AEP 64: Rwanda threatens Congolese doctor

A sixteen minute solo episode about James Kabarebe, special presidential advisor in Rwanda, and his recent threatening comments towards Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege.

Read my profile of Mukwege from 2013

Why is Rwanda so afraid of Dr. Mukwege? france-rwanda August 14, 2020

A petition from Bukavu – end impunity in Congo August 2020

The UN Mapping Report on human rights violations in DR Congo 1993-2003

America’s Wars on Democracy in Rwanda and the DR Congo


My new book America’s Wars on Democracy in Rwanda and the DR Congo is published by Palgrave Macmillan in June 2020. Here’s the blurb:

This book examines US interventions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda — two countries whose post-independence histories are inseparable. It analyzes the US campaigns to prevent Patrice Lumumba from turning the DR Congo into a sovereign, democratic, prosperous republic on a continent where America’s ally apartheid South Africa was hegemonic; America’s installation of and support for Mobutu to keep the region under neo-colonial control; and America’s pre-emption of the Africa-wide movement for multiparty democracy in Rwanda and Zaire in the 1990s by supporting Paul Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). In addition, the book discusses the concepts of African development, democracy, genocide, foreign policy, and international politics.

Don’t expect justice from the Imperial Criminal Court

The ICC provides no legal counterbalance to the arrogance of an empire’s power. It is the empire’s court.

In June, a group of international lawyers sued the European Union for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court (ICC). The lawyers claim that when the EU switched to a policy of deterring refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean in 2014, in particular trying to prevent Libyan refugees from fleeing their destroyed state, they killed thousands of refugees and sent tens of thousands more back to Libya to be enslaved, tortured, raped, and killed.

As a symbolic gesture, the lawsuit is powerful. But the possibility of getting justice for Libyan refugees from the ICC is practically nonexistent.

In fact, the ICC bears some responsibility for the destruction of the Libyan state that led to the refugee crisis in the first place. When the United States decided to overthrow Gaddafi in 2011, it had the UN Security Council make a “referral” of the Libyan situation to the ICC. There were some peculiarities in the details of the referral as well: the ICC was directed to investigate the situation in Libya, exempting non-state actors, since February 15, 2011. “It would appear,” scholar Mark Kersten writes in a chapter in the 2015 book “Contested Justice” (pg. 462), “that the restriction to events after 15 February 2011 was included in order to shield key Western states… In the years preceding the intervention, many of the same Western states that ultimately intervened in Libya and helped overturn the regime had maintained close economic, political and intelligence connections with the Libyan government.” The African Union, led by the South African president, tried to broker a peace deal between Gaddafi and the rebels: Gaddafi accepted, but the rebels refused. For them, Gaddafi had to go. And the ICC investigation strengthened their hand. In Libya, the ICC was harmful to a negotiated solution.

In general, the ICC prefers war to negotiated peace. As scholar Phil Clark pointed out in his 2018 book “Distant Justice” (pg. 91): “… the ICC has expressed immense skepticism toward peace negotiations involving Ugandan and Congolese suspects whom it has charged — especially when those talks involve the offer of amnesty — but has strongly supported militarized responses to these suspects and their respective rebel movements. In short, the ICC has viewed ongoing armed conflict rather than peace talks as more useful for its own purposes.” The president of the DR Congo’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission told Clark in an interview (pg. 223): “The ICC came up forcefully in our discussions with several rebel leaders… We would start talking to them, make good progress, then the conversation would stop. They didn’t want to incriminate themselves, even when we stressed that the amnesty was in place.” In the DR Congo, the ICC made offers of amnesty less credible. Rebel leader Mathieu Ngudjolo was pardoned in 2006, integrated into the army, promoted to the rank of colonel, and then arrested on an ICC warrant 18 months later: the government’s “duplicity toward an amnesty recipient undermined the broader use of amnesty as an incentive for members of rebel groups to disarm” (pg. 203).

The ICC’s careful selection of when it investigates crimes (like limiting its Libya investigation to crimes after February 15, 2011, or its predecessor the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda limiting its investigation to crimes committed after the assassination of the Rwandan president on April 6, 1994) is mirrored in its careful selection of where it investigates and where it ignores. Take the DR Congo again: the ICC limited its mandate to the province of Ituri. Horrific violence took place in Ituri, but there was less violence overall than in the Kivu provinces (especially North Kivu). Why didn’t the ICC investigate in the Kivus? Because in the Kivus, the worst crimes were committed by armed groups supported by Rwanda and Uganda, favored U.S. allies in the region. When Sri Lanka’s government killed tens of thousands of people at the end of its counterinsurgency war against the Tamil Tigers in 2009, the ICC wrung its hands: Sri Lanka wasn’t a signatory to the Rome Statute that empowered the ICC.

The ICC gets even twistier when it comes time to prevent accountability for Israel. After the Goldstone report on Israel’s massacres in Gaza in 2008/9, Palestinians tried to bring a suit to the ICC against the Israeli generals and politicians who organized them. David Bosco reports in his book Rough Justice(pg. 162) that the Israelis met with Ocampo and “pressed Moreno-Ocampo to determine quickly that Palestine was not a state and that the court could therefore not accept its grant of jurisdiction.” The Americans told Ocampo “that they saw little value in ‘criminalizing the world’s longest running and most intractable regional dispute.’” Moreno saw the light: “The prosecutor’s long-awaited decision on Palestine — released in April 2012… more than three years after Palestine asked the court to investigate, the prosecutor decided that it was not his role to determine Palestine’s legal status.” The massacred Palestinians were colonized, and therefore stateless. Only states can sign the Rome Statute and bring the ICC in. Therefore, the ICC had no jurisdiction over the 2008/9 massacres of the Palestinians.

When the U.S. and UK saw no benefit to having the ICC involved in Afghanistan, the ICC prosecutor (Bosco, pg. 163): “limited himself to occasional private requests and put no pressure on involved states. That approach contrasted sharply with his willingness to sharply chastise states for their failure to enforce existing arrest warrants.”

