Tag Archives: human rights watch

US gets it wrong on Rwanda

8 Oct


In this region, some things never change regardless of the facts on the ground. For instance, when it comes to issues in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda inevitably gets drawn into the mess even when it is evident that it has nothing to do with it.

And so predictably, last week the State Department announced that the United States government was suspending military aid to Rwanda. Rwanda’s crime? Aiding and abetting the recruitment and training of child soldiers for the M23 rebels in Eastern DRC.

When this was announced, there was a collective sense of shock and disbelief. What? Child soldiers in Rwanda? Impossible. Not in a million years!

I believe some in the State Department were equally flabbergasted by the utterly wrong and illogical accusation.

But in the Congolese jungle, now also inhabited by the United Nations and the big powers, logic is an alien concept; truth doesn’t matter; shock and puzzlement don’t count. What matters is to advance the plot of a narrative that has been created about Rwanda.

The accusation against Rwanda raises an important question. Who actually shapes the Obama Administration’s policy on the Great Lakes Region? Is it crafted by the State Department as indeed it should be? Or is it fashioned elsewhere and then brought to bear on the State Department?

Apparently, Obama’s Great Lakes policy is made elsewhere, not at State Department. This is why.

The United States embassy in Kigali, the US Army’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) and the US military in general know and understand the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) very well. They all know its composition and reputation. They are aware it is a highly respected, disciplined, professional and an efficient fighting force. It therefore has no need or place for child soldiers.

The US military has cooperated with the RDF in training and peace-keeping missions. So has the United Nations.

All top AFRICOM Commanders, almost as a rule, call on the Rwandan ministry of defence and RDF at the start and end of their tour of duty, and many times between.

On the basis of all the information gathered by the different agencies, the US Departments of State and Defence have the correct picture of Rwanda and the region.

So where does this obviously misinformed policy come from?

For one, it has the unmistakable imprint of Human Rights Watch, the UN Department of Peace –keeping Operations (DPKO) and their media allies like Reuters, For some inexplicable reason, Human Rights Watch has President Obama’s ear and is able to influence his policy towards the Great Lakes Region.

For long Human Rights Watch has set itself in opposition to Rwanda. It has carried out a hate campaign against this country and attempted to implicate it in the anarchy, numerous rebellions and human rights abuses in the ungoverned Eastern DRC. This crusading rights group has done so through misinformation, lies and fabrication which are then spread as truth by their partners in the media.

None of this has stuck. Which is why they keep on rehashing it or looking for fresh accusations like the new crime called the recruitment of child soldiers. If everything else fails, surely thi will work. Apparently it is a worse crime than extensive massacres, mass rape, pillage, extortion and wanton destruction of property, and even genocide.

How else can one explain the complete lack of condemnation of the FDLR and the Congolese army’s adoption of the genocidal group as their comrades in arms? Or the total absolution of the DRC government from all blame by MONUSCO’s chief of child protection, Ms Dee Brillenburg Wurth with her laughable assertion that DRC has zero tolerance to the use of child soldiers? She has effectively become DRC’s spokesperson. A certain Mr Lambert Mende had better watch out.

There is another sinister motive behind the present accusation against Rwanda. It follows a familiar line peddled by MONUSCO and its parent body, the UN’s DPKO, Human Rights Watch and associated media, and the DRC government. They have always insisted that M23 is not a Congolese rebellion but rather a Rwandan creation.

Denying that the rebellion is a Congolese problem removes the responsibility for its solution from the DRC government and from the huge UN peace-keeping operation in the country. On the other hand, making it appear like external aggression gives the enemies of Rwanda, especially the foreign backers of the FDLR and remnants of the genocidal regime that created it the pretext to continue supporting them so as to destabilise the country.

Equally dangerous, the denial of M23 as a genuine Congolese rebellion with legitimate grievances is also denial of the right of thousands of Kinyarwanda speaking Congolese to Congolese nationality. This is at the root of M23 grievances. It is hardly surprising that the so-called international community refuses to discuss the plight of Kinyarwanda speaking Congolese refugees in neighbouring countries. 

