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UN Report on Rwanda Genocide Shakes Africa

Did the Rwandan military kill thousands in retribution?

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A leaked United Nations report on the Rwandan genocide makes the explosive charge that the Rwandan Army, long credited with helping to end the infamous 1994 genocide of ethnic Tutsis, committed hundreds of acts of genocide against ethnic Hutu refugees in 1996-1997. The document, first reported by French newspaper Le Monde, states, "The majority of the victims were children, women, elderly people and the sick, who were often undernourished and posed no threat to the attacking forces." The report implicates much of Rwanda's current government, including President Paul Kagame, in joining with Congolese rebels to slaughter Rwandan refugees who had fled to the Congo. Rwanda is challenging the accusations, saying they only attacked members of the Hutu militias responsible for the 1994 genocide. The UN report risks seriously complicating the always-tenuous politics of Central Africa, where Rwanda has become a beacon of stability. Here's what reporters and Rwanda-watchers have to say about the report.

  • How Rwanda's 1996 Invasion of Congo Became a Second Genocide  Rwanda analyst David Shorr explains, "In the genocide's aftermath, the surviving Hutu perpetrators fled to neighboring Congo and Tanzania, along with hundreds of thousands of their ethnic compatriots and faimly. For the next two and a half years, the massive refugee camps were a source of continued violence and instability, with the Hutu genocidaires using the camps as a rear base for operations against the new Rwandan government and a populace off of which they could feed parasitically. Given the international community's failure to find a solution to the problem, the Rwandan Army (RPA) had good reason to cross into Congo and forcibly break up the camps, which it did in November 1996." However, "As the UN report details, the Rwandan army and Congolese rebels who overthrew Mobutu Sese Seko did a lot more than break up the refugee camps. The November 1996 operation was just the beginning of a vengeful drive that indiscriminately chased and massacred Hutu militia and civilians alike over the course of many months and hundreds of miles."
  • UN Politics Slowed, Attempted to Weaken, Report  The New York Times' Howard French reports, "The release of the report appears to have been delayed in part over fears of the reaction of the Rwandan government, which has long enjoyed strong diplomatic support from the United States and Britain. There is concern in the United Nations that Rwanda might end its participation in peacekeeping operations in retaliation for the report." Rwanda expert Jason Stearns writes, "it has been leaked, I gather because Secretary General Ban Ki Moon - or othr UN officials - has pressed for the charges of "acts of genocide by the RPA/AFDL" to be removed. The Rwandan government has reportedly threatened to withdraw its troops from the AU mission in Darfur and the UN mission in Haiti. I imagine that it is to prevent such editing that the report was finally leaked." The BBC adds, "Rwanda contributes thousands of peacekeepers to the joint UN-African Union mission in the Sudanese region of Darfur, and the commander of the force is a Rwandan. Analysts say the possible withdrawal of these troops would be a massive blow, especially as it comes at a time of increased violence in Darfur."
  • Why This Complicates Everything for Rwanda  Africa expert Laura Seay tweets, "Bombshell does not even begin to describe how huge this leaked report is for Kagame's administration." Jason Stearns writes, "This report will rock the internet for months and years to come. Its political importance is hard to overstate. ... This is the first rigorous investigation, and the first time an international body has thrown its weight behind charges of genocide." The New York Times' Howard French explains, "The topic is extremely delicate for the government, which has built its legitimacy on its history of combating the genocide in Rwanda." However, Seay adds, "Please note that Rwanda is not party to [International Criminal Court] statute & most of these crimes happened outside the year over which the [International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda] has jurisdiction."
  • What Report Will and Won't Do  The New Yorker's Philiip Gourevitch writes that it won't being any justice, but it will complicate the important Rwanda-UN alliance. "It is difficult to see how this report, which offers little in the way of detail connecting individually identified perpetrators and individually identified victims, could lead to any trials. But that is not likely to matter much in the court of international opinion. The atrocities the report describes are ghastly, their cumulative effect is crushing, and the allegation of genocide, particularly coming from the usually namby-pamby United Nations, is sensational. ... But justice is always selective, and a report like this is, of course, a political thing—and what’s puzzling is that the Rwandans seemed unaware that it was in the works until last month. This past spring in Kigali, everyone I asked in top military or intelligence circles said they’d never heard of such a project. When they got hold of it last month, these same officials clearly felt ambushed by the U.N., with which, despite the anguished past, it had established a close working relationship."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.