Given the proclivity of the Western coalition in Afghanistan for bombing weddings and operating death squads (sometimes euphemistically called “kill teams”), their squeamishness in the face of potential legal probes is understandable. The ICC, like its predecessor tribunals on Rwanda and Yugoslavia, fully understands that the U.S. and UK are exempt from its brand of justice. Bosco (pg. 66) quotes British Foreign Minister Robin Cook speaking about the international tribunal after the Kosovo war in 1999: “If I may say so, this is not a court set up to bring to book Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom or Presidents of the United States.” Legal scholar Hans Kochler, writing in 2003 (pg. 178), quoted NATO spokesman Jamie Shea, who responded, when asked if he would accept the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY)’s jurisdiction over NATO officials: “… I think we have to distinguish between the theoretical and the practical. I believe when Justice [Louise] Arbour starts her investigation, she will because we will allow her to. It’s not [Serbian President Slobodan] Milosevic that has allowed Justice Arbour her visa to go to Kosovo to carry out her investigations. If her court, as we want, is to be allowed access, it will be because of NATO… So NATO is the friend of the Tribunal, NATO are the people who have been detaining indicted war criminals for the Tribunal in Bosnia.”

NATO’s spokesman reminded the world that as a “practical” matter, since it was Western militaries and police services that provide the law enforcement services to the ICC, these Western militaries wouldn’t subject themselves to the ICC’s justice. The second ICTY prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, admitted her dependence on NATO forces and the partiality of justice that ensued (quoted in Bosco pg. 66): “if I went forward with an investigation of NATO, I would not only fail in this investigative effort, I would render my office incapable of continuing to investigate and prosecute the crimes committed by the local forces during the wars of the 1990s.”

The ICC’s prosecutors depend on Western forces to make arrests and renditions. The ICC also recycles intelligence material from these Western countries into evidence against ICC suspects. This should be a legal problem: intelligence material is not evidence. There are many people trapped in Kafkaesque situations precisely because courts used intelligence materials — which are best guesses and probabilities used to inform police and military actions usually before events occur — as evidence, which should consist of provable facts intended to hold people accountable after the fact. Canadian academic Hassan Diab — imprisoned in France based on a similar-sounding name in a notebook from an intelligence agency interrogation — is just one example.

There was a time, decades ago, when the ICC was forming, when American and Israeli officials were actually worried about the prospect of a court that had universal jurisdiction. Suddenly, U.S. officials talked about national sovereignty. At that time you could hear John Bolton arguing that it was a bad idea “assert the primacy of international institutions over nation-states.” Bolton was very explicit about his problems with the U.S. being a party to the ICC, as quoted by Mahmood Mamdani in 2008:

“‘Our main concern should be for our country’s top civilian and military leaders, those responsible for our defense and foreign policy.’ Bolton went on to ask ‘whether the United States was guilty of war crimes for its aerial bombing campaigns over Germany and Japan in World War II’ and answered in the affirmative: ‘Indeed, if anything, a straightforward reading of the language probably indicates that the court would find the United States guilty. A fortiori, these provisions seem to imply that the United States would have been guilty of a war crime for dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is intolerable and unacceptable.’ He also aired the concerns of America’s principal ally in the Middle East, Israel: ‘Thus, Israel justifiably feared in Rome that its pre-emptive strike in the Six-Day War almost certainly would have provoked a proceeding against top Israeli officials. Moreover, there is no doubt that Israel will be the target of a complaint concerning conditions and practices by the Israeli military in the West Bank and Gaza.’”

Near the end of his term, Clinton signed the Rome Statute. At the beginning of his term, George W. Bush had Bolton “unsign” it, and negotiate bilateral agreements with the countries of the world that they would never hand Americans over to any international courts. The U.S. went even further, passing in 2002 the Armed Service-Members Protection Act, which includes the line: “The United States is not a party to the Rome Statute and will not be bound by any of its terms. The United States will not recognize the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court over United States nationals.” Then the U.S. got the Security Council to pass resolutions enshrining U.S. immunity.

Israel also never signed the Rome Statute, which is why its officials are now arguing that the ICC has no jurisdiction in an ICC suit about another massacre it committed, this time on a boat trying to relieve the Gaza siege in 2010.

The powerful are exempt from the ICC’s justice. But the U.S. does believe in a kind of universal jurisdiction: its own. Kochler (2003, pg. 106) cites an internal Department of Justice memorandum from the George H.W. Bush era stating the opinion that the FBI has the power “to apprehend and abduct a fugitive residing in a foreign state when those actions would be contrary to customary international law.” That memo was from 1989, and it was about arresting Manuel Noriega, the president of Panama who fell afoul of the U.S., whose country was bombed and invaded, and who was taken away to jail.

The ICC won’t be doing anything for Libyan refugees or the victims of Israel’s massacres, but it continues to make strong statements about Sudan’s now ousted president Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted for crimes committed as part of a counterinsurgency campaign in Darfur. The trial of an African leader from an enemy state, more than a decade after the crimes took place: now this is where the ICC shines.

In 2008, writing about the ICC’s arrest warrant for al-Bashir, Uganda-based scholar Mahmood Mamdani warned that the ICC was becoming a tool of neocolonial domination. The theory implicit in the ICC’s interventions, he wrote, “…turns citizens into wards. The language of humanitarian intervention has cut its ties with the language of citizen rights. To the extent the global humanitarian order claims to stand for rights, these are residual rights of the human and not the full range of rights of the citizen. If the rights of the citizen are pointedly political, the rights of the human pertain to sheer survival… Humanitarianism does not claim to reinforce agency, only to sustain bare life. If anything, its tendency is to promote dependence. Humanitarianism heralds a system of trusteeship.” And what is an empire if not a system of trusteeship?

The ICC provides no legal counterbalance to the arrogance of an empire’s power. It is the empire’s court.

