Pressure on Rwanda over role in Congo war

Thousands of students protested in the Democratic Republic of Congo cities Kisangani, Bunia and Kinshasa on Nov. 20 after M23 rebels seized the eastern city of Goma. They were mostly expressing their rage at the M23 rebels, but also targeted the government and the UN mission in DR Congo (MONUSCO). Despite government and UN assurances, M23 rebels took Goma with little resistance from either Congolese or UN forces. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said it was “absurd” that UN troops could not stop the rebels from entering Goma. With a 20,000-strong military and civilian staff, MONUSCO has a yearly budget of close to $1.5 billion, the second-largest peacekeeping mission in the world (after Sudan).

Students in Bunia, Orientale province, burned MONUSCO vehicles and threw stones at its offices. They also burned the headquarters of President Joseph Kabila’s PPRD political party and an M23 spokesman’s house. In Kinshasa, students who tried to protest against the fall of Goma were stopped by the police. (Congo News Agency, Nov. 21)

M23 rebels claimed on Nov. 19 they were retreating from the outskirts of Goma to give negotiations a chance—an option immediately dismissed by the government. Government spokesman Lambert Mende told the AFP: “These are fictitious forces established by Rwanda to conceal its criminal activities in the DRC. We prefer to deal with Rwanda, the real aggressor.” He said he would press his accusations against Rwanda at the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR). (Congo News Agency, Nov. 19)

Advocacy group Friends of the Congo is calling for pressure “to bring an end to Rwanda’s support of the M23 rebel movement inside the Congo. Saying “the unnecessary suffering of the Congolese people to be a scar on the conscience of humanity,” they call on the UN to explicitly name Rwanda in resolutions on the crisis, sanctions to be imposed on high-level officials in the Rwandan government who are backing the M23, and sanction of the Rwandan state for violation of the Congo arms embargo. (Friends of the Congo, Nov. 20)

A September report by Human Rights Watch found the M23 guilty of “summary executions, rapes, and forced recruitment” in the areas of eastern Congo under its control. Human Rights Watch added that “Rwandan officials may be complicit in war crimes through their continued military assistance to M23 forces.” The Obama administration has cut only a token $200,000 in military aid to Rwanda. In 2011, total US aid to Rwanda was $107.2 million; the 2012 figure is slated at $196.4 million. (The Nation, New York, Nov. 21)

A UN investigation into the human rights situation in Masisi, another town n the North Kivu province (of which Goma is capital) documented that at least 264 civilians, including 83 children, were arbitrarily executed by armed groups in more than 75 attacks on villages between April and September this year. The report is based on more than 160 interviews with victims and witnesses by the UN Joint Human Rights Office in the DRC (UNJHRO). Investigators found that the victims were often those least able to flee the attacks—children and the elderly. 

Investigators said that the Raia Mutomboki armed group, with allied Mayi Mayi militias, was responsible for most of the killings. Many victims were hacked to death with machetes while others were burnt alive in their homes. The opposing Nyatura group was also found to be responsible for human rights violations, including killings, sometimes carried out in collaboration with the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). The civilians killed by the Raia Mutomboki group were mostly ethnic Hutu, while those killed by the Nyatura were mainly of Tembo ethnicity. Hutu leaders charge that Rwanda is also arming the Raia Mutomboki rebels. (Great Lakes Voice, Nov. 19; Congo Siasa, July 21)

  1. Congo rebels to retake Goma?
    The M23 rebels, also known as the Congolese Revolutionary Army, completed their withdrawal from Goma Dec. 1, in compliance with an agreement brokered by Uganda and other regional governments. “It pained us to withdraw from Goma after having lost men on the battlefield to conquer the city. But if it is the price for peace, we accept it,” said Bertrand Bisimwa, the spokesman for M23’s political branch, on Dec. 2. “There was no external pressure. Friends of Congo have advised us to give negotiations a chance.” But he added: “If negotiations have not started by tomorrow at 2 PM, 48 hours since our withdrawal, or if there are attacks on citizens in Goma, we will take back the city.”

    On Dec. 4, the chiefs of staff of Congo, Uganda and Rwanda met in Goma to assess the progress of peace resolutions brokered by the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR).

    The International Criminal Court indicted M23’s top commander Bosco “Terminator” Ntaganda in 2006 for allegedly recruiting child soldiers. The UN and US have imposed a travel ban and asset freeze on the group’s leader, Sultani Makenga. (New Times, Rwanda, via AllAfrica, Dec. 4; AP, Dec. 2; BBC News, Dec. 1)