A recent confidential report from the U.N. Group of Experts on Congo was leaked to Reuters yesterday that shows further evidence of Rwandan support to the M23 rebellion in eastern Congo. The report allegedly indicates that Rwanda's defense minister, James Kabarebe, is commanding the rebellion. Further, the report shows evidence that the Ugandan government has also provided political, military, and logistical support to aid in the insurgency, including in a deadly attack against U.N. peacekeepers in the region. Additionally, within the leaked report the Group of Experts also allegedly shows evidence of continued recruitment of child soldiers from both Rwanda and Uganda for use as porters and soldiers on the front lines of the conflict in eastern Congo. Both Rwanda and Uganda continue to deny the charges.
This evidence would now put both Rwanda and Uganda in direct violation of a U.N. arms embargo on the Congo and raises the specter of violations of local and international law, including provisions of the Rome Statute regarding the recruitment of child soldiers, intentional targeting of civilian populations, and pillaging.
The report also stated that in July 2012 the M23 expanded its control of territory in the province of North Kivu with substantial foreign support from Rwanda and Uganda. Additionally, through the sponsorship and counsel of senior military officials from both countries the M23 used a current cease-fire with the Congolese army "to expand alliances and command proxy operations elsewhere."
Evidence was also presented that elements within the M23 continued to profit from the illegal smuggling of tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold through agents in Rwanda, as Rwanda has largely “annexed” the resource rich provinces of eastern Congo through manipulation of the M23 movement.
The surfacing of information regarding the level of Rwandan support as well as the introduction of significant support for M23 from the government of Uganda has serious implications on a range of diplomatic and security issues in the region as well.
In the wake of the initial evidence of Rwandan support to M23 earlier this year, a number of Western governments, including the United States, suspended aid and support to Rwanda with conditionality surrounding the cessation of their support to M23 and steps taken toward regional processes to bring about peaceful resolution to longstanding conflicts in the region. Those same countries will now have to decide whether to take similar action with regards to Uganda and whether to exert additional pressure on Rwanda.
Moreover, the regional political process developed to address the crisis in eastern Congo has thus far occurred under the auspices of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, or ICGLR. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni currently chairs this 11-state regional political and economic body, and the proceedings have been dominated largely by both Uganda and Rwanda throughout a series of talks to resolve the conflict over the past two months. The primary outcome to date is an initiative to create a “neutral international force” composed of troops from ICGLR states that would be largely influenced by Rwanda and Uganda and used to quell violence in the region. As experts and officials dig deeper into the evidence presented, it is unlikely that the ICGLR will be able to credibly act alone as an honest broker.
Given the continued duplicity of both Rwanda and Uganda on the conflict in eastern Congo, it is now clear that no regional process alone is capable of dealing with this crisis. Both the governments of Rwanda and Uganda have once again proven themselves as destabilizing regimes in the region, and it is clear that no cessation of hostilities or sustainable peace process can occur without external mediation and substantial pressure on both states from regional and international partners.
The international community must also ensure that accountability is brought to bear on those leaders responsible for providing and carrying out assistance to rebel movements in eastern Congo and for the continued recruitment of child soldiers. Congolese rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda must be arrested and delivered to the ICC; the leadership of M23 must be detained and tried for mutiny and war crimes in the Congo; and the ICC should launch investigations into the involvement of Rwandan and Ugandan senior officials such as James Kabarebe for war crimes orchestrated and carried out in eastern Congo.
Photo: A spokesman for the M23 rebellion in eastern Congo (Enough)