This article was produced by Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The Ossington Circle Episode 30: The Crimes of the Rwandan Patriotic Front with Judi Rever

The Ossington Circle Episode 30: The Crimes of the Rwandan Patriotic Front with Judi Rever

I talk to Judi Rever, author of the important new book In Praise of Blood: The Crimes of the Rwandan Patriotic Front. We start with the inception of the military force that would become the RPF in 1980s Uganda and follow it through the civil war and genocide to contemporary Rwanda and the Congo. The mind-boggling deaths and atrocities of the many Central African wars and the central role of Paul Kagame are the focus of this interview.

Escalating violence in Burundi

Even when there are constitutionally mandated term limits, many leaders try to hold on to power. In Central Africa (where the small country of Burundi, with its population of 10 million, is located) there are several leaders that have tried, or are trying, to bend the rules to stay in office. The DR Congo, Burundi’s giant neighbour, is currently the site of a democratic movement to try to uphold the Constitution and stop President Joseph Kabila from changing the rules to stay in office. Rwanda is sometimes called Burundi’s ‘twin’: it has about the same land area. It has about the same population (slightly higher), which has the came ethnicities in the same proportions (Tutsi minority, Hutu majority, and Twa). It was once jointly ruled with Burundi by the colonial powers. In Rwanda, too, the president, Paul Kagame, has recently made all the necessary moves to stay in power beyond his term limits – a special exception to the Constitution, just for him.

The current round of political violence in Burundi began in April when its president, Pierre Nkurunziza, announced that he intended to seek a third term in office. In May, a military coup was attempted against him, and failed. In July, Nkurinziza was re-elected with 69% of the vote, after months of heavy-handed tactics. The opposition did not recognize the legitimacy of the result. A major crackdown on the opposition by the government began in November – hundreds killed, hundreds of thousands displaced to neighbouring countries. Now, after the failed coup and the disputed election, Nkurunziza’s government is facing an armed rebellion.

Rebels attacked military bases on December 11th with 87 deaths before the attacks were repulsed. The next morning the capital city, Bujumbura, woke up to find 34 murdered bodies in the streets, probably extrajudicial executions. The UN special advisor on the prevention of genocide, quoted in the journal Foreign Policy, raised a dire warning: “I am not saying that tomorrow there will be a genocide in Burundi, but there is a serious risk that if we do not stop the violence, this may end with a civil war, and following such a civil war, anything is possible”.

Some context: Burundi has lived through civil war before, as well as dictatorship and genocide. Scholar Rene Lemarchand has called Rwanda and Burundi “genocidal twins”. Had Burundi’s post-independence ended up a little bit differently, the whole region may have seen a lot less anguish. Immediately after independence in 1959, a multi-ethnic unity party led by a massively popular young leader, Prince Louis Rwagasore, was set to take power electorally. Rwagasore was assassinated by a European in 1961. Within a few years, a group of Tutsi military officers seized power and proceeded to rule an ethnically exclusive state with an iron fist.

In 1972, in the context of a Hutu rebellion, the establishment organized a genocide against Hutu, killing hundreds of thousands, targeting intellectuals and potential leaders. There were new massacres against Hutus in 1988. In 1993, when a Hutu leader, Melchior Ndadaye, won a democratic election, he was assassinated by the army. More massacres followed, and a civil war began. These events, and the refugees of these massacres, influenced events in Rwanda, including the 1990-1994 civil war and the 1994 genocide that occurred there.

Burundi’s civil war ended through a negotiated settlement in 2006, with a UN force installed (its mandate ended at the end of 2014). Analyst Patrick Hajayandi describes the arrangements agreed upon in the settlement:


“The armed and security forces of Burundi are composed of 50% of Hutu and 50% of Tutsi, in line with the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Accords, and the Global Ceasefire Agreement…


In the current national and local government, as well as in both the Parliament and the Senate, officials are also composed of Hutu and Tutsi, at a rate of 60% and 40% respectively. Unlike in previous pogroms that afflicted Burundi, in 1972 and 1993, the integrated nature of social and political life significantly diminishes the prospect of an unraveling genocidal conflagration.”

Hajayandi advocates a cautious approach based on dialogue, and argues that warnings of imminent genocide and talk of foreign military intervention will inflame a situation that could be kept at a low-intensity and resolved through negotiation. Burundi’s citizens, he writes, are “war-weary”, and have shown “great resistance against efforts by war mongers and ethnic entrepreneurs”.

These “war mongers” may include Rwanda, Burundi’s “twin”. Former UN official Jeff Drumtra told journalist Ann Garrison that, working in the Mahama refugee camp for Burundian refugees in Rwanda, he saw a Rwandan rebel recruitment (perhaps better described as conscription) effort. The rebels would be conscripted and then sent into Burundi. In a letter to the Washington Post, Drumtra cited an al Jazeera story from July about the recruitment of Burundian rebels in refugee camps in Rwanda.

If Drumtra is correct and the “hand of Rwanda” is at work here, it would not be the first time. Successive waves of rebellions in the eastern DR Congo, most recently the M23 rebellion, were conducted by Rwandan proxies. Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame fought in a war in Uganda, came to power in a war in Rwanda, and ran one war after another in the DR Congo. It would be an obvious observation to note that he favours military solutions over other kinds.

If diplomatic efforts are going to succeed in de-escalating Burundi’s conflict, they may have to apply some pressure on Rwanda to stand down as well. This was done successfully with M23 in the DR Congo, and could be done again.

First published at TeleSUR English: http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/Escalating-Violence-in-Burundi-20151212-0018.html

The end of universal jurisdiction

At the beginning of October, Spain’s supreme court dismissed the case known to Rwanda watchers as the Merelles (2008) indictments. Judge Andreu Merelles had charged forty Rwandan military officials of crimes against humanity, war crimes, terrorism, and genocide, and issued warrants for their arrest. The indictment was launched because some Spanish citizens had been killed in the Rwandan civil war. But it expanded to include Rwandan and Congolese victims of the armed forces of Paul Kagame, the winner of the 1990 civil war and the man who may have just become Rwanda’s President-for-life (more on that below).

