U.N. says Rwandan troops carried out mass killings in '90s

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By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 29, 2010

An exhaustive U.N. investigation into the history of violence in 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 is 545 pages and details crimes committed in Congo from March 1993 to June 2003 - represents the harshest United Nations 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 reelected this month in a landslide 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 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 in eastern Congo were the target of mass killings and persecution.

The report documents more than 600 incidents of large-scale killings in Congo, 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.

Rwanda's foreign minister, Louise Mushikiwabo, warned U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in a recent letter that her government would withdraw from U.N. peacekeeping missions, including the U.N.-African Union mission in Darfur.

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. 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 endeavors. 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.

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