Une voiture des Nations unies à Kigali au Rwanda

UN accuses, and congratulates, Rwanda…

Jean-Hervé Bradol

Medical doctor, specialized in tropical medicine, emergency medicine and epidemiology. In 1989 he went on mission with Médecins sans Frontières for the first time, and undertook long-term missions in Uganda, Somalia and Thailand. He returned to the Paris headquarters in 1994 as a programs director. Between 1996 and 1998, he served as the director of communications, and later as director of operations until May 2000 when he was elected president of the French section of Médecins sans Frontières. He was re-elected in May 2003 and in May 2006. From 2000 to 2008, he was a member of the International Council of MSF and a member of the Board of MSF USA. He is the co-editor of "Medical innovations in humanitarian situations" (MSF, 2009) and Humanitarian Aid, Genocide and Mass Killings: Médecins Sans Frontiéres, The Rwandan Experience, 1982–97 (Manchester University Press, 2017).

The United Nations has again raised the question of the implication of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) - in power in Rwanda since July 1994 - in crimes committed between 1993 and 2003 in the Democratic Republic of Congo. A draft of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (HCHR) report circulating on the Internet is drawing reactions in the press. The report details the events, the scale of the killings, the various perpetrators, and the applicable legal classifications - war crimes, crimes against humanity, and even genocide. Among the accused is the current regime in Kigali, which has responded sharply by threatening to withdraw its troops from the UN peacekeeping force in Darfur. Several aspects of this story merit discussion; we'll focus on two of them.

To start with, lumping the current Rwandan regime's violence and that of its predecessor, the April 1994 interim government, into the same category - that is, genocide - defies all common sense. Clearly there's a difference between an order to "kill them all" and an order to "kill some of them." The perpetrators of the Tutsi genocide were loud and clear about their intention to "kill them all," and in large part achieved their goal, killing at least half of Rwanda's Tutsis. By comparison, the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) death squads sent to the Congo (then Zaire) in 1996-1997 were not meant to exterminate all of Rwanda's Hutus, but rather to kill those who had fled as soon as circumstances made that possible; the entire refugee population was labeled, en bloc, perpetrators of genocide. The legal approach, however, which is based on the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, does allow both cases to be characterized as genocide, and this has certain consequences. One effect of making charges perceived as excessive is that they allow criminals to pose as victims of injustice, thus absolving themselves of their crimes. In 2008, for example, the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor's genocide charge against Omar al-Bashir helped create an international movement - spearheaded by the African Union - whose goal was to keep the Sudanese president out of the ICC's hands.

And there's another question that comes immediately to mind. Along which political continuum does the HCHR report lie? The UN has raised this issue on several occasions, and the facts have long been recognized, thanks to the work of Congolese organizations like the Equipe d'Urgence de la Biodiversité (EUB), which reported the collecting of victim's bodies in 1996 in Goma, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and many other investigators. Internal Médecins Sans Frontières documents testify to the intensity of public debate when information about massacres by Paul Kagame's troops was published. Looking at these documents, there is one thing that really stands out: many witnesses still have a lot of trouble assuming their role without being witnesses for the prosecution and advocates for Kigali at the same time. And indeed, several types of pressure have been used to turn humanitarian workers into unwitting accomplices of RPF executioners, the first being the continuing ideological infatuation with the new Rwandan government - the supposed embodiment of genocide resistance, national reconciliation, and a new culture of government in Africa (the "new generation of African leadership" so dear to Bill Clinton). The silence of aid organizations working near where the crimes were committed has been used to argue that such crimes never happened. That large-scale killings could occur without nearby aid organization employees noticing was unthinkable.

On 27 April 1995, in the aftermath of the massacre of several thousand IDPs by his men at Kibeho (in Rwanda's Gikongoro prefecture), Kagame demanded before a panel of diplomats and journalists that the MSF representative publicly deny news reports of thousands of deaths. That day, MSF refused to comply. RPF assassins also used aid organization facilities for massacre logistics. An MSF leader met with the representatives of UN Security Council member states from 16 to 18 April 1997 to report that troops serving Laurent Désiré Kabila (head of the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire) and Paul Kagame were using aid organizations - MSF among them - as bait to lure groups of Rwandan refugees fleeing in the forests of Zaire and massacre them. In addition, liaison officers accompanying humanitarian organizations were using the latter's radio communications equipment to report refugee positions to teams of killers. The MSF representative stressed one thing: the Association did not want to be cited as the source of this information. Looking at the past two decades of criminal policies in the Great Lakes region, the RPF stands out for its amazing skill in obtaining witnesses' silence - or even their active support. Its combination of genocide-fighting and national reconciliation rhetoric, administrative reprisals, and violence have succeeded in bringing any holdouts to heel. But aid organizations are not the only ones who have yielded, under pressure, to become the executioner's helper. Diplomats, entrepreneurs, journalists and investigators have on numerous occasions been given a choice between stopping their activities and covering up criminal policies through their silence - or even collaborating with them, symbolically or materially.

Ban Ki Moon's urgent visit to ask Paul Kagame not to withdraw his troops from the ongoing international military operation in Darfur illustrates the contradictory relationship many institutions maintain with the regime in Kigali. Speaking to the press about the Rwandan army's presence in Darfur , the Secretary General declared, "Rwandan forces are well trained, they are highly disciplined and they are widely respected for their great contribution for peace and security in the region. I strongly urged President Kagame to continue such noble contribution around the world...," no doubt forgetting that it was a draft UN report detailing that army's murder of some 200,000 people in the Congo that necessitated his visit to Kigali in the first place.

To cite this content :
Jean-Hervé Bradol, “UN accuses, and congratulates, Rwanda…”, 28 septembre 2010, URL : https://msf-crash.org/en/blog/war-and-humanitarianism/un-accuses-and-congratulates-rwanda

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