The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights on Friday issued a somewhat watered-down report detailing allegations that Rwanda and its allies may have committed genocide against ethnic Hutu refugees in eastern Congo between 1993 and 2003.
The release of the long-awaited 566-page report -- referred to as a mapping exercise -- comes several weeks after a draft version of the damning report leaked to the French newspaper Le Monde, prompting Rwanda to threaten to withdraw thousands of its peacekeepers from Darfur and other U.N. missions in retaliation.
Despite the changes, the final report still constitutes the most comprehensive and damning official account of crimes committed in one of Africa's deadliest conflict zones. And it continues to assert that an alliance of Rwandan, Burundian soldiers and Congolese rebels may have committed genocide during military operations in eastern Congo during the 1990s.
But it has softened its finding with numerous words and phrases -- including "alleged", "suggests" "apparent" and "if proven in a court of law" -- that serve to lessen the force of some of the final conclusions. Instead of stating whether crimes had been committed, the final report leaves it to a court to definitively decide.
The final text also contains a far more detailed and robust set of countervailing legal arguments suggesting that Rwandanan forces, in fact, may not have committed genocide despite possible culpability for large-scale killings of civilians, and that any final decision would have to be made by a court.
The decision to amend the final text came after U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's top advisors, including his chief of staff, Vijay Nambiar, voiced concern to the High Commissioner, Navi Pillay, about the legal basis for the genocide charge. A top U.N. official, who was involved in the deliberations, insisted that the effort to revise the text was not carried out to assuage the Rwandans.
The violence in eastern Congo stems from the 1994 Rwandan genocide, where ethnic Hutu extremists, backed by the former government, orchestrated the murder of more than 800,000 ethnic Tutsi and moderate Hutu.
Rwanda's current president, Paul Kagame, was the commander of the Uganda-based Tutsi rebel army, the Rwandan Patriotic Army(RPA), that now stands accused of wrongdoing. It was the RPA under Kagame's command that seized power in Kigali and drove the Hutu perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide, together with hundreds of thousands of Hutu civilians, across the border into eastern Congo (then known as eastern Zaire). The report maintains that they conducted massive atrocities along the way.
In 1996, the Rwandan army fashioned an alliance -- known as the The Alliance des Forces Democratiques pour la Liberation du Congo-Zaire (AFLD) -- with Burundian forces, and a Congolese rebel leader, Laurent Desire Kabila. The force initially launched a series of attacks on the Rwandan refugee camps in Congo, which had been used as a staging ground for attacks against the new Rwandan government.
The mapping exercise was set up, in part, to investigate crimes committed by Rwanda and its allies as they continued their military campaign to Kinshasha, where they overthrew the government of Mobutu Sese Seko and installed Kabila as the leader of the newly named Democratic Republic of Congo. But the report also documents crimes by numerous other countries, including Uganda, and various rebel groups who were drawn into Congo's widening war.
The report was tasked with investigating 617 mass killings in eastern Congo between 1993 and 2003. The final version noted that the majority of victims were children, women, the elderly and the sick, and that they were often murdered with the claw edge of a hammer.
The report added, however, took pains to say that there are
The report also argues that it is "very difficult to establish" a genocidal intent where an "alternative inference" can be drawn from the conduct of a perpetrator. The report then sets out to propose a series of alternative theories for attacking Hutu refugee camps, including the possibility that Rwanda and its Congolese allies were engaging in "collective retribution" against Hutu civilians suspected of having engaged in the Rwanda genocide -- a horrific crime perhaps, but not genocide.
The reports release comes weeks after Ban Ki-moon, his peacekeeping chief, and his human rights advisors, traveled to Kigali to meet with President Kagame. After the meeting, Kagame backed down from a threat to withdraw his peacekeepers. But he has made it clear that he will carry through with it if the U.N. presses ahead with the prosecution of Rwandan officers implicated in the crimes.
Rwanda's foreign minister Louise Mushikiwabo reacted angrily to the report, saying that
Human rights activists said they were confident that despite amendments that softened the report it still presented an overwhelming body of evidence that will now be hard to ignore. The challenge now, they say, is to press ahead with some mechanism for holding perpetrators accountable.
Here's a sample of the changes the U.N. introduced into the final report:
BEFORE: With the respect to the charge of genocide, the original draft report noted that there were developments -- like Rwanda's repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Hutu refugee -- that would cause jurists to hesitate in reaching a genocide ruling.
AFTER: The final version included a far more detailed account of the challenges in securing a genocide finding:
"In the absence of direct evidence of intent to destroy the group, such intent can only be inferred from circumstantial facts and evidence, that is, from the conduct of the alleged perpetrator, if it is the only reasonable inference possible. Where an alternative inference can be drawn from the conduct of the alleged perpetrator, the clear ‘intent to destroy' required is difficult to establish. A number of alternative explanation or inferences could be drawn from the conduct of the RPA/AFDL in attacking the camps in Zaire in 1996 and 1997. The intent underlying the killings could be deemed as collective retribution against Hutu civilians in Zaire suspected of involvement with the ex-FAR/Interhamwe, reinforced by the RPA/AFDL's conviction that upon destroying the camps, all Hutu remaining in Zaire were in sympathy with the perpetrators of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda."