
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Morgan, I hope you get this. I love your dictionary! There is no good one out there. I have tried to find the word for "Lift up" or "raise." Please email me if you know how to find out just this phrase. Use this email:


Thank you.

8/08/2011 5:22 PM  
Blogger sal said...

Not sure if you got the first comment. I love your dictionary! There is no other as easily accessable for Kinyarwanda. I really need the translation of the phrase "lift up" or "raise" to use in a 3-D card I am making for Christmas. If you know it, Please send the answer to this email:



8/08/2011 5:25 PM  
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