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Rwanda’s Long Shadow: U.S.-Rwandan Relations and a Path Forward in Eastern Congo

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Rwanda’s Long Shadow: U.S.-Rwandan Relations and a Path Forward in Eastern Congo

Posted by Aaron Hall on June 20, 2012

Rwanda’s Long Shadow: U.S.-Rwandan Relations and a Path Forward in Eastern Congo

Evidence continues to mount that the government of Rwanda has been harboring, supporting, and arming war criminals and mutineers, including Bosco Ntaganda, in neighboring eastern Congo. Former rebels from the Rwanda-linked National Congress for the Defense of the People, or CNDP, and an affiliated offshoot group called the M23 movement are currently in open rebellion against the government in Kinshasa and fighting the Congolese national army, or FARDC. Further, recent documents leaked by the United Nations Mission to Congo, or MONUSCO, as well as several interviews conducted by Human Rights Watch and corroborated by the Enough Project field team are pointing to the government of Rwanda forcibly recruiting men and boys into the Rwandan army, or RDF, sending them to fight as rebels for M23 in eastern Congo, and summarily executing them if they prove too weak or try to escape.

Additionally, as part of its annual reporting process, the U.N. Group of Experts on Congo conducted an investigation into the allegations of Rwandan support to the M23 rebellion in Congo. In the process of briefing U.N. Security Council member states as part of the group’s interim report process, the results of this investigation were shared. Several U.N. diplomats as well as NGOs have confirmed that the investigation uncovered evidence of direct Rwandan involvement in the rebellion. Several sources also indicated that this group is best suited to continue investigation into the matter through the remainder of this year.

To what extent is the Rwandan government supporting and fomenting rebellion and conflict in eastern Congo? Is this being done with the support or tacit understanding of the Kagame regime in Kigali? Or has President Kagame lost control of his state security apparatus? What interests does Rwanda have in Congo that keep Kigali so deeply engaged? What knowledge do the U.S. government and partners have of Rwandan involvement in exacerbating conflict in eastern Congo, and what is the nature of their continued military and economic support to Rwanda? The recurring human rights and humanitarian nightmare in eastern Congo demands that these questions be addressed — and as a precondition for support to any further U.S. initiatives in the region, these questions can no longer be dismissed or discussed with equivocation. They must be answered publicly and concretely by U.S. policymakers.

Failure to address the looming question of Rwandan involvement in eastern Congo necessarily prevents any durable or sustainable solutions from taking shape in the most critical sectors needed for peace in Congo. Additionally, if these continued allegations are conclusively proven true, it means that beyond the brazen breach of Congolese national sovereignty, Rwanda is also in violation of several international laws and agreements, including a U.N. arms embargo on Congo, the crime of aggression through fomenting conflict in a neighboring country, pillaging of natural resources, and the forced recruitment of child soldiers.

Given the implications of Rwandan involvement in the conflict, the international community should immediately take steps to respond to these allegations. If necessary, they must also reassess the nature of their policies and relationships with Rwanda to ensure that, by extension, they are not willingly complicit in supporting these violations of international law. As documented below there is substantial available evidence linking destabilizing elements in eastern Congo to the government of Rwanda. Those donor governments that continue to provide support to the government of Rwanda must hold Kigali to account for its involvement in destabilizing activities in Congo. At this point, a strategy of diplomatic see-no-evil, hear-no-evil is irresponsible, hypocritical, and ultimately destructive.

To that end, the government of the United States should immediately take the following steps:

  1. Ensure that the recent investigation conducted by the U.N. Group of Experts on Congo is published and leveraged as a step toward ending external intervention in eastern Congo. Further, push the Security Council to provide additional resources for the Group to continue the investigation in the lead-up to the release of the 2012 annual report.
  2. Based on the accumulated evidence, begin a formal policy review with a specific focus on the overall U.S. military and developmental aid policy. Send a clear signal that intervention in eastern Congo is not acceptable. Base such action on Section 105 of the Democratic Republic of Congo Relief, Security, and Democracy Promotion Act of 2006, which includes provisions for eliminating aid to countries if the Secretary of State “determines that the government of a foreign country is taking actions to destabilize the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”
  3. Partner with the government of Congo and the United Nations to develop a more aggressive strategy to dismantle the Rwandan Hutu militia, the FDLR, thus removing Rwanda’s main stated reason for its continued interest in eastern Congo.