In recent weeks, Rwanda has suffered the brunt of what can only be called a media feeding frenzy as international news media threw a series of "leaks," allegations, speculation, and rumor into the press pool. In what may be the most egregious violation of ethics, the United Nations leaked 47 pages of an addendum to the interim Group of Experts (GoE) report on the Democratic republic of Congo. A blog associated with the Washington Post published 900 words of the leak, but not the entire document. If true, the unproven allegations are damaging to Rwanda. Rwanda responded through its foreign minister, Louise Mushikiwabo.
This is a one-sided preliminary document based on partial findings and is still subject to verification. The UN Group of Experts has accepted our invitation to Kigali to do what should have been done before; carry out relevant consultations and obtain the facts. We intend to provide factual evidence that the charges against Rwanda are false. These, as well as Rwanda's own allegations, will hopefully be reflected in the final UN report due in November.
We contacted the Security Council office by phone today and suggested that all ethical considerations require that the United Nations release the 47 pages to us so that the entire report is available and not just what Reuters, the BBC and the Washington Post want readers to see. The staffer said she "would try." So far there has been no response.
The Rwandan government has not been given the opportunity to see the leak or respond in a timely fashion. As a result, biased media reports are shaping a deadly narrative along the Congo/ Rwanda border and cries of "kill the Tutsis" are spreading through social media and on YouTube.
What follows is a reconstruction of press reports and events leading up to GoE leaked addendum.
It was a relief to hear Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo at the United Nations as she rebutted claims by the Congolese government, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and western press interests that Rwanda is providing covert aid to the new rebel movement M23 in eastern Congo. I write "relief" with intention, because up until this recent story, verbatim talking points from HRW and Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende have dominated coverage with Rwanda's point of view conspicuously absent from reportage. As a result, those interested in learning more about the complicated layers of history and geopolitics in Central Africa have been forced to read a one-sided narrative.
Mushikiwabo wrote an op-ed in which she challenged a "predictable barrage of innuendo, fabricated leaks, and outright lies regarding Rwanda's role." Her op-ed was ignored by the mainstream international press, but the UN correspondent for Reuters finally offered the Rwandan rebuttal after Mushikiwabo's UN briefing was broadcast on UN Web TV. Why Reuters did not actively seek out the Rwandan perspective earlier this month is a question that needs to be asked. Mushikiwabo was in Kinshasa at the same time that Reuters' stringers in DRC were offering "news" of the anti-Rwanda leaks.
The tsunami of misinformation and partial information about Rwanda's role in the Great Lakes region of Africa began in early June after the BBC published a widely-quoted story that there was a "leaked" UN report which suggested Rwanda was involved in covertly arming the M23 rebel group. M23 was formed in May after a group of former National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) rebel soldiers broke with the Congolese army (FARDC) and their former commander, wanted war criminal Bosco Ntaganda, while demanding implementation of the 2009 Goma Peace Accord. The United Nations issued a strong denial that there was any such report implicating Rwanda in a plot to arm M23, but the damage was done. Predictably, the news of a "leaked report" spread through the blogosphere, social, mainstream, western and international media, including the New York Times.
The United States was drawn into the fray after the Congolese government and Human Rights Watch charged that the Department of State was blocking an annex to a separate yearly report of a group of experts (GoE ) on Congo. Again, the press reported verbal testimony that someone had seen the annex and that it implicated Rwanda. A spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations, Payton Knopf, deniedthat the United States was trying to quash the report or shield Rwanda from scrutiny.
Despite the US denial, heated rhetoric burned up the Internet for days charging that the GoE report was being blocked, until the yearly interim report appeared more or less on time as it does every May/June. You can read the interim report here, and are urged to do so. It is long, but significantly reduced this year by mandate from the normal 400 plus pages to 137 pages.
Media responded with a shrug since there were no charges of Rwandan collusion with rebel forces in the interim report and did not delve into the critically important minutiae. Rwanda comes off well in many cases, including repatriation of smuggled minerals and other confiscated stolen resources (sections 147-150), but this did not fit the conventional wisdom of Rwanda as the "bad guy," and so was not reported.
The GoE report also cites atrocities committed by dozens of militias operating with impunity in eastern Congo. Yet the emphasis for the last month in the press has been on the new M23 rebels. Read the report and find 47 sections dealing with rape, murder, mutilations, massacres, pillaging, burning, stealing and smuggling by other militia groups. Common sense and critical thinking suggests Rwanda cannot possibly be held responsible for these internal problems in DRC.
Yet, only the redacted addendum on Rwanda dominated the news cycle.
Recognizing the controversy over the lack of inclusion of the complete addendum, the chair of the Group of Experts, Agshin Mehdiyev, said, "The Group of Experts intends to transmit to the Security Council, through the Committee, an addendum to the interim report in due course." In this case, "due course" means that the Security Council is reviewing the addendum and will release it in the next few days. This addendum has been leaked to some media, but only 900 words of 47 pages has been reported.