The indictments had always excluded Kagame because of Kagame’s presidential immunity. Kagame went about protecting himself in two ways, both of which eventually succeeded. First, Kagame may have reasoned, if the president is immune to prosecution, why not stay president forever, making whatever constitutional changes necessary to do so? Second, the indictments themselves were challenged and the doctrine underlying them, ultimately defeated.

The doctrine in question was called ‘universal jurisdiction’. The idea was that a crimes like genocide and crimes against humanity were not crimes that stopped at national borders. As a result, any country could charge and try those accused of such crimes, even if they were from another country. Universal jurisdiction is a liberal doctrine, analogous to the selectively applied Responsibility to Protect (R2P). Universal jursidiction is not as prone to abuse as R2P mainly because it is not as asymmetric as R2P: any country with a judiciary can hold a trial and issue arrest warrants, but only two or three countries in the world have the military might to send military forces to other countries, whether on the pretense of protecting people or some other. For non-superpowers, for smaller countries, there was only the threat of the law.

Spain was just such a small country whose judges took up the law against human rights abusers in other countries. Under the universal jurisdiction doctrine it attempted to try Chile’s dictator Augusto Pinochet, Guatemalan military officers, and Argentinian military officers. But the Spanish judges didn’t just chase fallen dictators from smaller countries. They also pursued former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, US soldiers for crimes in Iraq, Chinese politicians for crimes in Tibet, and Israeli generals for massacres of Palestinians.

By going after the big fish and people currently in power, the Spanish judges set alarm bells ringing. Israel, which famously used the doctrine of universal jursidiction in its trial of Eichmann 1961, got the investigation against its officers stopped. Kissinger argued that the doctrine would degenerate into show trials against political opponents.

Last year, Spain’s legislature reduced the applicability of universal jurisdiction. An NYT article (Feb 10/14, “Spain Seeks to Curb Law Allowing Judges to Pursue Cases Globally”) suggests that China was the last straw. But the doctrine was targeted earlier. And the last straw was not China, but the arrest in June of one of Rwandan ruler Kagame’s intelligence officers, Karenzi Karake, in London, on a European arrest warrant filed based on Merelles’s 2008 indictments. Karake was released in August through the strenuous efforts of the Blair family (Tony Blair is a friend and advisor to Kagame, and Cherie Blair was Karake’s lawyer). Less than two months later, Merelles’s indictments were dismissed in the Spanish Supreme Court.

Kagame and his men could breathe a little easier. As for Kagame himself, lest any other countries get any universal jurisdiction ideas, the Rwandan parliament voted to allow Kagame to extend his tenure beyond the end of his term limits in 2017. Maybe he’ll stay on until 2034. The parliament didn’t change the law for everyone: just for Kagame.

Is anything left of the indictments? For 29 of the 40 indicted, there remains a possibility of prosecution should they enter Spanish territory.

But the doctrine on which it is based, universal jurisdiction, has been eroded. Journalist Judi Rever, describing the case in the Digital Journal, used the term “gutted”. After this decision, the international legal arena has become a bit safer for war criminals.

Partial justice and victor’s justice will still take place through these international tribunals. If you are a dictator, if you lose a war, if you end up on the wrong side of Western weapons – you should continue to fear trial and execution in international courts.

But if you are perpetrating crimes against Asians or Africans, in places like Rwanda or the DRC, or in Palestine or Afghanistan or Iraq, under the protection of a major power like the US – well then, rest easy. The law will not get you.

First published TeleSUR English: http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/The-End-of-Universal-Jurisdiction-20151113-0010.html

The Beginning of the End for Kagame?

On June 22, 2015 it was reported that the director-general of Rwanda’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), Emmanuel Karenzi Karake, was arrested in London. One report, by Judi Rever in the Digital Journal, refers to Karenzi Karake accurately as “Kagame’s spy chief”. Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, rose to power as an intelligence chief himself – working for Yoweri Museveni, the ruler of Uganda, during the 1980s Bush War in that country. Kagame would not choose a spy chief lightly, and Karenzi Karake is absolutely in Kagame’s inner circle.

Interpol is responsible for the arrest, and was acting on indictments issued by a Spanish Judge, Fernando Andreu Merelles, in 2008. Merelles issued indictments for forty of Kagame’s men, all of whom were in command positions of Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) at the end of the Rwandan Civil War and genocide of 1994. Having defeated and replaced the Rwandan government that committed the genocide, Kagame’s RPF hunted and massacred Rwandan refugees during and after the Rwandan civil war, in the areas they controlled (and in the DR Congo).

The evidence of these massacres is irrefutable. In standard accounts of the genocide, including the basic Human Rights Watch book Leave No One to Tell the Story by Alison Des Forges, massacres by the RPF are presented, though no estimates are given on their scale. A famously buried report by UN investigator Robert Gersony, which has since surfaced, estimated the scale to be in the tens of thousands – during the civil war. Some of the largest, and best documented massacres by the RPF occurred after they had already won the war – the worst and most infamous being the Kibeho massacre of April 1995.

Scholar Gerard Prunier, who wrote one of the standard accounts of the Rwandan genocide and one of the major books on the Congo wars, Africa’s World War (Oxford University Press 2009), was a long-time friend of the RPF since before the Civil War. In his book, he expresses considerable understanding and empathy for the RPF, arguing that RPF violence “had to be seen in the context of the war and of the genocide”, that there were going to be some “unavoidable revenge killings”. But when one of the few Hutu members of the RPF, Seth Sendashonga, also a friend of Prunier’s, tried and failed to stop the Kibeho massacre, after sending 400 memos over 13 months to Kagame to try to stop these killings (memos to which Kagame studiously avoided replying in writing), Prunier was forced to start changing his mind. Sendashonga went into exile and was assassinated in Kenya in 1998 – Prunier reports this murder as causing his final break with the RPF. Prunier called the RPF’s campaign of killings “coherent”, with their “focal point” being “undivided political control”. Targets included “friends and family of genocidaire, educated people, PARMEHUTU (from the Hutu political party), and opponents” – a broad and ever-expanding pool of potential victims. The RPF, Prunier wrote, viewed the Hutu majority population, whether they were involved in politics or not, whether they had anything to do with the the genocide or not, as a “permanent danger” to be kept at bay with “random mass killings to instill fear and defanged by neutralizing real or potential leaders”.

