Following the uproar caused by the UN’s leaked report into conflict in the DR Congo between 1993 and 2003 that accused the armies of Uganda and Rwanda of war crimes, a tempered official version released last Friday plays safe by omitting names of the alleged perpetrators.
Uganda and Rwanda had threatened to withdraw their soldiers from peacekeeping operations in Somalia and Darfur respectively.
This newspaper has learnt from people familiar with the UN operations that some big shots within the international body didn’t like the idea of a published report implicating Rwanda for fear of retaliation. Those who felt betrayed therefore decided to leak the draft report.
The draft version also alleges that the Ugandan army committed war crimes and crimes against humanity when it backed Congolese rebels who overthrew President Mobuto Sese Seko in 1997 and went on to occupy parts of the east of the country.
The Ugandans are further accused of massacres of civilians, torture, and the destruction of infrastructure, leading to civilian deaths. But Ugandan Foreign Affairs minister Sam Kutesa reacted angrily to the allegations, saying the report is based on rumours and lacking in proof.
The draft report leaked in August accused Uganda and Rwanda of committing the “indescribable” atrocities. The new report, published on Friday, is about atrocities committed in the war-torn DRC from 1993 to 2003, when tens of thousands of people were killed, and others raped and mutilated by both armed Congolese and foreign military forces. The report refers to that period as “probably one of the most tragic chapters in the recent history of the DRC.”
Bullied into abjuration
Now it appears the veiled threat by these two small East African countries to withdraw from UN-backed peace-keeping efforts have worked because rather than mention the armies by name, the final report refers to the perpetrators of the crimes as “foreign forces”.
The UPDF is mentioned in reference to some of the armies that “entered Zaire (now DRC) en masse and set about capturing the provinces of North and South Kivu and the Ituri district” and supplying a proportion of the AFDL’s troops, arms and logistics, while there is no mention of the Rwanda Patriotic Forces at all.
The report however says several incidents in 1996 and 1997 pointed to “circumstances and facts from which a court could infer the intention to destroy the Hutu ethnic group in the DRC in part.“
The report encourages DRC to either pursue justice or ask for reparations from the “foreign forces”. Although it appears to be a toned down version of the no-holds-barred version leaked in August, it underscores the need for justice for the people of DRC, meaning that the perpetrators could still be subjected to international justice just like former Liberian president, Charles Taylor, if DRC chooses to push ahead.
Prior to the publication of the report, Rwanda warned that it would withdraw its peacekeeping troops from Sudan’s Darfur region.
Uganda also said the publication would undermine its participation in peace missions.
“Such sinister tactics undermine Uganda’s resolve to continue contributing to, and participating in various regional and international peace-keeping operations such as AMISOM, UNAMID, UNMIL…,” Guma Muganda, the Foreign Affairs ministry spokesman, told the media late last week.
The draft report alleged that Uganda and Rwanda, who were allies at the start of the DRC war but later turned guns on each other, chased, hacked, shot and burned Hutu in the DR Congo, from 1996 to 1997, after the outbreak of a cross-border Central African war.
However, it is not the first time that Uganda is accused of committing crimes in DRC. Ugandan forces were accused by the UN of plundering DRC’s resources in another report soon after the war ended.
However, Uganda reacted by setting up its own probe led by Justice David Porter, which cleared Ugandan army officers of any wrongdoing. Uganda is also yet to pay the reparations of $10 billion ordered by the International Court of Justice in Geneva after losing a case over the same allegations to DRC.
Somali & Darfur leverage
But with the Western world reluctant to commit troops to volatile areas such as Somalia and Darfur, the two East African countries can buy themselves a chance to blackmail the UN. Uganda and Rwanda are also able to use their allies in the UN Security Council to block any possibility of sanctions.
According to a statement by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, information on the identities of the alleged perpetrators of some of the crimes is being held in a confidential database maintained by the UN’s OCHCR agency.
The 550-page report, listing 617 of the most serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law over the 10-year period by both state and non-state actors, according to the UN, is the product of a mapping exercise that took more than two years, including eight months on the ground in the DRC, interviewing witnesses and a wide range of sources.
It includes allegations of massacres of civilians, torture, and the destruction of infrastructure that led to civilian deaths by both the Uganda and Rwanda armies.
“Violence in the DRC was, in fact, accompanied by the apparent systematic use of rape and sexual assault allegedly by all combatant forces,” it says.
The UN says that at least 30,000 children were recruited or abused by the armed forces during the conflict, including being subjected to “indescribable violence.” The reports mentions murder, rape, torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, forced displacement and destruction of villages.
But Uganda argues that these allegations against UPDF and others are an attempt to mask the failures of the UN in preventing the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
“It can only be construed as a belated effort to insinuate that some regional forces committed a reverse genocide against the vanquished ex-FAR and their kin,” Muganda said.
He added that it is curious for the report to be silent on activities of negative forces such as ADF, National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (NALU), and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) in DRC.
“If the authors of that draft report were to come up with a bona fide and comprehensive report, they should have also covered the periods prior to, and after, 1993-2003,” he said.
“The extensive use of edged weapons... and the apparently systematic nature of the massacres of survivors after the camps had been taken suggests that the numerous deaths cannot be attributed to the hazards of war or seen as equating to collateral damage,” the report says.
It adds that “the majority of the victims were children, women, elderly people and the sick, who were often undernourished and posed no threat to the attacking forces.”