Today, no one is reporting the reasons M23 gives for its mutiny as outlined in the GoE report and M23 press releases (included in the annex). Perhaps this is because the reasons do not fit what media, HRW and the Congo government have been suggesting in their biased and fabricated narrative. What follows is from the GoE.
Col. Makenga (M23) loyalists presented the mutiny as a "tactical withdrawal", aimed at forcing the (Congo) Government to address their demands. In an unsigned memorandum, ex-CNDP officers demanded implementation by the Government of the 2009 Peace Agreement, in particular the return of the refugees, political integration of CNDP and better treatment in the army (see annex 25). According to the same sources, the mutiny was a larger revolutionary movement which included all ex-CNDP, but also ex-PARECO officers, and other former armed groups that felt they had been neglected by the central Government. Meanwhile, at the outset of the mutiny, ex-CNDP officers told the Group that their objective was to take the towns and drive Government forces into the hills.
For all of the griping and angst over the release of the fully available GoE interim report, the mainstream press is ignoring key findings and instead, combing the pages for any reference to Rwanda that supports rumor and innuendo.
Adding to the media feeding frenzy, Human Rights Watch issued a hastily assembled report that relied upon heresay, unproven sightings of the warlord Bosco Ntaganda at a bar in Rwanda and other anonymous witness testimony. These serious accusations were hastily compiled within weeks of the formation of M23 in May. Despite denials by M23 and Rwanda that M23 was not under the command of Bosco Ntaganda, and that M23 was not receiving aid from Rwanda, the story spread like wildfire. At the same time, the Congolese government promoted the claims against Rwanda, but offered no proof.
The President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, gave a press conference in Uragwiro Village days before his Foreign Minister appeared at the UN. Again, this important rebuttal was largely ignored by the international community, with the singular exception of a Ugandan tabloid.
Kagame's frustration was evident. He suggested that Rwanda had become a scapegoat for all that ails Congo.
Ultimately we will be forced into a situation where we will draw a line," he said without elaborating and added: "We don't respond to blackmail. Forget about Ntaganda or Nkunda (former leader of the CNDP who is now under house arrest in Rwanda). We are coming to a point where we will offload this burden and throw it back at them in order to buy our peace. Congo's problems should stop being our problems. What's going on in DRC shouldn't be construed as a problem between DRC and Rwanda but a problem within Congo itself.
Two questions emerged from this diplomatic and journalistic mess. What are the possible motivations for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Congo (MONUSCO) to participate in an orchestrated pattern of leaking material detrimental to Rwanda to the international press, and what axe does HRW, if any, have to grind?
Every year at the end of June, the MONUSCO mandate is up for renewal in the Security Council. The mandate renewal comes in the midst of the M23 rebellion and against the background of serious irregularities in the DRC presidential and legislative elections of 2011. MONUSCO in DRC, likeMINUSTAH in Haiti, is viewed as a failed mandate, costing $1.2 billion on Congo operations, per year. 20,000 blue helmets are on duty there.
Although civilian protection is stated to be the highest priority of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, MONUSCO, the mission continually struggles to fulfill this mandate. Overall, the failure of the U.N. to deal with the FDLR, as a major factor in regional instability, allows for the eastern Congo crisis to fester.
Although the final conclusion by the Enough Project suggests that the mandate should be renewed, it illustrates MONUSCO's failure over thirteen years to help the Congolese army eradicate the FDLR genocidaires who prey upon Rwandans in this porous border region. The Congolese army (FARDC) is throwing everything it has against the M23, but has failed miserably to stop the FDLR and dozens of other renegade militias.
Blaming Rwanda takes the onus off MONUSCO and the Congolese army. In fact, last year's report of the GoE (363 pages) demonstrates out and out collusion between corrupt MONUSCO and FARDC elements. "(The) Group looked into a number of human rights violations perpetrated by members of armed groups or FARDC," and "FDLR has been subject to little military pressure from FARDC," GoE writes.
IRIN, the global analysis arm of the UN High Commission on Refugees, cites a 2011 report by the Group for Research and Information on Peace and Security (GRIP) entitled "Small Arms in Eastern Congo, A Survey on the Perception of Insecurity" and found FARDC was the second greatest threat to insecurity, after armed groups.
Many observers concur that MONUSCO has failed in its mandate and perhaps the orchestrated leaks worked, because by a unanimous vote, the MONUSCO mandate has been renewed until June 2013. Blaming Rwanda was a good political strategy.
Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo suggests another, parallel reason. "In its eagerness to deliver high-profile scalps to The Hague, the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) has lost sight of its original purpose, which is to quell the FDLR threat."
