Following a year-long investigation, and just weeks prior to its official release, a 600 page report by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) was leaked. The report, which seeks to shed light on war crimes committed between 1993 and 2003 in the the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), suggests that the Rwandan army (RPA) and Congolese AFDL rebels carried out attacks against Hutus in the DRC which “could be classified as crimes of genocide.”
These allegations, if they are kept in the final version of the UN report, have serious political implications for the newly re-elected president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, who was heading up the Rwandan army at the time these crimes were committed. That Hutus were massacred in the DRC in the years following the Rwandan genocide has always been suspected; it is the allegation that these massacres could potentially constitute a crime of genocide which is particularly damning.
What are they key questions raised by this allegation? Here is what you need to know about this leaked UN report:
Allegation, not charge
Jason Stearns, who blogs for the Christian Science Monitor, notes that “the report was not based on the same high standards of a judicial investigation, it was intended to provide a broad mapping of he most serious human rights abuses between 1993 and 2003.” This is a critical point: only a proper judicial investigation and court proceedings can lead to this allegation becoming a charge, and produce potential convictions. Until this point is reached, it is important to take note of the exact wording of the report: “The systematic and widespread attacks described in this report, which targeted very large numbers of Rwandan Hutu refugees and members of the Hutu civilian population, resulting in their death, reveal a number of damning elements that, if they were proven before a competent court, could be classified as crimes of genocide.”
That being said, the leaked report has already reached media outlets around the globe, and hundreds of stories have been published noting these serious allegations. Whether a charge is ever brought against perpetrators, the allegation in the leaked report is serious enough to compromise Kagame’s status as an internationally-recognized “visionary leader” and a model for African leadership.
French news daily Le Monde reveals that Kagame’s administration has been actively attempting to stifle the report, which could harm the Rwandan government by seriously undermining the moral high ground it has been claiming for years.
Multiple news outlets also report that the Rwandan government threatened to withdraw peacekeeping troops from Sudan, should the final version of the report include the genocide mention.
The question remains as to whether the final report by the UNHCHR will mention the genocide allegation. The UNHCHR or the Secretary-General have declined to comment on the leak, which suggests that political pressures are at play. Analysts are noting that the report may have been leaked prior to its official release for fear that the final, official iteration of the report would exclude the incriminating allegation against the RPA and the AFDL.
Nevertheless, whether or not the final report includes this specific sentence will not necessarily affect its validity or relevance. This report is the first comprehensive review of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the DRC between 1993 and 2003. Unique in its exhaustiveness, it charts severe abuses and human rights violations suffered by civilians during that period which were committed by different rebel groups and armies from five different countries. The thousand of testimonies and documents gathered for the investigation are an important step towards punishing the impunity which characterized violence in the region during that period.
It’s unclear at this stage whether the UNHCHR report will lead to eventual charges or a prosecution. As mentioned earlier, only a court can deliver an indisputable verdict on the nature of the crimes that took place in the DRC.
One of the report’s co-authors, Luc Cote, a Canadian war crimes prosecutor who investigated the Rwandan genocide in 1994 and was subsequently in charge of the legal office of the UN International Criminal Tribunal in Rwanda from 1995 to 1999, is unequivocal in his views. Speaking to AFP, he noted: “I saw a pattern in the Congo that I’d seen in Rwanda. It was the same thing. There are dozens and dozens of incidents, where you have the same pattern. It was systematically done.”
UPDATE: The Rwandan government released an official statement concerning the leaked report, describing it as “malicious, offensive and ridiculous.” Read the full statement here.