U.S. Backed U.N. General Despite Evidence of Abuses

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 21, 2008

UNITED NATIONS -- The Bush administration's support for the appointment of a Rwandan general to a top U.N. peacekeeping job in Sudan last year came despite a warning from the State Department human rights bureau that there was "credible evidence" linking the officer to human rights abuses in Rwanda in the 1990s, according to internal U.S. government documents.

The U.S. decision to back Maj. Gen. Emmanuel Karake Karenzi as the deputy force commander of the joint U.N.-African Union mission in the Darfur region of Sudan may have violated a provision of a 1997 U.S. law known as the Leahy Amendment, according to two State Department bureaus that opposed Karenzi's appointment. The law requires the State Department to vet the human rights records of foreign military units receiving U.S. assistance.

Karenzi's nomination last year opened a deep rift within the administration between officials who argued that a tainted record on human rights should disqualify him and those who feared offending the Rwandan government, which has threatened to pull its forces from peacekeeping operations in Darfur.

But the U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Jendayi E. Frazer, short-circuited the debate, assuring African Union officials in a Sept. 7, 2007, meeting that a U.S. inquiry had found no evidence of Karenzi's role in atrocities and proposing that he receive the job, according to a U.S. cable describing the meeting. Four days later, the United Nations approved Karenzi for the post.

In February, a Spanish judge charged Karenzi and 39 other Rwandan officials with the mass killings of Rwandan civilians and of several Spanish and Canadian missionaries and relief workers. Nevertheless, the United States, Britain and Rwanda have urged U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to renew Karenzi's contract when it expires next month, according to U.S. and U.N. officials.

The initial dispute within the State Department centered on whether Karenzi was responsible for the killings of hundreds of civilian ethnic Hutus by his troops during a counterinsurgency campaign in Rwanda in March and April of 1998. The United Nations and Human Rights Watch have since linked Karenzi's troops to rights abuses in eastern Congo between 1994 and 2000.

A 1998 State Department report said that Rwandan troops in armored vehicles opened fire on civilians trying to escape a battle with armed opposition fighters. The report also found that Rwandan forces engaged in an unspecified number of reprisal killings and killed 334 people in the Ruhondo and Cyere communes in Ruhengeri province in northwest Rwanda. The report did not name Karenzi, but the department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research later established that he commanded Rwanda's 408th Battalion in Ruhengeri, which allegedly carried out those crimes, according to the documents.

In light of those findings, the State Department's Bureau of International Organization Affairs (IO) and its Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) recommended that Karenzi be disqualified for the peacekeeping post, as detailed in a September 2007 confidential memo written by Kristen Silverberg, then head of the international organization bureau, to R. Nicholas Burns, then undersecretary of state for political affairs.

Silverberg wrote that Karenzi's links to troops responsible for the killings in Ruhengeri amounted to "credible evidence" of human rights violations "in the context of the Leahy amendment vetting requirements."

"Numerous open source allegations of gross human rights violations against [Karenzi] should disqualify him from a leadership role in UNAMID," Silverberg wrote. "While we have no evidence that he ordered the actions that took place, DRL believes the fact that they occurred under his command makes it impossible for the department to support his candidacy for policy reasons and in light of legal considerations.

"IO is aware of the political complications that would ensue from US and/or UN rejection of [Karenzi] and that he is not among the worst human rights abusers from Rwanda," Silverberg wrote. "Nevertheless, taking into account public credibility as well as the potential legal issues, we have doubts that he is the best candidate."

The Washington Post obtained the State Department documents from an anonymous source who was critical of U.S. support for Karenzi. Their authenticity was confirmed by U.S. officials familiar with the internal debate.

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