A UN draft report leaked to the French newspaper Le Monde is creating a firestorm in Kigali, which now threatens to stop supporting UN peace-keeping missions and has already devised a contingency plan for withdrawal from Sudan, in case the UN publishes this polemic report. The UN draft report accuses the Tutsi-led Rwandan army of having targeted and murdered tens of thousands of ethnic Hutus in neighbouring DR Congo between 1996 and 1997, a crime which may amount to genocide. The timeline in question is limited to the First Congo War, which was largely a consequence of the 1994 Rwandan genocide and of the displacement of approximately 2 million Hutus, including Interhamwe, towards the DRC in fear of Tutsi retaliation.
The Rwandan leadership is dismissing this report as being an “amateurish NGO job”, according to President Paul Kagame. Nevertheless, if indeed the Tutsi-led Rwandan army was involved in the killing of ethnic Hutus, the entire credibility of the post-1994 Tutsi plight will be shattered and unappealing from the international point of view. Such a situation would certainly limit the international credibility of recently re-elected President Paul Kagame and possibly even merit that a case be brought before the International Criminal Court, besides constraining the freedom of action and living space of Rwanda.
Rwanda is one of the biggest contributors of peacekeeping forces and a central actor in the region. However, the UN would suffer the biggest loss if it crumbles under pressure from Rwanda. Le Monde quoted an unnamed UN source claiming that Ban Ki-moon had warned UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay against using the word ‘genocide’ in referring to Rwandan forces, thus sending the message that support for internationally unwanted peace-keeping missions in Africa’s ‘hot spots’ may serve as a trade-off to avoid accusations of genocide.
If the UN folds under pressure from Kigali and does not publish this report, a precedent will be opened where international condemnation can be avoided if one provides essential support in terms of peace-keeping to regions lacking such initiatives. This of course, is a minefield for the UN. Support for United Nations peacekeeping missions should neither excuse nor disregard evidence or accusations of genocide, no matter how great the losses in terms of support for its missions.
The African continent and the Great Lakes region specifically will most likely be involved in more violent conflict in the future. While it is true that the UN and the African Union lack the tools and human resources to avoid or even control such conflicts, backing down from genocide accusations in favour of continuing support from Rwanda is a compromise Ban Ki-moon should never be willing to make.