It has long been convenient for Rwanda’s champions in the west to edit out uglier chapters in the country’s evolution since the 1994 genocide. One motive is guilt – for serial mishandling of events in the region starting from then. Another is progress made by Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s president, in establishing stability and development, and fear that attention to darker sides of his rule might jeopardise both.
Thus it is only now that a thorough account has emerged from the United Nations of massacres allegedly carried out by the Rwandan army in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1996 and 1997. In a hotly contested new report, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights suggests that the same Rwandan forces that put a stop to the 1994 genocide may have committed their own “crimes of genocide” two years later when they invaded Congo to neutralise militias camped on the border. Tens of thousands of Hutu refugees were allegedly killed.
The report details atrocities committed by a range of state and non-state actors in Congo in the decade to 2003. But allegations concerning the Rwandan army are the most explosive, striking as they do at the legitimacy of Mr Kagame’s government and potentially playing into the hands of extremists who see moral equivalence in the genocide of 1994 and later crimes.
Unsurprisingly, Rwanda has reacted furiously, at one point threatening to withdraw peacekeepers from Sudan if the UN went ahead with publication. Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary-general, wisely resisted this blackmail. Caving in would have encouraged other nations involved in peacekeeping to use similar tactics when at odds with the world body.
It is not enough to have published the report, however. If women are still raped and civilians killed in Congo, it is partly because the authors of past war crimes have got off scot-free.
Having used the most severe of language to describe these crimes, there is now an onus on the UN to pursue justice for the victims, ensuring that, through legal process, what happened and why is established more precisely. If, as Rwanda and others fingered in the report contend, the allegations are malicious and false, it can only be in their interests to co-operate.
Get alerts on Terrorism when a new story is published