In seeking to punish Rwanda for crimes it has not committed, the Obama Administration is placing itself into a trap. First, it is ceding American leadership in the region to non-state actors and special interest groups as well as certain countries with a vested interest in the continuation of instability in the region.

Second, it risks becoming complicit in ethnic cleansing and probably genocide.  Neither of which does anything to advance peace and security in the region or globally, not to speak of Obama’s legacy in Africa.


Atale of two rebel groups: M23 and Seleka

26 Mar

The Seleka rebels marched into Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic on Sunday, 24th March and effectively ended the rule of President Francois Bozize. The president is reported to have fled his palace and the country as the rebels advanced.

The swift capture of Bangui and the flight of Bozize occurred as four African presidents were in neighbouring Congo Brazzaville discussing peace and security issues in another neighbour, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Presidents Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of Congo, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Joseph Kabila of the DRC were meeting in the northern Congolese town of Oyo.

The talks were about the situation in the east of DRC resulting from the rebellion of M23 against the Kinshasa government. For most of the 52 years of independence of the DRC, the east of the country has been in a state of armed rebellion of one sort or another.

There are interesting similarities between the two rebel movements (Seleka and M23) as well as glaring differences especially in the way the international community has responded to them.

The Seleka rebels say they marched on the capital because President Bozize had broken a peace agreement reached between them on January 11 this year by which rebel forces were to be integrated into the national army.

The rebellion had been going on for a while – in two phases. The first started in 2004 shortly after Bozize seized power and ended in 2007 when the rebels led by their present leader, Michel Djotodia, signed a power-sharing agreement with Bozize’s government. The second was launched in December 2012 when the rebels accused the government of going back on the terms of the peace agreement.

The rebels made swift advances across the country in fighting that broke out in December. Regional leaders then brokered a peace deal in January this year in which power would be shared between the government, the opposition and rebels.

A week ago, the rebels moved on the capital, alleging that the Bozize government had once again reneged on the deal it had struck with them.

The rest as we now know is that the rebels have taken over power and Bozize is in full flight.

The story of M23 is similar up to a point. Nearly a year ago, the M23 was formed by soldiers in the Congolese army who accused the government of not honouring an agreement reached with a previous rebel group, the CNDP, on March 23 2009 after many years of fighting.

Like Seleka, M23 moved swiftly across the east of DRC and captured the provincial capital, Goma, in November 2012. They were soon pressured to leave the town.

That is where the similarities end. The rest of the story is about inexplicable differences, hypocrisy, double standards, falsification and utter disregard of evidence on the ground.

The M23 rebels were roundly condemned in the western media and in foreign capitals. They were accused of all manner of crimes against humanity even when such accusations flew in the face of the logic of rebellion. Rebels usually do not harm the people among whom they operate, especially if they are the ones they have vowed to protect. In fact, evidence showed that people enjoyed greater security in the areas the rebels controlled.

No such condemnation has been heard of the Seleka rebels in the Central African Republic. The French, with a military presence in the country, stood by as the rebels marched into town, only saying they would send in troops to protect their citizens.

There has been no word from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International or the other members of the rights’ brigade.

The foreign media only reports the towns that have fallen and, inevitably, the looting in Bangui because it suits their constructed image of Africa.

True, there has been some protest from the UN Secretary General. But that has been feeble and more formality than heartfelt concern.

When in November the M23 took over Goma, it was like that single event would bring the world crumbling down. The international community mobilised massively to push the rebels back. Immense pressure was brought to bear on M23 and their alleged supporters to pull out of the town immediately.

The Seleka rebels marched into Bangui without as much as a finger being raised to stop them. Instead of warnings about dire consequences if they stepped into the capital, they have only been asked to be good boys, behave themselves and it will be business as usual.

From the moment M23 was born, fingers began pointing at foreign sponsors. The argument was that they could not have such weaponry, organisation and tactics, and skilled fighters without external backing. Allegation of foreign involvement were loudest when Goma fell. The chorus was: the rebels could not do it because they did not have the capacity in equipment, men and expertise.

