On September 19, a hearing that examined Rwanda’s role in supporting the Congolese armed group known as M23 was held by the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights.
The hearing was organized as a response to the recently-released reports citing evidence of Rwanda’s role in destabilizing eastern the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). At the end of June, the United Nations Group of Experts on the DRC published an interim report, which detailed evidence of Rwanda providing arms and financial support to the armed group. Human Rights Watch published a similar report on September 11 that found Rwanda continues to recruit soldiers for M23.
Although the witnesses from the Obama administration — Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson and USAID Assistant Administrator Earl Gast — had to withdraw their attendance because of urgent security issues in the region, there was a lively discussion among the other panelists.
The witnesses in attendance included Bishop Ntambo Nkulu Ntanda, representing the United Methodist Church of North Katanga; Mark Schneider, Senior Vice President for the International Crisis Group; and Jason Stearns, Director of the Usalama Project Rift Valley Institute.
Each of the witnesses praised the State Department for its recent suspension of military aid to Rwanda this past July. However, they all had a different vision of the path forward. Bishop Ntanda called for sustained economic pressure on the Rwandan government, coupled with security sector reform in the DRC. Mark Schneider listed a host of recommendations including an ICC investigation into the human rights abuses committed by M23, full demobilization of the armed group, and sanctions put on all countries and entities that support armed groups in the DRC. Jason Stearns discussed skepticism surrounding a regional proposal for a neutral international force and maintained that the solution ought to be a political.
The stark difference between each of the witnesses’ recommendations speaks to the complexity of the conflict, which has led to a division among U.S. policymakers’ views on Rwanda. Stearns urged the U.S. government to “get their ducks in a row”, and to start presenting a united front against Rwanda’s role in destabilizing the eastern DRC. When asked how the United States was doing, Jason Stearns best captured the sentiment of the witness panel:
— End Genocide (@endgenocide) September 19, 2012
In advance of the hearing, United to End Genocide submitted a brief statement for the official record. The statement outlines our concern for the safety of civilians and contains recommendations for the U.S. government. You can read our entire statement below.