Tutsi-Hutu Genocide in the Congo (Updated)

by Kevin Jon Heller

So says a draft UN report that studied events in the Congo between 1993 and 2008:

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.”

Rwanda’s response — which includes threatening to stop cooperating with the UN, particularly with regard to peacekeeping — is predictable, given its long history of threatening to take its ball and go home whenever the international community dares criticize its (increasingly authoritarian) government.  But it will have a difficult time discrediting the head of the team that conducted the study and that authored the report, my friend Luc Cote, who spent four years as a prosecutor at the ICTR and three years as the chief prosecutor at the Special Court for Sierra Leone before taking over the UNHCHR mission.

Others have already commented on the leaked draft, so I will wait until the report itself is released to offer additional comments.  I did, however, want to respond to this statement in the Washington Post:

The report does not identify individuals believed responsible for the crimes documented in the report, naming only the armed group responsible for such crimes. But it noted that the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem (Navi) Pillay, would maintain a confidential database of alleged war criminals that could be used in the event that a court is set up to prosecute them.

There is, of course, a court that is already set up to prosecute at least some of the crimes mentioned in the report: the ICTR.  The tribunal has jurisdiction not only over crimes committed in Rwanda in 1994, but also over “Rwandan citizens responsible for such violations committed in the territory of neighbouring States between 1 January 1994 and 31 December 1994.” Any crime committed in the Congo during 1994 by a Rwandan citizen (which would include crimes committed by Congolese rebels in which a Rwandan citizen was complicit) is thus within the ICTR’s jurisdiction.

The ICTR has, to its great shame, continually turned a blind eye to crimes committed in Rwanda and the Congo by Kagame’s RPF forces.  Perhaps this report will finally spur it to action.

http://opiniojuris.org/2010/08/28/tutsi-hutu-genocide-in-congo/

4 Responses

  1. Nice point about the ICTR’s jurisdiction. BTW, Rwanda is already pushing back… hard on the draft UN report. Here is Philip Gourevitch‘s report on the Rwanda government’s point of view.

    Here is a PDF of the Rwanda Minister of Foreign Affairs’ letter.

  2. Thanks, Julian — hadn’t seen them.

  3. Opinio Juris readers most probably know about it, but just in case, I would like to mention that there is a “universal jurisdiction” case in the Spanish courts (Audiencia Nacional) against some 40 high officers of Rwanda for the commission of crimes against humanity. The Judge applied the jurisdictional immunity of head of states to leave President Kagame without charges, although he said that there was enough evidence to prosecute him. The order of the Judge in Spanish may be found here: http://www.elpais.com/elpaismedia/ultimahora/media/200802/06/espana/20080206elpepunac_1_Pes_PDF.pdf

  4. Thanks for this on the Spanish courts – no impunity! Let the facts lead where they may in Spain or at the ICTR (though it is winding up soon, no?)
    Best,
    Ben

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