/ 29 August 2010

Rwanda threatens to withdraw peacekeepers

Rwanda Threatens To Withdraw Peacekeepers

Rwanda has threatened to withdraw its troops from United Nations peacekeeping operations if the world body publishes a report accusing the Rwandan army of committing possible genocide in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1990s, Rwanda’s foreign minister says in a letter sent to the UN.

Addressed to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the letter from Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo describes the report from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights as “fatally flawed” and “incredibly irresponsible”. The letter is dated August 3 and was obtained by the Associated Press on Saturday.

A draft of the report leaked this week accuses Rwandan troops and rebel allies tied to the current Congolese president of slaughtering tens of thousands of Hutus in the DRC. The attacks allegedly came two years after those same troops stopped Rwanda’s 1994 genocide that killed more than half a million Tutsis and some moderate Hutus.

“The report’s allegations — of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity — are extremely serious. However, the methodology, sourcing and standard of proof used to arrive at them most certainly are not,” Mushikiwabo’s letter says.

The letter asks why the investigators spent six weeks in DRC but never came to Rwanda or asked for meetings with Rwandan officials, who were given the 545-page draft two months ago.

Investigators say they required two independent sources for each of the 600 incidents documented.

The draft says the systematic and widespread attacks “could be classified as crimes of genocide” by a competent court.

‘Lowest evidentiary standard’
In the letter, Mushikiwabo criticises investigators for not seeking evidence that would stand up in court. She says the report’s weakness is that its goal was “not of being satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt that a violation was committed but rather having reasonable suspicion that the incident did occur”.

This, her letter says means “UN investigators employed the lowest evidentiary standard” in making such serious allegations.

She suggests that the timing of the report is being driven by people within the UN who seek to damage recently renewed diplomatic ties between the DRC and Rwanda. The rapprochement between the neighboUring countries has contributed to greater stability in Central Africa.

“The timing of the report only heightens these suspicions as it is being circulated on the eve of Rwanda’s presidential election and at a time when Congolese officials are calling for [the UN Mission in Congo] to close up shop,” the letter says.

The DRC, which also has denied the allegations, also questioned the timing of the report, but suggested it was being used to deflect attention from UN peacekeepers’ failure to protect civilians in a recent mass gang-rape atrocity.

The Rwandan letter says “attempts to take action on this report — either through its release or leaks to the media — will force us to withdraw from Rwanda’s various commitments to the United Nations, especially in the area of peacekeeping”.

Rwanda contributes thousands of troops to peacekeeping missions in Chad, Haiti, Liberia and Sudan.

Most bludgeoned to death
Mushikiwabo’s letter was written before the report’s leak this week. She could not be reached for comment despite numerous calls to her cellphone on Friday and Saturday and an email message.

The draft report says the Rwandan troops and their Congolese rebel allies targeted Hutus and killed tens of thousands over months, the majority of whom were women, children, the sick and the elderly who posed no threat. Most were bludgeoned to death with hoes, axes and hammers.

“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,” it says.

Rwanda invaded the DRC in 1996, saying it was going after those who committed the genocide. Many were in refugee camps in DRC, which they used as a base for attacks on Tutsis in Congo and for cross-border raids into Rwanda. Rwandan rebels remain in the DRC and have been terrorising the population ever since. – Sapa-AP