(JOHANNESBURG) — A draft U.N. report says the Rwandan army that ended the 1994 slaughter of more than 500,000 people retaliated with barbaric killings in Congo two years later that also could be classified as a genocide.
The report also says Rwanda's rebel allies, tied to the current Congolese president, helped kill tens of thousands of Hutus—the majority of whom were women, children, the sick and the elderly.
"Upon entering a locality, they ordered the people to gather together... Once they were assembled, the civilians were bound and killed by blows of hammers or hoes to the head."
The systematic and widespread attacks "could be classified as crimes of genocide" by a competent court, the draft said. (See "Rwanda: Anti-Genocide Law Clashes with Free Speech.")
The leaked report is a major embarrassment to Rwandan President Paul Kagame, an ally of the United States and Britain and whose government long has claimed the moral high ground for ending the 1994 genocide of Tutsis that included the killings of some moderate Hutus.
Le Monde, the French newspaper that first leaked the report, says Kagame is threatening to withdraw Rwandan troops in the U.N.-African peacekeeping force in Darfur, Sudan, if the genocide allegations are officially published.
Congo's President Joseph Kabila was also a commander of the Congolese rebels named in the report at the time of the attacks. Congo's government on Friday denied the accusations and derided the report as partisan, incomplete and unjustifiable. (Watch "Rwanda Genocide: Juliette's Story)"
"The deeds are presented as if it is the Congolese who are the assassins, the genociders, when it is totally the opposite," it said in a 50-page response to the U.N.
Rwanda's government said the report was "dangerous and irresponsible," risked creating more instability in the region, and suggested it was leaked to divert attention from U.N. peackeepers' failure to protect civilians in a recent mass rape atrocity.
"It is immoral and unacceptable that the United Nations, an organization that failed outright to prevent genocide in Rwanda and the subsequent refugees crisis, a direct cause for so much suffering in Congo and Rwanda, now accuses the army that stopped the genocide of committing atrocities" in Congo, said spokesman Ben Rutsinga.
He said the investigators did not meet with Rwandan officials though they found time for 200 nongovernment organizations and that their report was "based on questionable methodology, sourcing and shockingly low standard of proof."
Investigators, though, said they required two independent sources for each of the 600 incidents documented in their 545-page report. (See "Rwanda's Rebel Reformer: Paul Kagame.")
In Geneva, spokesman Rupert Colville said Friday he was disappointed that the draft from the High Commissioner for Human Rights was leaked. He said changes were still being finalized, but declined to say if they included the use of the word "genocide."
The report, whose publication has been delayed for a year, said Hutus in Congo — both Rwandan refugees and Congolese — were clearly targeted.
Witnesses said the soldiers "displayed a clear desire for revenge in their massacres of the (Congolese) Hutu Banyarwanda, targeting villages where Tutsis had been persecuted in the past."
At least 350 civilians were slain in a massacre in eastern Rutshuru town in October 1996, the report said. In the days leading up the massacres, soldiers appealed to people who had fled the area to return home. (See "Is Rwanda's Hero Becoming its Oppressor?")
"In the afternoon, the soldiers began to compile a register and asked people of Nande ethnic origin to return home. They then separated the men and women ... The women were taken to the Maison de la Poste, where they were executed. The men were bound and led in pairs to a sand quarry... All of them were then executed with blows of hammers."
"The numerous deaths cannot be attributed to the hazards of war or seen as equating to collateral damage," it said.
The leaked report notes that Rwanda permitted Hutus to return home in large numbers, but says that does not "rule out the intention of destroying part of an ethnic group as such and thus committing a crime of genocide."
Kagame's fighters also have been accused of massacring Hutu civilians in Rwanda during fighting to end the genocide — charges his government strenuously denies.
More than 1 million Hutus fled to neighboring Congo in the aftermath of Rwanda's genocide. The refugees included perpetrators of the genocide who used refugee camps as bases to attack Rwandan and Congolese Tutsis in Congo and launch attacks into Rwanda.
Jason Stearns, the chief investigator of a U.N. panel on Congo's arms embargo, said the draft report is the first systematic investigation of atrocities over that period, especially massacres of Hutu refugees.
"I think this report has rocked the Rwandan government ... It's going to be incredibly damaging to Rwanda's international reputation," said Stearns, who is also writing a book, "Dancing in the Glory of Monsters," that covers the 1993-2003 period investigated in the report.
The U.N. secretary general commissioned the report after mass graves were discovered in 2005 and investigators went to Congo in 2008. The identities of alleged perpetrators are being held in a confidential database.
Rwanda's 1994 genocide was sparked when a plane carrying then-President Juvenal Habyarimana was shot down as it approached Kigali, Rwanda's capital. The slaughter ended when Kagame — now Rwanda's president — led a group of Tutsi rebels to overthrow the Hutu government.
In 1996, Rwanda invaded Congo, saying it was going after those who committed the genocide. A second invasion two years later exploded into a regional war involving eight countries.
The U.N. report, which should be published next week, describes atrocities committed by the many Congolese rebel factions as well as by troops from Uganda, Burundi, Zimbabwe and Angola.
But the most egregious cases involving the largest numbers of victims involve Rwandan troops fighting with Congolese rebel forces to kill Hutus.
The report calls for justice, urging prosecutions of "those who bear the greatest responsibility." But it noted a lack of political will to pursue war crimes in Congo and a general impunity — both charges the Congolese government denied.
Associated Press writers Bradley S. Klapper in Geneva and Edmund Kagire in Kigali, Rwanda contributed to this report.