Merelles’s indictments are based on testimony by ex-RPF soldiers, like the 2014 BBC documentary that stirred so much controversy. The 182-page legal document outlines specific charges against specific commanders for specific massacres in different parts of Rwanda. Like the BBC documentary, it has generated enraged responses from Kagame’s supporters, both in Rwanda and in the West. The standard enraged response is to counter-accuse, and attack the source as being “pro-genocide”. The idea is that Interpol and a Spanish judge are, in 2015, working on behalf of the Hutu forces that committed the genocide and were militarily defeated, scattered, hunted, and slaughtered by the RPF (along with hundreds of thousands of perfectly innocent civilians) two decades ago, during which some of their leaders were also convicted in the International Criminal Court.

The explanation might be somewhat simpler – that, according to this judge, the fact that Kagame and the RPF fought against a government that killed hundreds of thousands of civilians did not grant them the right to kill hundreds of thousands of civilians.

Merelles’s 2008 indictments are not the only documents sitting out there in the public domain that contain enough evidence to condemn Kagame and the commanders around him to jail. There are also a number of United Nations reports, including the UN Mapping Report on the Congo and a series of reports on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources in the Democratic Republic of Congo. There are also indictments from another judge, Jean-Louis Brugiere of France, from 2006. Most who know about Kagame’s crimes assumed that these documents would mainly collect dust.

But slowly over the past five or so years, and especially since the BBC documentary was aired last year, even as Kagame seeks to change the constitution to remove term limits and stay in office beyond 2017, it does look like something has changed in the West’s treatment of him. The automatic smear that anyone seeking accountability for the RPF’s crimes must be a ‘genocidaire’ is not sticking as well it used to. The evidence that Kagame and the RPF are responsible for assassinations and massacres in Rwanda and Congo, as well as plunder and occupation in the Congo, is overwhelming and hard to ignore, as hard as Kagame’s supporters try. The idea that the 1994 genocide gives Kagame and the RPF impunity to commit crimes against humanity holds so little weight that no one is willing to say it out loud. Now his spy chief has been arrested in one of the countries, the UK, that has supported Kagame the most unconditionally. If the UK is not safe for a war criminal, then where in the West is?

If Kagame can’t shake off the stench of crimes against humanity, he may find himself becoming another one of the West’s dispensable dictators. Joseph Kabila has, after all, demonstrated that he can fulfill Western interests in the DR Congo directly, without the need for Rwanda’s middle-management – especially if the UN continues to provide soldiers to do it.

Kagame and his once-patron, Museveni of Uganda, were once touted by the US as the ‘New African Leaders’. But perhaps they are approaching their shelf life. If so, they may suddenly be ushered off stage and replaced some time soon. If the West remains the arbiter of what happens there, the people of the region can have little to hope for from their replacements.

First published at TeleSUR English: http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/The-Beginning-of-the-End-for-Kagame-20150626-0023.html

The Filimbi Affair and #Telema

In January of this year, protests erupted in Kinshasa, the capital of the DR Congo, against President Joseph Kabila. He came to power in 2001 as acting president when his father, Laurent Kabila, was assassinated. He was affirmed as president by a 2002 peace accord, and he was elected in what was probably a fair election in 2006. He was re-elected in what was probably a stolen election in 2011. His second, and final, term is up in 2016. The protests, called the #Telema (the word means “rise up” in Lingala – the language spoken in the capital and elsewhere in the DR Congo) movement, followed the announcement by Kabila’s government of a proposed law that would delay the 2016 election until a census could be completed. In the DRC, a census could take years, a fact that Kabila was no doubt aware of when the law was proposed.

The protests were started at the University of Kinshasa and the initial demand was for the removal of the offending article of the law that required the census before the election. But over the next few days in January, the demands started to escalate to the removal of Kabila. The armed forces attacked the protesters, with tear gas and live fire (1). An African human rights group gave figures of 14 people killed on the 19th and 28 on the 20th, all by security forces, while the government claimed a lower death toll of 15 people, supposedly looters killed by private security forces (2). Human Rights Watch gave an estimate of at least 21 people killed by security forces (3).

With 42 student protesters killed, ongoing arrests, and a mass grave found in Kinshasa just days ago, the DRC has its own Ayotzinapa.

In the years leading up to these protests, Kinshasa has been the site of a police campaign of social cleansing that left 51 people dead, murdered by masked police on suspicion of being “gang members” in what was called “Operation Likofi” (4). According to HRW’s summary of the operation, “uniformed police, often wearing masks, dragged kuluna, or suspected gang members, from their homes at night and executed them. The police shot and killed the unarmed young men and boys outside their homes, in the open markets where they slept or worked, and in nearby fields or empty lots. Many others were taken without warrants to unknown locations and forcibly disappeared.”

The largest number of protesters were killed on Tuesday, January 20, but the protests continued. By Friday January 23, the government had reconsidered. The bill was amended as the protesters had asked (5). In early February, a spokesperson for Kabila said “President Kabila will end his mandate in 2016. You’ll see” (6).

The student youths that were major players in the Telema protests of January continued to mobilize to try to defend the 2016 election, fearing that Kabila would continue to try to find ways to hang on to power. One of the main pro-democracy youth groups is called Filimbi (“youth for a new society”). In mid-March, they held a two day long workshop, inviting pro-democracy activists from Burkina Faso and Senegal to discuss the movements in their countries. At a press conference at the end of the workshop, the Congolese military swept in and arrested everyone at the meeting – foreign and Congolese alike, thirty people in total. They continue to make targeted arrests of youth activists, and while the foreigners have been released, many of the Congolese arrested in March – and, indeed, in January – remain in custody (7).

