By Sonia Uwimana on July 23, 2013
RwandaResponds is the official government website that combats misinformation about Rwanda. This morning they have addressed the humiliating error contained in the latest Human Rights Watch report on the eastern DRC. As stuff ups go, this one is quite mind-blowing in its magnitude. I was going to offer excerpts from the post but the whole thing is essential reading so I republish it here in full. Read it for yourself, but if I were Ken Roth I would be looking for someone to fire, pronto. Read From RwandaResponds, July 23, 2013
In its latest report on the Eastern DRC, Human Rights Watch builds a case against Rwanda based mainly on the testimony of an unspecified number of unnamed “former M23 fighters” who they claim to have interviewed. They are the star witnesses in this latest attempt by HRW to prosecute the government of Rwanda through the media.
Among the claims comes this.
“M23 fighters admitted freely that they were Rwandan. Some said they had served in the Rwandan army’s peacekeeping contingent in Somalia or Darfur”.
This sentence contains a glaring error: Rwanda did not participate in the peacekeeping mission in Somalia.
This is profoundly revealing in several ways.
If a witness told a HRW researcher that he had been a peacekeeper within an RDF contingent in Somalia, he was demonstrably lying. More importantly, it is equally clear that the witness telling the lie cannot have any association with the Rwandan Army sincethere is not a single Rwandan citizen, let alone soldier, who mistakenly believes that Rwanda contributed to a peacekeeping mission in Somalia.
Applying the same logic, if a witness were to make up a story about taking part in a peacekeeping mission (and we cannot exclude the possibility that the testimony is entirely fabricated), then it is a matter of near certainty that he must be Congolese. As indicated above, any Rwandan (again, let alone a soldier) who wanted to lie about peacekeeping would name a country where Rwanda was actually involved.(There are many to choose from: apart from Darfur, the RDF and Rwandan police have been in Liberia, Guinea-Bassau, Cote d’Ivoire, Haiti and South Sudan. A Rwandan, Major-General Jean-Bosco Kazura, has recently been named the commander of the new UN peacekeeping mission in Mali where Rwandan police officers will also play a role).
By citing the testimony of witnesses ignorant enough to name Somalia as a country where Rwanda sent peacekeepers, Human Rights Watch has unintentionally proved something vastly at odds with their stated conclusions: that these witnesses are not Rwandan, and therefore their involvement or otherwise in the M23 rebellion has nothing at all to do with Rwanda.
Why would Human Rights Watch publish such a glaring falsehood?
Firstly, it is plain that HRW is in a desperate scramble to find as much testimony that implicates Rwanda in the Eastern DRC as possible. As a result, their researchers will suspend normal levels of skepticism whenever they hear testimony that suits this agenda. The fact that the researchers themselves made no effort to verify whether or not Rwanda was even involved in Somalia reflects an over-eagerness on their part to embrace any allegation, no matter how spurious, as long as it looks bad for Kigali.
The second issue relates to the level of expertise among the HRW employees responsible for the report. If a researcher was sufficiently informed to know that the RDF had not deployed in Somalia, surely this would trigger severe doubts about the reliability of any witness who claims to have served in such a non-existent mission. (It is important to remember that the report says “some” M23 fighters, suggesting more than one witness claimed to have served in Somalia). The researchers and writers of the report clearly did not possess this knowledge — and this alone should be of concern given HRW’s claim of expertise in the region — but, worse, made no attempt to verify these claims, even though less than two minutes’ research would have established that the testimony was false.
Why would a witness fabricate such a story?
It is, of course, not mere coincidence that this false testimony happens to support Human Rights Watch’s long-held position that Rwanda is backing the M23 rebellion. Any person offering themselves as a witness would know full well what the HRW researchers want to hear, namely anything that could implicate Kigali. Since it is well established that HRW pays witnesses for testimony, the incentive to fabricate testimony that aligns with HRW’s agenda is patently obvious. This evidence is bought and paid for — and made to order.
What are the implications of this error?
Human Rights Watch will inevitably remove the reference to Somalia to avoid further embarrassment. This is by no means enough.
The testimony of any witness who claims to have served in Somalia must be stricken from the record in its entirety — and any element of the report that was informed by this testimony must be amended or deleted accordingly. This is especially important because the testimony of the M23 fighters is the beating heart of HRW’s broader case against Rwanda. It is a house of cards, and, once you extract this testimony, it comes tumbling down. Without the evidence offered by the M23 fighters, in other words, the report’s assertions and conclusions concerning Rwanda are rendered worthless. The scale and egregiousness of this error calls the remainder of the report into serious question as well. More broadly, it should lead to questions of HRW’s methodology and practices — a subject its donors may be interested to raise with the organization’s longtime executive director, Kenneth Roth.
Why this matters.
Rwanda has long claimed that Human Rights Watch is engaged in fierce ideological combat against its government and that this leads to shoddy research practices, flawed methodology, fabricated, inflated and paid-for testimony that, in turn, lead to sensationalist and false accusations. HRW has maintained that they are an “honest broker”, only interested in assessing the facts on the ground and informing the world about the state of human rights in various trouble spots, including the Eastern DRC and Rwanda. They insist that when accusing the governments of Rwanda or Israel or any other country of any number of horrendous crimes, they do so not out of partisan ideology but from a dispassionate assessment of the facts.
The Somalia misstep is profoundly damaging to Human Rights Watch’s reputation because it lifts the curtain on its practices — and reveals that they are just as shoddy, dishonest and partisan as Rwanda and other critics have claimed.