After issuing a strong rebuttal to allegations about its role in the conflict being waged by M23 rebels in eastern DR Congo as highlighted in the UN Group of Experts report, the government has taken the fight to the United Nations in New York.
Rwanda’s Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo on Wednesday told the UN Security Council that the recent allegations against Rwanda were the “latest iteration of what has become a well-worn narrative” to implicate Kigali in the troubles of DR Congo.
Rwanda has been on the defensive since the findings, contained in the addendum of the UN Group of Experts report became known.
The report states that there is evidence that Kigali is training and arming the Kinyarwanda speaking rebels who launched a rebellion in eastern DR Congo in April.
Appearing before the United Nations Security Council, Ms Mushikiwabo accused the diplomatic community and the media of viewing the recent developments in DR Congo through a “narrow and outdated ethnic prism” which makes it “next to impossible” for them to contemplate an alternative scenario.
Ms Mushikiwabo also accused the Kinshasa government, which maintains that Rwanda is backing the M23 rebels, of propagating the same narrative instead of addressing the deeper systemic and governance issues it faces.
It is the first time Rwanda has taken the podium at the UN to explain its position since the report became public in July.
Ms Mushikiwabo maintained that Rwanda was not involved in the eastern DR Congo because instability in that region represented a direct threat to its own national interest. Recent accusations had tainted the country’s reputation among its peers, she added.
“As sure as night follows day, conflict in the DR Congo will invariably lead to accusations against Rwanda as it has done in spectacular and potentially devastating effect in this instance. At a bare minimum, it represents a threat to our hard-won reputation among member-states. But, far beyond merely that, the result of this instability is that it undermines the social and economic progress of Rwanda,” she said.
Ms Mushikiwabo said that the recent accusations levelled against her country had done a lot of damage and called on the Security Council and the international community to engage Rwanda and DR Congo to reach a peaceful solution to the escalating conflict in eastern Congo.
She pointed out that Rwanda was still committed to the joint verification mechanism with the Kinshasa government as well as all efforts by the ICGLR aimed at returning peace to the troubled eastern Congo.
“I repeat: Rwanda’s national interest is served by peace and sustainable security in the eastern DRC. Its national interest is harmed by anything less,” Ms Mushikiwabo said, pointing out what she described as “procedural flaws” in the Group of Experts report, which Rwanda tried to debunk in its rebuttal.
The hard-talking minister said that Rwanda did not expect special treatment from any international organisation, including the UN, but what it demanded “are minimum standards of impartiality and fairness” when the UN or its agencies involve themselves in the country’s affairs, or intend to level harmful accusations.
Ms Mushikiwabo then shifted focus to the co-ordinator of the Group of Experts, Steven Hege, accusing him of failing to consult Rwanda before publish the contents of the addendum of the report, though the UN expert says that Rwanda had had a chance to respond since May.
Mr Hege, whom Rwanda accuses of being biased, alleges that he raised issues with Rwandan officials at the UN but according to Ms Mushikiwabo, this was done barely two hours before the report’s presentation to the UN Sanctions Committee.
“Even then, the official Mr Hege talked to, in an informal 30 minute conversation, was given only the broad outlines of what was to come which was, by then, well known via numerous media outlets that had privileged access over and above Rwanda, whose national reputation was at stake,” Ms Mushikiwabo said.
The minister also stated that the claim that Rwanda had prior opportunity to respond in May is an “outright falsehood.”
“We received a letter dated April 29, 2012, from Steven Hege advising us of his intention to visit Kigali from May 14-16. In that letter, Mr Hege laid out specifically the topics the Group of Experts wanted to raise with Rwandan officials.
There was no mention — none — of Rwandan involvement in the emerging crisis in the eastern Congo. Furthermore, during the visit in May, Mr Hege and his colleagues did not raise the matter to any of the officials they met. Not one,” Ms Mushikiwabo told the UN Security Council.
She pointed out that if the Group of Experts on the DRC had compelling evidence of Rwandan complicity in what amounts to an invasion of another sovereign state, but failed to raise it while they met with the government responsible for the alleged invasion, it is then a case of the most reckless professional neglect.
“Rwanda had no genuine opportunity to present its rebuttal to the litany of allegations contained in the addendum to the interim report until it had been leaked to the media and presented to the Sanctions Committee,” she said.
During the closed door meeting at the Security Council, Ms Mushikiwabo is reported to have had an exchange with Mr Hege, whom Rwanda accuses of being “ideologically bankrupt” on Rwanda-DRC issues.
Kigali has on several occasions accused Mr Hege of being an FDLR sympathiser.
Earlier, before Ms Mushikiwabo addressed the Security Council, two Rwandan officials, Maj Patrick Karuretwa, President Kagame’s advisor on Security, and Olivier Nduhungirehe, the first counsellor at Rwanda’s Permanent Mission at the UN, had appeared before the UN Sanctions Committee to present Rwanda’s rebuttal.
Congolese Foreign Affairs Minister Raymond Tshibanda and Mr Hege also made their presentations to the committee after Rwanda’s appearance. The UN will put together all arguments and alter the report, which is slated for publication in November.
The UN has also expressed its backing for the efforts by ICGLR member countries to create a neutral force to halt the conflict which has displaced over 200,000 people since April.