An aside here is in order, because while Filimbi is an independent organization, one of the co-sponsors of the event on March 14-15, called FNJE (forum nationale des jeunes pour l’excellence, or the national forum of youth for excellence), was financially supported by the US pro-democracy programs. A USAID official, Kevin Sturr, was arrested at the event and later released. The US Embassy defended the event and its support for it. For those who have seen the damage done to democracy by USAID and similar programs in Venezuela and Haiti, the presence of USAID in this event is cause for caution. But Filimbi and the pro-democracy movement deserve support from everyone concerned with democracy, especially at this early stage, in spite of the presence of USAID at the event. They deserve support because, unlike some of the organizations supported by USAID, NED, and IRI in places like Haiti and Venezuela, their cause is just – they are seeking to uphold the very fragile democratic institutions that are available to them – and they are doing so through popular mobilization and civil resistance as opposed to seeking the violent overthrow of the government.

As Ben Kabamba of Filimbi, now forced to operate underground, said in an interview, “today we are considered enemies of the state, but if we had taken up arms and killed people, we would be rewarded with ministerial posts.” (8) Indeed, the chosen US vehicles for influence in the Congo are not traditionally pro-democracy students, but the armed forces, business groups, private armies, and armies of the DRC’s neighbours, especially Rwanda and Uganda. While the US leaves no stone unturned in the search for influence and does target civil society organizations, it is much more likely that it sees the Congolese pro-democracy movement, and especially its civil and political – as opposed to military – nature, as a threat. It is also unlikely that the US is looking to overthrow Joseph Kabila, who has done nothing against US interests in his 14 years in power.

Even though most political commentators (myself included) have focused on the Congo’s wars, the Congo has a very long tradition of civil, pro-democracy activism. The Congo’s independence was won by such people, and Patrice Lumumba and his companions who won it were also among the first martyrs of the pro-democracy movement. In the early 1990s, the pro-democracy movement forced the Congolese dictator, Mobutu, to agree to a sovereign national congress that was beginning to impose limits on his power. In both cases, brief democratic openings were closed by violence, and in both cases, truly horrific wars followed. Joseph Kabila arrived in the DR Congo as a soldier in one of those wars. If he releases the political prisoners, ceases the campaign of arrests, and steps down, he could still balance out near the right side of Congolese history, even after the 2011 election and even after his recent crimes. The Congo’s friends can, and should, help.

First published at TeleSUR English April 14, 2015: http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/The-Filimbi-Affair-and-Telema-20150414-0017.html

Notes

(1) “Congo’s #Telema protests – in tweets.” UK Guardian, January 21, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/21/-sp-congo-telema-protest-twitter

(2) “Church backs Congo protesters, rights group says 42 killed”. Reuters January 21, 2015. http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/01/21/us-congodemocratic-politics-protests-idUSKBN0KU0UI20150121

(3) https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/01/21/human-rights-watch-daily-brief-21-january-2015

(4) HRW, “DR Congo: Police Operation Kills 51 Young Men and Boys” https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/11/18/dr-congo-police-operation-kills-51-young-men-and-boys

(5) AFP, via UK Daily Mail, January 23, 2015. “DR Congo Senate backs down on electoral bill after deadly clashes” http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/afp/article-2923442/DR-Congo-Senate-backs-electoral-bill-violence.html

(6) Malcolm Beith for Bloomberg, February 5, 2015. “Congo’s President Kabila Will Step Down in 2016, Spokesman Says” http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-02-05/congo-s-president-kabila-will-step-down-in-2016-spokesman-says

(7) A basic website that includes some information about the Filimbi prisoners, demands, and ideas on how to help is telema.org: http://www.telema.org/

(8) http://www.telema.org/interview-with-ben-kabamba-filimbi/

#IStandWithPanzi

In the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, in the city of Bukavu, in South Kivu, on the Rwandan border, Panzi Hospital has been a refuge for survivors of sexual violence. So why is the Congolese government using the tax system to try to shut it down?

The director of the hospital, Denis Mukwege (1), has argued that the pattern of violence that he and his medical staff have encountered there constitutes a new pathology, a kind of weapon of mass destruction (2), deployed by armed actors to destroy the social fabric of the eastern DRC and control the region and its resources. Dr. Mukwege has won numerous humanitarian awards for his work. As a regional hub for survivors of sexual violence, Panzi has attracted international attention and support. Beyond his medical work, Dr. Mukwege has been a strong voice in international forums reminding the world that, as long as weaponized sexual violence continues, the Congo cannot be said to be in a “post-conflict” situation.

The Kivus are still overrun with armed actors. The Congolese Army is a major human rights violator. Militias sponsored by the DRC’s neighbours, Uganda and Rwanda, as well as armed groups of exiles from these countries, operate in the countryside and victimize the civilian population. The Ugandan and Rwandan armies periodically enter Congolese territory to conduct operations of their own. And a multinational United Nations force, one of the UN’s largest missions, has been in the east for about 15 years. Against this backdrop, Panzi has been a haven for civilians, a place where women could heal, and a place from where a lot of the energy and organization to help the region recover has come.

