By Joseph Klein
Starting in April 1994, the horror of genocide engulfed the people of Rwanda. The United Nations had peacekeeping forces on the ground there, with a commanding officer who pleaded to New York headquarters for authority to intervene in time to stop the imminent violence before it exploded. The officer was ordered to stand down because intervening would have supposedly breached the UN peacekeeping force’s “monitoring” mandate. Thus, the UN and the international community stood by while mass slaughters of innocent Rwandans, many of them Tutsis, by extremist Hutu militiamen went on. An estimated 800,000 Rwandans were killed in 100 days.
Here is what the 1999 UN Report of the Independent Inquiry into the Actions of the United Nations concluded about this horrible tragedy:
The systematic slaughter of men, women and children which took place over the course of about 100 days between April and July of 1994 will forever be remembered as one of the most abhorrent events of the twentieth century… The international community did not prevent the genocide, nor did it stop the killing once the genocide had begun. This failure has left deep wounds within Rwandan society, and in the relationship between Rwanda and the international community, in particular the United Nations. These are wounds which need to be healed, for the sake of the people of Rwanda and for the sake of the United Nations.
Nearly twenty years after the Rwandan genocide, the United Nations has not only failed to heal the wounds, it is pouring salt into those wounds. Now it is taking sides in supporting the army of the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which is collaborating with the remnants of the Rwandan Hutu genocidal militia, known as genocidaires, who escaped from Rwanda into the neighboring Congo after some semblance of order was restored.
The United Nations presently has a large peacekeeping force of approximately 17,000 troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), which is being buttressed even further by a contingent recently authorized by the Security Council known as the Intervention Brigade. MONUSCO is supposed to help support the Congolese national army (FARDC) prevent armed rebel groups from committing acts of violence against civilians and destabilizing the country. The Intervention Brigade of approximately 3000 men is being added to provide the UN peacekeeping force with more offensive capabilities, including drones to be used for surveillance purposes, and a mandate to disarm rebel groups in the eastern portion of the country.
The main rebel group that MONUSCO is helping the Congolese army defeat is known as M23. They are a group of soldiers who broke away from the Congolese army and are made up primarily of Tutsis. The Congolese government has accused Rwanda of backing the M23 rebels, a charge which Rwanda has denied but which has been repeated by UN officials without any concrete evidence to support it.
M23 has committed human rights violations against civilians. But so has the Congolese army. Indeed, army units committed mass rapes and have displayed bodies of dead M23 militia men in violation of the Geneva Conventions and the UN’s own human rights due diligence policies, with little consequence to date.
M23 occupied the city of Goma for ten days last November before at least temporarily withdrawing. While remaining a threat to the internal stability of the Democratic Republic of Congo, however, M23 poses no material threat to any neighboring countries. Yet MONUSCO, working closely with the Congolese army especially in the vicinity of the city of Goma where M23 has shown strength, is treating M23 as enemy #1.
At the same time, the Congolese army has close ties with another rebel group opposed by M23. This rebel group is known as the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR) and just happens to consist of the Rwandan genocidaires mentioned above.
A January 2012 report by the UN Secretary General on MONUSCO said: “The majority of acts of sexual violence in eastern DRC are committed by armed groups, notably FDLR [Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda – established by perpetrators of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.]” Yet, MONUSCO shows malignant neglect towards the resurgence of these rebel forces operating inside of the DRC, which not only commits human rights atrocities at least as serious, if not more serious, than those of M23, but also wants to renew its campaign of genocide across the border in Rwanda.
M23 members are disaffected mutineers from the DRC army who are still nevertheless part of the DRC. FDLR, on the other hand, is part of the genocidal force that escaped Rwanda after perpetrating its crimes against humanity and is now seeking to re-ignite their campaign of genocide from its base inside the DRC. As Rwandan Defense Minister Gen. James Kabarebe put it: “FDLR is lost stuck in its history of genocide! What legitimacy does FDLR have staying in DRC, raping, killing, and looting for 19yrs! … . FDLR has exported genocide to DRC.”
Rwanda’s UN Ambassador H.E. Eugène-Richard Gasana described FDLR as “violent extremists who exist purely to finish the job of genocide.” The Congolese army is “working hand in hand with the FDLR, providing them with arms” and cooperating with them in battle, he told me in an exclusive interview.
The Security Council’s Congo sanctions committee of experts recently released its mid-year report in which it confirmed ties existing between the Congo’s national army (FARDC) and the FDLR rebel group. The committee cited sources in the Congolese army stating that “FARDC and FDLR regularly meet and exchange operational information” and that “FARDC soldiers supplied ammunition to the FDLR.” Presumably with such assistance, FDLR forces were able to carry out three attacks on Rwandan soil in late 2012 and mid-2013. The FDLR has also allegedly committed a genocide campaign against the Tutsi communities in DR Congo.
“It is totally unacceptable to Rwanda that the FARDC are cooperating with the FDLR in any way, shape or form,” Ambassador Gasana said. “It should be unacceptable to MONUSCO, the Security Council and the international community as well. Sadly, there is much more evidence of such cooperation than what is spelled out in the experts’ report,” he added. “The UN let Rwanda down in 1994 and now is standing by as if FDLR does not exist anymore.”
What’s more, not only the FDLR rebels but also the Congolese army itself, which MONUSCO actively supports, has launched attacks against Rwanda. The Rwandan Ministry of Defense has presented evidence that Rwanda was bombed from Congolese territory controlled by FARDC and MONUSCO on July 15, 2013, which may have occurred as a spill-over from the army’s battles with M23. MONUSCO is denying that it had any involvement in these bombings even though MONUSCO forces are co-located with the Congolese army in the outskirts of Goma where the bombs came from. The bombs landed in two villages inside Rwanda.
The Rwandan government described the bombing as “provocative and deliberate,” which it accused FARDC and MONUSCO of conducting.
Moreover, although deployed as a peacekeeper attached to the MONUSCO Intervention Brigade in the Eastern Congo, a Tanzanian soldier has reportedly been captured on the frontline while commanding a FDLR rebel unit in the attack against an M23 rebel base. Tanzania, a major contributor of troops to MONUSCO, has put public pressure on Rwanda to negotiate with the FDLR genocidaires.
In a letter to U.S. Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo in her capacity as this month’s president of the UN Security Council, Ambassador Gasana charged that MONUSCO Intervention Brigade commanders have met with FDLR rebels. “Their actions, implicating senior United Nations commanders picking sides among the very armed groups whose military activities they are meant to deter, are of serious concern,” Rwanda’s Ambassador Gasana charged in his letter.
The United Nations is in denial mode at its highest levels. “Following initial inquiries within MONUSCO, [Ban] has no reason to believe that senior commanders of the Force Intervention Brigade would meet with the FDLR to discuss matters related to their ‘tactical and strategic collaboration’,” Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in response to these allegations, according to his spokesperson Martin Nesirky.
The Secretary General has also asked for more specific evidence to support Rwanda’s allegations regarding the involvement of MONUSCO in the bombings. An on-site investigation participated in by observers from several countries is underway, with a report of its results due to be issued soon. Notably, MONUSCO is not participating in this investigation.
The Rwanda government is determined to prevent another genocide from devastating its people. The United Nations owes the Rwandan people its full measure of cooperation. Sadly, however, its peacekeeping mission in the neighboring Congo appears to be engaging in malignant neglect, if not tacit support, of elements of the Congolese army and their FDLR collaborators which threatens to re-ignite the flames of genocide.