U.N.: Rwandan troops may have committed war crimes in efforts to end '94 genocide

In July, 1994, thousands of Rwandan refugees waited to get food at the Mugunga camp near Goma, in eastern Zaire.
In July, 1994, thousands of Rwandan refugees waited to get food at the Mugunga camp near Goma, in eastern Zaire. (Javier Bauluz)
By Colum Lynch
Saturday, August 28, 2010; 10:51 PM

An exhaustive U.N. investigation into the history of violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo has concluded that the Rwandan military and its allies carried out hundreds of large-scale killings of ethnic Hutu refugees during the 1990s that amounted to war crimes, crimes against humanity and possibly genocide, according to a confidential copy of the report.

The report - which runs 545 pages long and details crimes committed in Congo from March 1993 to June 2003 -- represents the harshest U.N. account to date of the conduct of the ethnic Tutsi-dominated Rwandan government, which has largely been credited with liberating the country from the perpetrators of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Its release represents a political blow to Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who was re-elected president of his country this month in a landslide election victory that was marred by allegations of political repression against political opponents. His government denounced the U.N. findings as "immoral and unacceptable," and Rwanda has sought to block the report's release, according to U.N. sources.

The U.N. inquiry, which was conducted by a team from the U.N.'s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, alleges that Rwanda and its military allies carried out systematic waves of well-planned, highly organized reprisal killings against Hutu refugees in the years after they fled across the border into eastern Zaire, now known as Congo, along with remnants of the former Rwandan military. It also notes that Rwanda's ethnic Tutsi allies inside eastern Congo were also the target of mass killings and persecution.

The report documents more than 600 incidents of large-scale killings in Congo from March 1993 through June 2003, which it claims constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity. It notes that the "systematic and widespread attacks described in this report reveal a number of damning elements that, if proven, could be classified as crimes of genocide."

"The period covered by this report is probably one of the most tragic in the recent history" of Congo, the report stated. "Indeed, this decade was marked by a string of major political crises, wars and multiple ethnic and regional conflicts that brought about the deaths of thousands, if not millions of people."

The Rwandan government issued a statement Thursday challenging the findings, asserting that the U.N. investigators employed a "questionable methodology, sourcing and shockingly low standard of proof" in reaching their conclusions.

"The report is a dangerous and irresponsible document that under the guise of human rights can only achieve instability in the Great Lakes [of Africa] region and undermine ongoing efforts to stabilize the region," the Rwandan statement said. The Great Lakes region encompasses Burundi, Congo, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda.

The U.N. findings were reported Wednesday by the French daily Le Monde and in the New York Times on Saturday.

Rwanda's former Hutu-dominated government, backed by ethnic Hutu militias, killed more than 800,000 Rwandans, primarily ethnic Tutsis, during the 1994 genocide. A Rwandan rebel movement, headed by Kagame, seized control of Kigali, the Rwandan capital, while many of those responsible for the mass killings, along with hundreds of thousands of Hutu civilians, fled across the border into eastern Zaire, where they continued to mount raids against the new Rwandan government.

Kagame is credited with having transformed Rwanda into a dynamic economic upstart and with providing women with unprecedented rights to pursue entrepreneurial and political pursuits. But his government has been dogged by allegations, stemming from the years following the genocide, that his own forces engaged in massive human rights abuses, though on a far smaller scale than the government it ousted.

Kagame maintains that his country's army has engaged in military operations in eastern Congo targeted solely at combatants responsible for perpetrating genocide in Rwanda and for subsequently mounting attacks against the country from bases inside Congo. The report acknowledges that the Kagame's government continued to face armed attacks from Rwandan rebels in Congo, and that it welcomed back a massive number of Hutu refugees to Rwanda - a gesture, the report noted, that may complicate efforts to prosecute government officials for engaging in genocide.

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