A major driver of this chaotic armed violence is the region’s mineral resources, which have been plundered for more than a century, by Belgian colonialists, Western corporations, local dictators like Mobutu, and neighbouring powers like Rwanda and Uganda. In recent years, there have been numerous efforts to move the mining trade out of the illegal realm and into legal, corporate hands, through legislation like the Dodd-Frank Act. Perhaps the most visible face of corporate mining in South Kivu is the Canadian gold mining company, Banro Corporation, which inherited rights to two big gold mines from the state-run mining company and which, in 2013, had a gross revenue of $111 million USD from its mining operations. A look at Banro’s 2013 Annual Report describes the company’s tax arrangements with the Congolese government – arrangements that are always sought after by mining companies, even if they are not always obtained:

“In the Congo, the Company is subject to a mining convention signed with the Congolese government that provides the Company with a 10-year tax holiday from the date of commercial production. The tax holiday enables the Company to earn income in the Congo that is exempt from corporate income tax during this period of the tax holiday. ” (3)

Unfortunately for Panzi hospital, the Congolese government shows more generosity with its tax holidays towards mining companies than it does to public hospitals. At a press conference at the end of 2014, Dr. Mukwege described the persecution of the hospital by the state (4). The Congo’s tax office seized the hospital’s bank accounts last October. Panzi sued, and the tax office released the accounts on December 29 – then, re-seized them again the next day. In their press release, Panzi emphasized that none of the other 500 officially recognized public hospitals in the DRC pay taxes, but Panzi has been hit with taxes of $47,000 (already seized) and $650,000 additional dollars for 2013. “If we owe $600,000 in taxes,” Dr. Mukwege asked at the press conference, “how much are we supposed to have earned?”

The hospital, which serves an area of 400,000 people, is in danger of closing, and cannot pay its 500 employees. The Belgian government (5) called for the tax to be scrapped, stating that the tax “threatens the care provided to rape victims.” If others follow, there is no reason why the tax couldn’t simply be scrapped and the hospital return to its important work.

This is not the first attack on Panzi or on Mukwege, who survived an assassination attempt in 2012. The current persecution of the hospital is likely pre-electoral in nature. President Joseph Kabila was elected in 2006 by a population that hoped he would help to restore the country’s sovereignty after a decade (then) of proxy war and occupation. His re-election in 2011 was won only with recourse to massive fraud. In order to stay in power after 2016, he will have to change the constitution (it was changed for him once already, because he did not reach the age requirement of 35 when he was first elected). The “post-conflict” continues to be deadly to the people of the east (6). Instead of addressing the violence, Kabila’s government is attacking those who are trying to stop the violence and raising criticisms of it. The government would do better to study Panzi carefully, increase its resources, and try to emulate its work in other conflict zones.

Notes

(1) I profiled Dr. Mukwege for The Progressive Magazine in November 2009: “Healing in the Congo: A Profile of Dr. Denis Mukwege” -http://www.killingtrain.com/sites/killingtrain.com/files/podur_progressivenov2009healinginthecongo.pdf

(2) Mukwege and Nangini 2009, “Rape With Extreme Violence: The New Pathology in South Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo” PLOS Medicine 6 (12): e1000204 doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1000204. URL:http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pmed.1000204

(3) Banro Corporation, 2013 Annual Report, pg. 47 URL:http://www.banro.com/i/pdf/2013AnnualReport.pdf

(4) Panzi Hospital’s press release: http://www.panzihospital.org/archives/2847. Transcription of the press conference: http://www.panzihospital.org/archives/2858

(5) “DR Congo tax on rape victim hospital sparks fury” France 24, January 3, 2015:http://www.france24.com/en/20150103-belgium-urges-dr-congo-scrap-tax-hospital-rape-victims/. Reuters story Jan 2/15: http://in.reuters.com/article/2015/01/02/congodemocratic-health-politics-idINL6N0UH15020150102

(6) See the Congo Siasa blog for updates by academic Jason Stearns and guests like Rachel Sweet, who posted on Jan 6. on the ongoing violence in North Kivu, which has claimed 200 lives in the past three months: http://congosiasa.blogspot.ca/2015/01/guest-blog-politics-and-business.html

First published on TeleSUR English

The BBC Documentary doesn’t deny the genocide

The BBC Documentary, Rwanda: The Untold Story, does not deny the Rwandan genocide against Tutsis. It is a documentary primarily about Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s current ruler, who came out of the Rwandan civil war and genocide of 1994 into a position of absolute power in Rwanda, from which he launched multiple invasions into the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, invasions which resulted in well-documented mass atrocities. I wrote about the documentary after I watched it (“The BBC and the Rwandan Genocide”: http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/The-BBC-and-the-Rwandan-Genocide-20141011-0029.html), saying that I hoped that it would create an opening to talk about the current government in Rwanda and about Western support for Kagame. So did many others, including Jonathan Cook, who has done excellent work on Israel-Palestine and has a sharp critique of propaganda in that conflict (See his Oct 4 blog, “Why is the truth about Rwanda so elusive?”: http://www.jonathan-cook.net/blog/2014-10-04/why-is-the-truth-about-rwanda-so-elusive/).

On October 12, a group of academics and writers wrote to the BBC to express their “grave concern” about the documentary. Their letter, which has been posted on media lens (http://members5.boardhost.com/medialens/msg/1413251703.html) is supposedly about ‘genocide denial’, but since no one involved in the BBC documentary denied the Rwandan genocide against the Tutsis, the letter is really about Kagame, and continuing to protect him from criticism using the slur of genocide denial. The letter seems designed to ensure that no discussion about Kagame or Western support for his regime occurs. It repeats the term “genocide denial” 10 times, but it centers on a number of factual claims which can be evaluated. In the spirit of the “utmost intellectual honesty and rigor” that they claim to seek in their letter, let us evaluate these claims.

1. The documentary features a woman, Marie, whose childhood involved living through an incredible number of horrors: first she lived through the Rwandan genocide, then she lived through being hunted as a refugee through the forests of the Congo as a refugee. The writers write that “the programme allows a witness to claim that ‘only ten percent of the Interahamwe (militia) were killers”. The letter counters with “eyewitness testimony by several militia leaders who cooperated with the ICTR”, who argue that “the majority of the Hutu Power militia forces – estimated to have been 30,000 strong – were trained specifically to kill Tutsi at speed, and were indoctrinated in a racist ideology.”