If you don't feel inclined to believe the Rwandan foreign minister, please read the accounts in IRIN andRadio Okapi which detail the massacre by the Mai-Mai rebel group of 120 people, women and children, who were unlucky enough to speak Kinyarwanda.
Or consider the fact that the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) killed twenty people and injured several others Thursday and Friday, June 21-22, in the villages of Erobe and Misau in Ihana group, about 80 km from the capital of Walikale (North Kivu).
In a troubling scenario, HRW has crossed the line from a human rights investigation charity to political kingmaker and has received a free pass from the press in the process.
This is not the first time this has happened. The Israeli "NGO Monitor" raises a legitimate question.
Since its founding as Helsinki Watch in 1978, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has greatly expanded its scope. While continuing its core mission in promoting human rights in closed regimes such as China, HRW devotes a large portion of its resources to issues related to international law in armed conflicts, asymmetric warfare, and responses to terrorism. In this process, HRW relies on its "halo effect" and the perception of expertise, morality, and objectivity as a non-governmental organization (NGO) to become an influential political and ideological actor.
Its impact is particularly pronounced in the Arab-Israeli conflict: HRW exerts major influence on the UN and on the policies of governments through condemnations of Israel for alleged violations and demands for "independent investigations." These allegations then become amplified through the media.
Certainly, in this instance, HRW's unproven accusations against Rwanda have been amplified through the media.
HRW seems strident and determined to deny Rwanda the rotating African seat on the Security Council that is up for a vote this week. In February, the African Union selected Rwanda to replace South Africa on the Security Council for a two-year term starting Jan. 1. Since Rwanda is the only candidate for the seat, its election by the U.N. General Assembly in September is guaranteed, but HRW has inserted itself into the process.
Human Rights Watch criticized Rwanda's virtual guarantee of a seat on the U.N. Security Council next year, saying Monday it shouldn't be on the U.N.'s most powerful body when it is protecting a Congolese ex-warlord (Bosco Ntaganda) indicted by the International Criminal Court.
HRW is continually beating the tedious drum of the whereabouts of Bosco Ntaganda. Why they are holding Rwanda accountable for his arrest when he is an officer in the Congolese army is a question that points to bias on the part of HRW. The GoE interim report suggests that Ntaganda is under the watchful eye of the Congolese army.
Kagame lost his patience completely with HRW in his press conference last week.
"You are holding (Ntaganda) accountable and turning the whole of the eastern Congo population upside down and messing it up and opening up the old wounds."
He referred to Human Rights Watch as "rubbish" for having released the report accusing Rwanda of involvement supporting Ntaganda's rebellion in DRC.
In her press conference at the UN on Monday, Mushikiwabo had a chilling warning about the consequences of false accusations and subsequent demonizations of minorities, in this case Rwandan-speaking residents of DRC, Uganda, and Tanzania. Check the 40:56 mark in her comments. The Foreign Minister recounts the horrific days of the 1994 genocide, when the Tutsi minority was targeted in hate speech as "cockroaches." (my term) Today, she says there are calls on web sites to once again begin elimination of Tutsis.
En attendant, la RDC doit éduquer son peuple dans le sens de développer la haine collective contre les Tutsi et d´opter pour la théorie du Parabellum. Celle-ci implique que la RDC doit, non seulement préparer ses hommes d´Armée à une guerre contre le Rwanda, mais surtout, à doter le peuple congolais d´un arsenal nucléaire, dissuasion et persuasion obligent.
Translation: Mutiny in the Kivus: the Foreign Minister of the DRC on a visit to Luanda (Congo Tribune / Magloire Muleka) June 17, 2012 Meanwhile, the DRC must educate its people in the direction of developing the collective hatred against Tutsis and opt for the theory of Parabellum. This implies that the DRC must not only prepare his men for an army to war against Rwanda, but above all, to give the Congolese people with nuclear weapons, deterrence and persuasion force.
Mushikiwabo tells the story of a group of Rwandan farmers who were arrested and brutalized by individuals in DRC last week because they spoke Kinyarwanda. They were dumped at the border and hospitalized in the Rwandan border town of Gisenyi.
Janine Jackson of media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting discusses how US media cover Africa and black people in general. This excerpt is taken from Harambetv.com. She asks an important question. Whom do we want to write the narrative of DRC? Where are the African reporters and why doesn't the international press employ them?
There are millions upon millions in the Great Lakes region of central Africa who have suffered beyond any ability of poets, writers, journalists or saints to explain the complicated layers of this narrative.
Truth will reveal herself if we are open to hearing what she has to say. A narrative seen through biased western white eyes, and leaks from a United Nations staffer that are inciting hate speech and talk of genocide will not suffice.
Posted: Thursday, 28 June 2012