Seleka have made more spectacular gains. But we have not heard mention of a foreign backer. No effort has been made to identify and punish them.

So, what are we to make of these glaringly different reactions to similar situations? Is it perhaps because in the Seleka case the sponsors are the ones who usually make the accusations? Or is it because the Central Africans have not earned the ire of some powerful people with talk about the right to make their own choices in matters affecting them, or about agaciro?

In Congo, one man equals many lives? Bad math, wrong morals

26 Jun

Words are uniquely human tools – well, generally speaking. And often, we know what they exactly mean. But there is another uniquely human phenomenon – twisting the meaning of ordinary words to give them an unfamiliar ring. Some people have more ability to distort than others. You might call this inverted expertise. For others, distortion is part of their professional rule book.

In the simple, old-fashioned way, what I am describing is called lying. And I was taught that lying is a sin for which we will be punished. If we do a lot of it we might even burn in hell for ever.

Obviously, the catechism on which I was brought up must be different from that on which the international human rights army and UN people were raised. Apparently they have never heard of lying, or if they have, it has a different meaning and moral connotation from what I know.

Which brings me back to words and their meaning. Take the word “justice”, for instance. Ordinarily, it should not cause confusion. It has to do with right and fairness and can never be taken for vindictiveness. And yet when referring to Eastern DRC, this seems to the meaning Human Rights Watch and other rights groups have given it. Certainly, this is what one reads into their actions.

Lately they have renewed their clamour for the arrest and prosecution of a certain Bosco Ntaganda for alleged crimes against humanity. The reason they give for raising the noise is that his arrest and conviction will deliver justice to his alleged victims. Really? Is this the motive? And, pray, how the victims receive justice? I am certain they will get no reparations for what they lost, or counselling to cope with their traumatic experiences. Nor will the maimed, the wounded and the raped receive any treatment, or the orphaned and widowed get any consolation.

But you can be sure there will be a collective smirk of satisfaction on the lips of the rights crusade, and more money in their coffers.

We have said in these pages that if indeed he has committed the crimes for which he is being accused, he should be held accountable. There were many opportunities to arrest him. None was taken. He lived, dined and wined with his accusers, but none touched him.

And now that there is a mutiny started because a peace arrangement the UN and rights groups were supposed to guarantee broke down, they are calling for Ntaganda’s head.

In the single-minded pursuit of one man, they ignore the war raging in the East of DRC. Hundreds of innocent Congolese civilians continue to die at the hands of various armed groups. Hundreds of thousands flee their homes into neighbouring countries. Countless others are displaced. Untold amounts of property have been destroyed. The groups clamouring for justice are silent about these atrocities because all their attention is fixed on one man.

The question that arises from this strange, but not unexpected priority is this: What is the price for going after one man; even he is the most horrible criminal? One million lives? Two, three million? Can such cost be justified in terms of justice or morally?

Let us be blunt. There are unsavoury things happening in DRC, and they are not caused by M23 or Ntaganda. These are only responding to what is going on. What is happening is that there is an attempt to denationalise a section of the Congolese. Our righteous friends are not saying anything about it. Probably they see nothing wrong with it because their catechism did not teach them that forcefully taking away what belongs to another is a sin.

In the extreme, what is happening in Eastern DRC is ethnic cleansing, and if allowed to go unchecked will turn into genocide.

Although the rights brigade want to blame the mess in Congo on other people, they have a big share of the responsibility. In fact they can be said to be responsible for the murder, rape, dispossession and displacement of Congolese civilians.

Again the question: Don’t these people deserve justice? Are their lives so valueless that they can be sacrificed in the hunt for one individual?

Murder is a mortal sin, according to the catechism I was taught. It said nothing about mass murder, but I imagine it must be mortal sin multiplied may times, and the punishment must surely be commensurate with the crime. Going by this, Human Rights Watch activists and others like them should burn many times over for their sins against the Congolese. Then we would say, “justice” has been done” and it will not be a distortion.