The witness is a survivor of the genocide, and a survivor of the RPF massacres in the DR Congo. Her estimate is obviously not the outcome of a detailed sociological study or survey, and viewers should exercise skepticism in interpreting it, but it is very, very far from “genocide denial”. The context was one in which mass numbers of Hutus were being punished collectively for the genocide – and the witness was trying to say that not all of those punished were guilty. That is not so far from what was written in the suppressed Gersony report, about the thousands of people massacred by the RPF during their advance: “It appeared that the vast majority of men, women, and children killed in these actions were targeted through the pure chance of being caught by the RPA. No vetting process or attempt to establish the complicity of the victims in the April 1994 massacres of the Tutsis was reported.” As Theogene Rudasingwa, a former member of the RPF who is now in exile, wrote in his reply to the letter (posted on medialens: http://members5.boardhost.com/medialens/msg/1413315890.html):

“The BBC documentary, in its opening moments captures the agony of the victims, as they are hacked to death by this militia. So what if they were 5,000, 10, 1000, 30,000? For the American Professors (note: Rudasingwa is referring here to Davenport and Stam, academics at the University of Michigan, to whom I will return), and the authors of the letter trading polemics on this matter, I would say this is not time well spent. The militia had to be defeated militarily. I am glad they did. Unfortunately, the military victors of 1994 went on a killing spree in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo that is yet to be accounted for. That should be a subject of urgent interest rather than counting the number of militia that were involved in the genocidal madness.”

2. The second claim is that “the programme attempts to minimize the number of Tutsi murdered”. The programme presents figures by Davenport and Stam. Davenport discusses their study at length in this lecture: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=THyzuIPD1qc&list=PL4D0960C09545A4FD&index=2). To me, the value of their study was in this discussion of their sources, the ranges of figures, and how they understood the violence in Rwanda in space and time. You can look at their data here (http://genodynamics.weebly.com/data-on-violence.html). Their figures should definitely be viewed with caution, but their analysis has several points of interest. They concluded that more Hutus died in the genocide than Tutsis, arguing that a specific dynamic occurred: once the killings started, people began to flee, and the killers, unable to distinguish between Tutsi and Hutu, killed indiscriminately; because there were many more Hutus than Tutsis, more Hutus ended up dying. Like Marie, the witness’s testimony, this analysis, and this conclusion, does not amount to ‘genocide denial’. Davenport and Stam set out to study the Rwandan genocide, and have never denied that there was an anti-Tutsi genocide that was carried out by the Rwandan government at the time. You can disagree with their analysis, or with their conclusions (I do disagree with the figure they gave in the BBC documentary, of 800,000 Hutus and 200,000 Tutsis killed, and I think Fillip Reyntjens’s estimates are the most accurate, of 600,000 Tutsis and 500,000 Hutus killed, and he has repeated his figures in a post about the documentary in facebook) but it is simply false to call them ‘genocide deniers’. They presented an analysis of data, not “a tactic of genocide deniers”, in the letter’s ugly language.

3. “The film argues that the shooting down of the plane on April 6, 1994 was perpetrated by the RPF.” The film presents RPF insiders claiming to have heard the planning of the assassination of the Rwandan and Burundian presidents. The letter writers cite French magistrate judge Marc Trevidic, whose investigations suggest that the missiles could not have been fired by the RPF. Two other judges concluded otherwise: Fernando Merelles from Spain in 2008 and Jean-Louis Brugiere from France in 2006. Reyntjens and Rudasingwa, in their replies, have both pointed out that Marc Trevidic’s investigation is not over – like many others, they have concluded that the RPF shot down the plane.

I have reviewed the material that is available and I am not confident about who shot down the plane. But as a matter of logic, whether the RPF shot down the leader of their enemy government, or whether the government shot down their own president, culpability for the genocide does not change, does it? If – as the letter-writers, the BBC reporters, and all the people the BBC reporters interviewed agree – the Rwandan government and its militias organized and carried out the mass murder of Tutsis immediately after the plane was shot down, surely they are culpable for the genocide regardless of who shot the plane down? If the RPF shot the plane down, they would be guilty of assassination, but it would still be the Rwandan government that would be guilty of genocide. Regardless, the film presents some claims, the letter-writers present some claims, about an assassination that occurred at the beginning of the genocide. Whether the RPF shot the plane down or not, the genocide occurred. So, presenting a claim that the RPF shot the plane down cannot be ‘genocide denial’.

4. “The film-maker, Jane Corbin… even tries to raise doubts about whether or not the RPF stopped the genocide.” The letter writers cite Romeo Dallaire (one of the signers of the letter) as “The authority on this subject”. But is Dallaire a greater authority than Kagame himself? At 20:38, there is an interview with Kagame, who was at the battlefront. Kagame is asked: “Are the massacres still continuing?” He replies: “Yes, the massacres are continuing, though on a lower scale, and this is not because the killers have stopped killing but because, I think, they have killed quite a big number of those they are supposed to kill.”

Now to the departures from the “utmost intellectual honesty and rigor” engaged in by the letter writers. There are many, including the systematic slinging of mud and the constant argumentation from authority, but let us take two.

1. Do the letter-writers really believe that the civil war between the RPF and the Rwandan government at the time, led by Habyarimana, which killed tens of thousands of people, is a mere “smoke screen”? Do they really believe that the term ‘civil war’ belongs in scare quotes? Do they really not believe that the civil war created the context for the genocide?

2. Are the letter-writers really blowing off the invasion of the DRC, the millions killed there, the stealing of elections, the testimonies of the former RPF who are on the run and in exile and admit to committing crimes at Kagame’s side? Do the Hutu deaths, even though they occurred on a smaller scale, really mean nothing to them?

The writers write that “Denial… ensures the crime continues. It incites new killing. It denies the dignity of the deceased and mocks those who survived.” And yet, the letter writers do all of those things. If the victims of the RPF don’t count, as they do not seem to to these writers, then what is this except denial? All of the victims in Central Africa – of the defeated Rwandan government, of the RPF, of the RPF’s proxies and of their opponents – all deserve to be acknowledged, not denied. The BBC documentary deserved better than shoddy arguments and mudslinging. Kagame is still in power, and the only function of this letter is to provide him with cover. Rather than a letter about ‘genocide denial’, the authors would have been more honest to write a manifesto of unconditional support for Rwanda’s dictator.