A controversial document from the United Nations (UN) panel of experts was released publicly on June 29. The report accuses top Rwandan military officials supporting a mutiny in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The eastern Congo provinces of North and South Kivu have been swept by waves of violence since March of this year. The impetus of the recent uptick in violence was the defection of hundred of former rebels from the Congolese army (FARDC) in alleged support of renegade general Bosco Ntaganda and led by Sultani Makenga, a colonel and former rebel leader alleged to have been involved in civilian killings and the recruitment of children as soldiers. Ntaganda is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes for previous recruitment and use of child soldiers and additional charges of crimes against humanity for murder, persecution based on ethnic grounds, rape, sexual slavery, and pillaging in connection with his activities in Ituri between 2002 and 2003.
Fighting between FARDC and rebels, known as M23, has displaced more than 200,000 people to neighboring countries. Moreover, the deteriorating security situation has resulted in increased killing and human rights abuses against civilians by other armed group such as FDRL rebels and Mai-Mai militias. The mutiny and its effect on the ground have spurred condemnation from the UN Security Council, which called for a full investigation of credible report that armed groups where receiving outside support.
It is in this context that the UN Group of Experts (GoE) on DRC presented to the Security Council evidence substantiating a Human Rights Watch report describing how Rwanda provided M23 hundreds of recruits, weapons and ammunition. According to the Turtle Bay blog, which obtained a leaked copy of the 43-page GoE annex, the Rwandan government committed arms and sanctions violations, including the provision of material and financial support to armed groups like M23.
Due to the nature of the findings, the report was delayed for weeks prompting the Congolese government to accuse the United States for blocking the report’s publication to protect its close ally Rwanda. After concerted pressure from the advocacy community, the United States and other Security Council members ultimately agreed to the release of the controversial annex after experts had a chance to brief the Rwandan government on its content. In response, Rwanda’s Foreign Minister denied that Kigali is backing M23, insisting that top Rwandan military officials had instead urged the rebels to put down their arms and resolve their differences with the Congolese army though talks.
So where do we go from here? The international community should pressure both governments to re-engage diplomatically and find a long-term solution to the emerging crisis. Congolese Diaspora and a coalition of Human Rights Groups have called for the United States and the United Kingdom to suspend bilateral assistance, especially military aid. Rwanda’s involvement in the mutiny should not go unpunished. However, there are outstanding questions about the potential adverse consequences that non-military sanctions might have on civilians. What about the plight of tens of thousands of Congolese refugees currently in Rwanda? How would Kigali react if sanctions are imposed? These are questions that need to be addressed as policymakers, rights groups, and activists work to devise a comprehensive strategy to avert further escalation of the conflict. Diplomatic pressure from the international community , similar to what brought a rapprochement between Kigali and Kinshasa in 2009 must be a priority.