Human Rights Watch and Co. have got this rights thing wrong

7 Jun

Is there a human right greater than the right to life? It would be a very brave person who would say, indeed there is. Such brave persons exist in the many human rights organisations that seem to promote other rights above this basic one. If they ever consider the right to life as a human right, they reserve it for a select few – politicians and journalists, both usually of the rabid variety. They do not extend that right to the majority of ordinary people who go about their daily business of earning a living without making a fuss about it.

Rwanda has been quietly working to make sure that more of its citizens enjoy this right, that they do not have to die from preventable diseases. Yet the country still comes under fire from rights organisations for allegedly violating the human rights of its citizens. There is a contradiction here.

Rwanda’s ministry of health recently reported impressive reduction in the incidence of killer diseases like malaria. Between 2005 and 2010, they reported a declining incidence of malaria of 70%. In the same period, prevalence of malaria declined to 2.1%.

These are impressive figures by any standards. More importantly, they indicate that more Rwandans get to enjoy the right of life, courtesy of their government.

You have not heard it all. Mortality of the most vulnerable group – children – has drastically reduced. According to the Demographic Health Survey, the percentage of children under five years dying from malaria decreased from 44.4% to 13% between 2005 and 2010. The target of the ministry of health is to bring down the fatality among children less than five years admitted with severe malaria to 0.1%.

You cannot quarrel with statistics; certainly when evidence on the ground bears them out. The quarrel would be even more futile if you consider that these figures are corroborated by respectable organisations like the World Health Organisations and health sector donor agencies like Global Fund.

How can a country with very few resources manage to do this? But equally important, why do the rights groups ignore this significant effort that ensures that more people have a right to life?

The rights groups are not in the habit of giving credit where it is due. Even when they do, it is with groans of grudge and heavy qualification that effectively negates the credit. Nor do they recognise success. All these are apparently existential taboos.

Rwanda’s partners in the health sector and Rwandans themselves attribute the success in decreasing fatality to strong political will and bold leadership of the country.

The fight against malaria is part of a broader strategy to eliminate such other diseases as TB and HIV’AIDS.  In the case of HIV infections, the ministry of health has added focus to the prevention of mother to child transmission as a means of ensuring that there will be an HIV-free generation. Indeed this paper reported that (TNT, 6TH June, 2011) the United Nations agency concerned with AIDS, UNAIDS, has named Rwanda among the few countries in the world to have registered success in reducing HIV infections and reached 80% access to treatment.

The strategy has succeeded because all these programmes are integrated into a health care system and not treated as stand-alone programmes. Both treatment and funding for the control of one disease have impact on the management of other health issues in the same health facility. It is an efficient way of using financial resources, facilities and personnel.

It has also worked because of accountability for the way donor funds for control of the major killer diseases have been used. It is for this reason that Global Fund signed another grant of US $22.9 million (13billion Rwf) with the government of Rwanda.

Rwanda has invested heavily in the health sector to increase citizens’ easy access to health facilities. More health centres have been built, equipped and staffed with trained personnel. Rural areas, usually forgotten in other places, have got new hospitals with state of the art facilities such as the one recently inaugurated in Butaro District in the north of the country.

Ambulances work. They are not used to ferry sacks of charcoal and foodstuffs for hospital administrators and their friends as I have seen happen in some countries in our region.

Then there are the free mobile telephone sets that have been given to grassroots health workers to alert other health workers to various emergencies so that they can be addressed quickly and save lives.

All these are meant for ordinary Rwandans who have little means on their own to afford the most basic health care services. They are the ones who are saved from certain death and therefore the ones whose right to life is guaranteed by government policies. Yet these are the same people whose rights Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International and a host of other groups do not recognise as important. For these groups, all other people’s rights must be subordinated to those of the noisy political and professional classes, who, in any case, have the means to protect their rights.

Rwandans do their thing quietly, effectively, without fanfare. The right to life of the citizens is ensured. Contrast that with the way rights groups publicise their uninformed criticism of human rights observance in such countries as Rwanda. It is a major media event with all the world’s TV cameras trained on some sour-faced researcher unconvincingly citing the case of two individuals as proof of gross human rights violations. As she does so thousands of others are regaining their gift of life. That is the contradiction.